I wanted to provide an introduction to my interpretation of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga (which is a funny sentence if you think about it). First though, why are the eight limbs a useful tool in a modern context? In a post-modern culture we don't tend to have elder wisdom, we don't tend to mark developmental milestones in life (except birth, coupling, and death and even then only nominally). I think one of the reasons people in the west are more and more drawn to eastern -originating philosophy is because we are left without a framework to structure how we understand the passage of our lives, and we also have no idea how to determine what makes our interactions with the rest of the world appropriate. We are all using a different yardstick to measure the quality of our lives and yet we are looking to be as uniform and part of our community as possible in order to validate the choices we make. The eight limbs offer an approach to determining the way that we view our position in the world, in relation to the rest of the world. And even though it is an old system, it is simple enough and also non-dogmatic enough to be just as relevant today, regardless of your belief system (or lack of adherence to one).
1. Relationship to the exterior world:
Do your best to not think violent thoughts, use words as weapons, or harm yourself or others with your actions. Let your words and your actions be true and of good intention. Don't steal. Remember that you are energy and so is everyone else around you. Interact with them accordingly and respect where you spend your energy and what you give and take from others. Do not identify with your material possessions, or your intellectual and emotional possessions, either. Do not hoard.
2. Relationship to the interior world:
Know the intentions behind your thoughts, speech and actions and be sure that you can stand behind them. Honestly accept where you are in the moment and remember that we show up with the resources that are available to us in that moment. You can't get where you want to go without knowing where you are now. Apply discipline and commitment to what matters to you in life, even when it is hard to get out of bed. Do your best every day. Develop and sustain a practice of self-knowledge. Surround yourself with others who are committed to the same. Remember that you are a part of something much bigger, and that the choices that you make have an impact on the greater whole. Do what you believe is right and don't worry about the outcomes.
3. Your Rightful Seat:
Respect your body as a particle state of energy and move it accordingly in order to prevent pain and illness, and to diminish the effects of illness, pain and distraction that are already there.
4. The life-changing magic of taking a proper breath:
You are energy embodied and your best measure of well-being is your breath. Treat each breath as sacred and use them to pay deeper attention to what is going on internally. You can use your breath to alter your physical as well as your energetic state if you know how to pay attention.
5. The Felt Sense:
Learning to pay attention to the internal messages can change the way that you behave in the world. Stop ignoring or overriding the messages that your body is expressing. Ignoring them is a form of violence against yourself. Shut out the noise of the exterior world and listen to your inner voice to help you determine what is right for you. This is a profound way to make good decisions.
Learn to concentrate on the task at hand. You probably don't need that MBSR class. Practice listening fully and attentively as a form of mindfulness and stop making someone else's story about your own.
7. Understanding connection through absorbtion:
When you can complete number 6, you will begin to understand that the seemingly dual nature of the world is only partly true, and in fact you are connected to everything else in the world. Stop treating others as separate and stop acting as if your actions don't matter. In other words, why are you not composting yet?
8. Everything is Everything (to borrow from Miss Lauryn Hill):
You matter. And you are also infinitely small in the greater picture. Both of these things are true and you can hold both of them in your awareness at the same time. Paying greater attention to the smaller things is a way of paying attention to the bigger picture. Taking care of yourself and your community is also an act of greatness. You are connected to everything.