The Yogic Path to Enlightenment


 

          To become one with oneself seems like a pretty simple task but when the time comes to do so, one can realize that it is much more difficult than it seems. Our day to day lives revolve around work, family, school, and relationships. Are we really present in our lives? Or are we totally in our minds, forgetting that the life we live is right here, right now. It is easy to become caught up in our heads, constantly thinking about what needs to be accomplished today or thinking about the events of the day before. Although everyone lives a drastically different life, every human being acts with one common goal: to be happy. The misconception of our society is that material items will bring happiness. A brand new car, a big house, a luxury vacation are all “things” that we use to determine success and happiness. Could it be true that our society is so materialistic that we have completely missed out on what truly brings bliss into our lives?

Happiness has driven humans from the beginning of time. All religions have the common principle that satisfaction does not come from “things” but from spirituality. Roger Walsh, author of “Essential Spirituality” describes this occurrence perfectly.

“Century after century and sage after sage, all the great religious traditions have begged us to recognize a crucial fact: No                    outside sensation or possession can ever give us full or lasting satisfaction. In fact, obsession with wealth and possessions tranquilizes us with trivia and distracts us from what is truly important in life” (Walsh, 32).

Becoming obsessed with our society’s view of success can completely weaken the spirit, mind, and body. It is essential that we be brought to the realization that bliss stems from self-realization and enlightenment. The ancient practice of yoga devotes itself to this one task.

The benefits of yoga are endless. It is proven to reduce stress, balance emotions, and improve relationships. Donna Farhi regards yoga in terms of a “technology” used as a tool to let us live in the present moment. Bringing us back to our true nature of joy and peace, yoga was developed thousands of years ago by ancient seers. Becoming connected with one’s core being can bring the realization that all humans are equally linked to one another. Sustaining this connection can become the norm rather than just a brief manifestation (Farhi, 5).

Becoming connected with one-self can be a daunting task and there is much work needed to achieve this wholeness. Yoga provides the road to enlightenment not from strict guidelines, blind faith, or religion but by practice that connects all beings to true happiness. In yoga, it is the work in itself that is the reward, not the destination. When you focus on your breath and your body, the way it feels in that moment immediately brings the realization of the core self (Farhi, 6).

The yogis of the past discovered that there is a larger power which resides in all people. This is called Purusha or the Self. Discovering the Self can be done by looking deep into the soul and working towards the state of purest existence. Prakriti is matter, nature, senses and everything that exists separate from Purusha or the Self. Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras defines a route to enlightenment through the ashtanga, an eight-limbed path which provides a progression to enlightenment. It is important not to look at the path in a linear way but to regard it as the limbs of a body. It does not matter the order in which they are accomplished, as long as they are all practiced (Farhi, 6).

The first branch is the Yamas which is a set of ten principles for living a life in freedom. The second branch is the Niyamas which focuses on the individual and is also a lifestyle code based on choices. “Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest, and peaceful” (Farhi, 7).

Ahimsa translates to nonviolence and compassion for all living things. It is the first principle of the Yamas. It is important to dig much deeper into this translation, it is obvious not to be violent to others but it is also essential not to be violent to ourselves. Destructive and judgmental thoughts to us are anything but helpful. Often times we are our own greatest critic, constantly demeaning our bodies, efforts, appearance, or achievements. Imagine that your friend is speaking to you, if they spoke to you how you speak to yourself, would you still be their friend? Once one has found nonviolence in themself, they can extend such love to all other beings. Farhi explains it is helpful to ask oneself, “Are my thoughts, actions, and deeds fostering the growth and well-being of all beings?”(Farhi, 9).

The next principle is Satya which is the commitment to truth. Only speaking when we know something is entirely true, without deception or exaggeration is essential. Such miscommunication can be hurtful, and the greatest example of this is gossiping. With truthful communication, relationships are improved and conflict is resolved much more efficiently. Along with being honest with others, it is important to be honest with our hearts and inner destinies. Judgments of ourselves and others can provide a road block in discovering what we truly desire.             Asteya is the principle of not stealing. It may be obvious not to take what is not ours but this principle delves much deeper than the definition of stealing. It even relates to the idea of not desiring what is not ours. This is also true in regard to time. Along with not stealing material items, stealing people’s free time is not great to do either. By not stealing, self-sufficiency is established and we are able to reduce the demand for others.

Brahmacharya  is the act of using sexual energy wisely. It is the least understood principle but its general purpose is to not harm or manipulate others sexually. Farhi explains that it is not about whether a person uses sexual energy but how they use it.

Aparigraha is the principle of not holding on to things. Our lives change so often and quickly that being attached to items, people, or ideas will only cause agony when that change does happen.

The Niyamas are codes for living soulfully. They include living purely, feeling content with one’s life, being enthusiastic, reflection, and celebrating spirituality. Shaucha is living a pure life. Keeping the mind, body, and environment we live in clean is very important. Nourishing the body with healthy food may be the key solution. Consuming unprocessed foods without additives and preservatives keeps the body healthy. It helps to think of our bodies as vehicles and food as gas. When a car is filled with premium gas, it functions much better than if it were filled up with junk. Keeping the body healthy is essential for a healthy mind because without the body, the mind would not exist. Also, keeping the home clean and uncluttered removes negative feelings and stress about the day before or what needs to be accomplished.

Santosha represents contentment. It is being happy and satisfied with what is happening in the moment. Not stressing about what will happen tomorrow, or next week; living in the moment provides a much simpler, honest life. With being content comes Tapas or burning enthusiasm. Being disciplined with the use of our energy, greater tasks can be accomplished.

The study of the self is called Swedhyaya. The soul is attracted to self-reflective activities which make the self shine through. It brings to our attention our strengths, weaknesses, fears, and habits. Ishvarapranidhana is the celebration of the spirit. Often times, we miss the amazing occurrences in our life because we are simply too busy. The beautiful sky, a luscious garden, the taste of an amazing meal can be so heightened when a moment is taken to appreciate it.

The next branch is the Asana practice. These are the poses of yoga that we know today. Connecting the body and breath with movements that we do not typically experience brings the mind’s focus on the body. The mind is able to discover what the body is telling it. Asana practice conjoins the mind and body together.

The fourth branch, called pranayama is the practice of controlling the breath to correlate with the body’s movements. Following the breath allows the mind to return to its foundation.  Donna Farhi’s book “Bringing Yoga to Life” explains this practice appropriately.

Although there are thousands of different pranayama techniques and breathing practices that involve lengthening, shortening, suspending, and retaining the breath in myriad ways, the foundation of all yogic breathing practices is to establish and maintain a smooth and steady breath rhythm and to apply this skill to everyday living (Farhi, 96).

When focusing on breath, it brings the mind inward to focus on what is happening inside the body. Finding stillness within ourself leads to the fifth limb of yoga.

Pratyahara, the fifth branch is the act of bringing ones focus to stillness instead of to other things. The direct translation of pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses but it is typically used to practice focusing on one thing at a time. With this practice it becomes possible to bring pratyahara to all aspects of life. Instead of keeping the mind in its studies or events of the days before, it allows the mind to react to occurrences from a “fresh” place. Pratyahara clears the mind so that reactions are more effective than from a place of preoccupation and constant thinking (Farhi, 102-103).

Dharna, Dhyana, and Smadhi are the three final stages of the path to enlightenment. Dharna is when concentration is focused highly on one certain task. This translates well to Dhyana which sustains awareness no matter the state of the moment. Finally, Smadhi is the bringing the mind back to its original state of silence (Farhi, 7). Farhi wraps all of these branches nicely in the following paragraph.

“As we delve deeper, the practice of asana involves consciously into moving into stillness (pratyahara, the fifth limb), focusing our attention on one thing at a time (dharana, the sixth limb), and sustaining this awareness regardless of what is going on around us (dhyana, the seventh limb). When a posture has been perfected, an absolute balance is struck between effort and non-effort, the result of which is a neutralization of all sensation. When this happens the mind returns to its original silence (smadhi, the eighth limb). There is no one left to do the pose, only the pose itself moving through us” (Farhi, 91).

Through the practice of yoga, once can journey through the path to enlightenment. It is not easy or simple, but it is well worth it. Through following Patanjali’s Ashtanga, the road to happiness is clearly mapped; the only thing holding us back from bliss is ourselves.

These are the books I used in my research.

Farhi, D. (2004). Bringing yoga to life. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publisher.

Farhi, D. (2000). Yoga mind, body & spirit. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Walsh, R. (1999). Essential spirituality. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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