The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Yoga has different Branches and styles. The Branch that I fell in love with is the “Ashtanga Yoga”, which translated from Sanskrit means eight Limbs of Yoga. Pantajali describes the Eight Limbs of Yoga in the “Yoga-Sutras”. Those eight Limbs form a holistic approach and have the goal to lead the Yogi and Yogini towards “Samadhi”; Complete Integration.

The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two branches of Ashtanga Yoga, and it is fair to say that these build the foundation in living a Yogic Lifestyle. Yamas and Niyamas can be thought of as guidelines or ethical principles. Yamas is translated as  “restraints”, Niyamas as “observances”, the Yamas referring to ethical principles towards our behavior with the world, and the Niyamas are the guidelines of oneself.

The five Yamas

  • Non-Violence (Ahimsa)
  • Truthfulness (Satya)
  • Non-Stealing (Asteya)
  • Non-Excess (Brahmacharya)
  • Non-Possessiveness (Aparigraha)

The Niyamas

  • Purity (Saucha)
  • Contentment (Santosha)
  • Self-Discipline (Tapas)
  • Self-Study (Svadhyaya)
  • Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana)

Brahmacharya and Aparigraha in times of Social Media and Express-Delivery

Let us have a deeper look on Brahmacharya; Non-Excess. Personally, this is a Yama I find extremely challenging. Tempted by purchasing new items within a few clicks, and always getting that extra rush of serotonin whenever the post-man rings the door bell; Brahmacharya, or moderation, might feel like a sacrifice.

Brahmacharya literally translated from Sanskrit means “Walking with God”. Some interpret Brahmacharya as celibacy or abstinence and this can certainly be one form of Brahmacharya, yet it is not the only interpretation of it. Taming our indulgence, not over-doing -over-eating, over-sleeping, over-consuming, is applied Brahmacharya.

In her book “Yamas and Niyamas”, Deborah Adele describes the turning point of moderation to excess and implies the psychological reasons of over-indulgence; Instead of feeling pleasure and enjoying, when we are in excess, we feel a psychological need to a certain feeling of reward.

In our human bodies, we are on this world in order to enjoy pleasure. When enjoying pleasure, we will not go beyond the point of (bodily) comfort. A good example is Food; there is a turning point in between nurturing our bodies in order to feel energized vs. over-indulging. If food leaves us tired, full and lethargic, we have past the point of enjoyment and moderation. Instead of uplifting our senses, we are left with discomfort.

Excess may manifest in many forms, for me it is purchasing things on the internet, using lots of different apps with the same function (such as meditation-apps, for example) as well as over-eating. To others it may be sex, alcohol or lots of different activities without breaks in between.

The first step towards Brahmacharya is turning inwards and questioning the motives of excessive behavior. We probably over-consume because we crave the feeling it gives us and expect that feeling to return in the same density. But do not fool yourself; Our bodies get de-sensitized and the feeling of joy will not be the same. In fact, we will only be left with a feeling of emptiness after the short rush.

Asking ourselves; “are we doing the activity, or is the activity doing us?” “Are you eating the food or is the food eating you?” – Are you in control, or are you being controlled by that indulgence? Can you enjoy in moderation?

Life has its challenges – especially since everything is just one click away

Brahmacharya in todays world might be a true challenge to master. Push-Notifications on our phones, Click-on-demand movies to choose from, Tinder with another date just one click away; Moderation has become a mere thought to many of us. 

By being aware of our motives, we can redirect ourselves and find more meaning. As mentioned before; We are living life in order to enjoy ourselves. The goal of Brahmacharya does not need to be ascetic. Monks, some Tantrists and Yogis might take that part and I certainly think it can help to restraint ourselves from the indulgences for some time. Yet, to many of us, life is meant to explore and enjoy, to love the diverse pleasures life has to offer. Not only our universe within, but also the material world. We are human beings living on this earth and instead of seeing life as an obstacle to overcome, we might find ourselves in paradise – namely this world we live in, as of this moment. As of right now.

As Osho writes in his book of secrets; If we can not find paradise on earth – how are we supposed to find it in heaven/the next dimension/after live? 

Brahmacharya in everyday life – No need to become ascetic

So, applying Brahmacharya in everyday life, does not necessarily mean to be ascetic, live in celibacy or refrain from all worldly pleasures. Instead, Brahmacharya is an invitation to be mindful of our resources, to honor what we are indulging in. By honoring what gives us joy, we will be able to connect to the Divine aspect of it. In Tantra, we call this Consecration. Making the (apparently ordinary) something sacred.

Not giving in to our indulgences takes self-discipline and self-restraint. Especially in nowadays world. Our attention span has decreased within the years, and as amazing as new technology is – it comes at a price. Even more important to be mindful of the fact, that we are in control. We can reduce consumption – not only in what we purchase, eat and drink, but also in what we do, which information we allow to process our mind and what notifications we see on our phones. Moderation is the key – and it starts with mindful consumption. 

So, how can we enjoy in moderation?

Become Mindful:

  • When do you get push-notifications on your phone? Are they necessary or do they interrupt what you are giving your attention to?
  • Be aware of the present moment. This is harder than it might sound. Most of the time, our monkey mind is racing within our heads and thinks about the past or the future. Being present at the very moment we are in could be one of the hardest parts, so start slowly. Sit in silence and think of how you are feeling, what you are sensing. What do smell? Or hear? How does your body feel? Stay with it, as long as you can.
  • Practice Mindfulness in daily activities; More often than not I find myself drinking my morning coffee and thinking of the day ahead. Even though it is giving me that feeling of productivity, I am not able to enjoy my Coffee all the way. I now dedicate at least half the Cup of my morning coffee to practice mindfulness. I am staying with my coffee, enjoying every sip of it. And suddenly, the coffee tastes very different. Rich, energizing and powerful. There is a big difference in the approach and it changes everything. I start seeing the divine in my coffee – yes, that is right. Maybe the thought of divine coffee or tea seems irritating to some, but think of the tea ceremonies in Japan and the Cacao Ceremonies in Shamanic traditions. There is divine in everything – we just need to see it.
  • Think about the things you do; Question everything. Have your routines if they suit you, but make them rituals instead. The difference of a routine and a ritual is the intention; A ritual gives meaning to our daily practice, it sets us up for the wonderful process of consecration. Allow yourself to see magic in everything you do.

The Niyama “Tapas” – Self-Restraint/Self-Discipline

Now, Brahmacharya and Tapas are interconnected and one does not function without the other. The next article will give you the tools to restrain yourself and practice self-discipline.

In everything you do; Try your best, but always remember that there is no need to judge or criticize yourself. Being in a beginners mindset of curiosity will help to integrate what you set your mind to. Be loving, caring and curious to what you are capable of!

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