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Introduction to the Pancha Kosha

In Sanskrit, Pancha means ‘five’ and Kosha means ‘layers’.

The Pancha Kosha is a way for us to comprehend our existence that encompasses our physical, mental and spiritual components.

The practice of yoga can help us to ‘peel away’ at the layers, starting from the outside, so that we can reach the centre- Atman. You could think of this as your true self, your soul, or God… or simply an understanding of your existence.

Annamaya Kosha

This is the outermost layer and represents our physical body. ‘Anna’ means ‘food’, so in order to reach the deeper layers, we need to provide our bodies with correct nutrition. It is also important to not become stuck in this extraneous vessel, e.g. becoming obsessive about our physical form.

Pranamaya Kosha

This is our energetic existence. ‘Prana’, meaning ‘vital life force’, is the energy that flows through our body, controlling the bodily functions that allow us to live. Prana circulates throughout the whole universe and we can influence the balance of it within ourselves by pranayama (breathing exercises). For example, chandra bhedi is a practice that has a cooling, calming effect on the body.

Manomaya Kosha

This is our consciousness. It is how our mind perceives the outer world and is highly affected by the 5 senses, but through yoga we can also influence and regain control over the consciousness. It is important to not become trapped in this layer, i.e. letting our thoughts and feelings carry us away from our true self.

Vijanamaya Kosha

This is our wisdom and intuition- ‘vijana’ means ‘subtle knowledge’. In this layer we can achieve higher levels of consciousness. Concentration and meditation are practices that help us to penetrate this layer.

Anandamaya Kosha

‘Ananda’ means bliss. When we reach this layer, the higher mind awakens and we achieve a sense of connection to all beings and nature. This self-realization is considered to be total liberation or Samadhi.


Samadhi ~ Ashtanga Yoga

We’ve made it to the 8th stage of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga! If you haven’t followed along with the previous 7 articles, you can find them under the ‘Learn’ category on my website.


The final limb of Yoga is Samadhi. You’ll notice that as we move through the stages of Yoga, each one becomes less physical and objective, instead becoming more abstract and metaphysical. So, as you can image, Samadhi is one of the hardest concepts to put into words.

The following quote about Zen Buddhism can also be applied to the topic of understanding Samadhi:

“Taking it all in all, Zen is emphatically a matter of personal experience; if anything can be called radically empirical, it is Zen. No amount of reading, no amount of teaching, no amount of contemplation will ever make one a Zen master. Life itself must be grasped in the midst of its flow; to stop it for examination and analysis is to kill it, leaving its cold corpse to be embraced.”
― D.T. Suzuki

When a meditator achieves a state of Samadhi, human consciousness becomes one with cosmic consciousness, therefore it is a state of complete absorption. It can only be achieved through years of dedicated practice of the Yamas and Niyamas (guidelines for right action), Asana (a steady seat), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal from senses), Dhyana and Dharana – the latter two, a.k.a. concentration and meditation practice, especially.

Other words that are akin to Samadhi and can help us understand the concept are:

  • Enlightenment
  • Moksha
  • Ultimate liberation
  • Self-realisation
  • Nibbana / Nirvana
  • Equanimity – psychological stability to the point that the mind is undisturbed by any experience that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.
  • Union

Union

The final synonym listed above is “union”. If you translate the word “Yoga” from Sanskrit to English, it actually means “union”. This is the meaning and ultimate goal of Yoga, which is why Samadhi is the final stage in Ashtanga Yoga – once you achieve oneness, you achieve true Yoga!

Dhyana ~ Ashtanga Yoga

Dhyana is an ancient practice in both Hindu and Buddhist scripture. From Sanskrit, it can be roughly translated as “deeper awareness of oneness”.

Dhyana is often described as meditation and while this is true, it’s a specific type of meditation where the meditator should perceive themselves and the rest of the word (including the object of meditation) as one.

Oneness

With true Dhyana there should be no distinction between yourself and the object you are focusing on. There is not even acknowledgement for the possibility of distinction. It is pure awareness which means that even words cannot describe the state, since that would be an act of distinction. In Buddhism, Dhyana (or Jhana in Pali) translates to “no-mind” which sums up the concept of oneness – there is not even any possibility to distinguish between your “self” an the rest of the word.

How do we achieve Dhyana?

Observe the object of meditation (Dharana) but without judgement – just observing and contemplating everything about the object.

Dhyana is somewhat unique compared to other meditation techniques which usually involve one of the senses. Dhyana should involve none of the senses, complete withdrawal (which is why Pratyahara and Dhrana are the preceding stages and should be practiced before Dhyana). It is advised that you calm the body and mind as much as possible before practicing Dhyana meditation – use Asana to relax the muscles, Pranayama to use the breath to calm the mind.

As you practice Dharana concentration, at first you will be regularly distracted by thoughts, feelings and external influences. Over time, the space between the distractions will slowly start to increase. Eventually, when the mind is quiet enough, you may experience 1-2 seconds of Dhyana. True Dhyana is often described as effortless – you stop trying to meditate and instead experience an effortless state of oneness. If you continue to practice, you may be able to extend the periods of Dhyana.

Eventually this leads to the 8th and final limb of Yoga – Samadhi.

Dharana ~ Ashtanga Yoga

Dharana is the act of training the mind to focus on one specific object. Simple in theory, yet difficult to practice! Practicing Dharana, or concentration, gives us the opportunity to learn about the thoughts that tend to distract us and come to learn the patterns of the mind. With time and consistent practice, we strengthen our control over the mind and our ability to achieve deep concentration.

The Meditation Misconception

In the modern world, we (including myself) tend to refer to meditation as the act of focusing our attention on some object, be it the breath, the body, a mantra or an image. While this is okay because there’s an agreed understanding of what we mean by ‘meditation’, the true definition is actually slightly different. Focusing on one object is actually a Dharana practice, the goal of which is to one day achieve true meditation which can take years and years of practice (I’ll talk more about this in my next post about Dhyana!).

Prerequisites

Dharana is the 6th limb of Yoga, following the 5th limb which is Pratyahara. It is clear why Pratyahara is an important stage before Dharana – without practicing withdrawing from the senses, we cannot give our full attention to the chosen object because we would be constantly distracted by our automatic responses to the senses.

How can we practice Dharana?

Use an object of focus. It is much easier to focus on something than to focus on nothing. The theory behind it is that after enough concentration and contemplation of the object, the meditator and the object merge to become one, thus achieving a ‘oneness’ state which is the next limb of Ashtanga yoga – Dhyana.

Commonly used objects of focus include:

  • The breath. Focus on the flow of the breath into and out of the body. The breath is a great tool to focus on because it is constantly with us throughout our entire lives.
  • The body. Practice a body scan; starting at the toes, focus on the sensations in the toes and letting go of tension. Slowly move up the body, bringing your attention to one body part / muscle at a time.
  • Mantra. This can be any word, phrase or prayer that resonates with you. Repeat it out loud or in your head, focusing on the vibrations it creates in your body and the contemplating the meaning of the mantra.
  • A flame. Trataka is the practice of candle-gazing and is a very soothing practice. Light a candle in a dark room and fix a soft gaze on the candle.
  • Chakras. Starting at the root chakra, focus on releasing physical and emotional blocks before moving up to the next chakra, all the way up to the crown of the head.

Why Practice Dharana?

There are benefits to practicing concentration that you can experience in your day-to-day life.

  • As you train your mind to get better at focusing, you may find your productivity at work improving.
  • You also become better at managing your emotions since you can distinguish between helpful and non-helpful thoughts, avoiding negative thought patterns and focusing on positive thoughts instead.
  • Your willpower improves. You have greater control over your mind which controls your body, so you will find yourself being able to achieve your goals by taking the necessary action without being held back by laziness or distraction.

The ultimate goal of Dharana is to merge with the object to achieve Dhyana, essentially transforming concentration into meditation. It is no easy feat to tame the monkey mind, however the practice of Dharana is an ongoing journey, so be patient, committed and enjoy the experience along the way!

Pratyahara ~ Ashtanga Yoga

“Just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs, so when a man withdraws his senses from the sense objects, his wisdom becomes steady.”

-Bhagavad Gita

So far we have covered the external aspects of Yoga: Yamas, Niyamas, Asana and Pranayama. This means that we have reached the stage in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga where we transition from the external aspects to the internal. The bridge between the two is Pratyahara.

The practice of Pratyahara involves the Yogi withdrawing from the senses – taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing – so that they can focus on Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and ultimately Samadhi (enlightenment).

Why withdraw from the senses?

Our senses are useful so we can experience and navigate the outer world. However, there comes a point in Yoga where we have to go beyond the senses, and they become a hindrance to our ability to concentrate on one thing. The mind has a natural tendency to be distracted by physical stimuli. For example, have you ever struggled to read a book because of too much noise around you? Or maybe you have decided to eat healthily but then given into temptation after smelling some delicious pizza! Without practice, our senses have so much control over us and it can be difficult to achieve our goals.

With dedicated practice of Pratyahara, we become more able to consciously withdraw attention from the activities that do not help us to achieve our goals, and instead direct our focus inwards. This allows us to more clearly observe the inner workings of our mind and distinguish from what is true and what is mental chatter / thought patterns caused by the senses.

Techniques

Pratyahara is something that is simple to understand, but not so easy to do. There are several techniques we can use to help ourselves withdraw from the senses (and it takes lots of practice!). Here are a few that help me.

Asana and Pranayama

Patanjali placed these two before Pratyahara for a reason. Asana and Pranayama balances the flow of Prana, releases tension in the body and allows us to tune in to the inner sensations. After practice, the body becomes more still and so can the mind. This enables us to more easily control the senses, thus withdraw from them.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the sensations in the present moment and bringing your attention back whenever your mind starts to wander. You can focus on one sense at a time too, for example observing the breath (feel), noticing sounds without judging them (hear), mindful eating (taste and smell), or candle-gazing (sight).

Digital Detox

Of course, this is something that was not relevant when the Yoga Sutras were written, but has become a potential blocker to achieving Pratyahara in the 21st century. It is not possible to maintain pure consciousness if we are being constantly bombarded with digital stimuli. Try using digital media in a mindful way that benefits your Yoga practice rather than hinders it, and take the occasional day to go completely offline so you can give full attention to everything in the real world.

Bhramari

This is a form of Pranayama that especially encourages Pratyahara. It literally turns the senses inward by blocking the external input to the senses using Shanmukhi Mudra.
To practice, sit up tall and place your hands on your face with the thumbs on the temples, index fingers on the inner corners of the closed eyes, middle fingers on either side of the nose, rings fingers above the lips and pinky fingers below the lips. Use light pressure here.
As you exhale, make a humming sound and enjoy the feeling of the vibrations throughout the entire body. It has a deeply calming effect and is an intense experience as you become of the internal bodily sensations which take precedence over the external environment around you.

Chanting

When we chant mantras or prayers, we focus our attention on the words and vibrations it causes in the body so it is more easy to move inwards. It also improves our ability to concentrate in everyday life and become less distracted.

Tapas / Discipline

It’s good to practice self-discipline on a small scale every day. Little examples of practicing Tapas include: waking up early even if you want to sleep in late, reading a book for 10 minutes when you would rather scroll through social media, doing that chaturanga when you would rather skip the vinyasa, or cooking a nice meal for yourself when you want to order a takeaway. Of course it is good to have balance and enjoy indulging the senses occasionally, but little acts of discipline can go a long way in gaining control over the senses in the long term.

Flow State

Have you ever been doing an activity and become so engrossed in it that you become immune to everything going on around you and lose track of time? This is similar to Pratyahara since you are becoming less responsive to distractions. Examples of flow can be found everywhere and certain activities work better for different people. Common activities include sports, art (knitting, designing, painting, etc.), and playing an instrument. More time spent in flow state is associated with greater happiness, wellbeing and productivity.


By learning to control our mind’s reaction to the senses, which may sound like restriction, we actually gain more freedom to do what we truly want since we are liberated from the physical temptations. Do you agree?

Pranayama ~ Ashtanga Yoga

So far we have covered the first 3 limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga:

  1. Yama
  2. Niyama
  3. Asana

The next stage in the eight-fold path is the practice of Pranayama, or control of the breath. Prana is the vital life force which manifests itself as the breath that sustains the body. Through practicing extension of the breath (ayama) we can calm the nervous system and in turn, the mind, preparing ourselves for meditation, or simply the challenges of everyday life! There are endless healing benefits to be gained from correct and consistent practice of Pranayama, with numerous techniques to follow too.


“Yoga breathing control or pranayama is a joyful song that soothes, purifies, energizes and harmonizes our body, mind and soul to create inner healing. So, practice singing the song of pranayama.”

Debasish Mridha

3 Key Stages

  1. Puraka – Inhale
  2. Kumbhaka – Retain
  3. Rechaka – Exhale

Sun and Moon Energy

Pranic breathing is rooted in the concept of feminine and masculine energy, symbolised by Chandra (moon) and Surya (sun). These two energies have opposing yet complementary qualities. Masculine energy is associated with heat, vitality and action. Feminine energy brings cooling qualities, calmness, healing and rest. Both depend on each other to exist and both are present inside every person. However, sometimes they can be out of balance, resulting in negative effects such as lethargy (lack of Sun energy) or restlessness (lack of Moon energy).

This is the reason why practice Hatha Yoga, specifically Pranayama. Pranic breathing techniques can directly affect our energy levels so we can use them strategically to suit our needs.

Why Practice Pranayama?

Physical benefits include:

  • Balanced energy levels
    More vitality during the day time, avoiding afternoon slumps or tiredness at work. Come evening, Pranayama allows us to experience more calming energy and relaxation before bed
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Improved lung function
    The lungs are a muscle, so like any other muscle in the body, they benefit from regular exercise. We can exercise the lungs by controlling the breath, encouraging the expansion of the lungs to take in more air, and strengthening the muscle by retaining the breath
  • Better digestion
    The lungs are directly connected to the nervous system. When we extend our exhales, we encourage the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for ‘rest & digest’ mode (as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system which causes ‘fight or flight’ stress mode)
  • Relieve headaches
    Improved lung function allows more fresh oxygen to flow, bringing better blood flow to the brain

Mental and spiritual benefits include:

  • Better concentration and mental clarity
    Pranayama helps you to focus at work and have clearer judgement so you can handle situations in a calmer manner
  • Reduced stress
  • Deeper meditation
  • Improved mind-body connection
    The breath is a direct link between the body and the mind

Tips for Pranayama Practice

Pranayama can be practiced at any time, but to experience maximum benefits, it is believed that you should practice in the early morning on an empty stomach. If not then wait at least an hour after eating. Ideally, you would be outside in an area with clean air and a mild temperature, but a well-ventilated room works well too.

Sit in a cross-legged position on a yoga mat, or a cushion or chair if it’s more comfortable. Ensure you sit up with your head, neck and back in one straight line.

Please consult a physician if you are unsure about whether it is safe for you to practice Pranayama. Be especially careful if you have high or low blood pressure, heard conditions, bronchitis or breathing issues, or if you are pregnant or menstruating.

Pranayama techniques often have heating or cooling effects (by stimulating either Sun or Moon energy) so you should avoid practicing ones that will not complement your current state. For example, avoid cooling pranayama (e.g. Chandra Bhedana) if you have the flu. Avoid heating pranayama (e.g. Kapalbhati) if you have a fever.

Beginner Technique: Alternate Nostril Breathing

If you are just starting to practice Pranayama, it is important to first lay a quality foundation and go slowly. Start with 5-10 minutes with minimal retention – there is no need to hold the breath for extended periods of time or to experience discomfort/straining. The body and lungs will adapt with consistent practice.

Alternate nostril breathing is a great method to begin with. Also known as Anulom Vilom, this simple technique actually means ‘cleansing of the nerves’.

  1. Close your eyes and take a few normal breaths to relax the body. You will use your right hand. The left hand can rest on the left leg or take a mudra.
  2. Place your right thumb on your right nostril to close it off while you inhale through the left nostril.
  3. Release the thumb and use the last two fingers to close off the left nostril this time, while you exhale through the right nostril.
  4. This is one round. Now repeat but switch sides – inhale through the right nostril, exhale through the right.
  5. Repeat for ~5 minutes with your final exhale being from the left nostril.

Your breathing during Anulom Vilom should be as natural and calm as possible with no retention of the breath in between exhales/inhales since this is suitable for beginners. When you are ready to advance, you can introduce retention (kumbhaka) – this technique is called Nadi Shodhana.

Advanced Techniques

  • Ujjayi – constriction of the back muscles of the throat while breathing with the nose in order to build heat and Prana in the body. This is used in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and is known as ‘ocean breath’ due to the sound it makes
  • Kapalbati – repeated forceful exhale. Translates from Sanskrit as ‘skull-shining’ due to its internal cleansing properties, also known as ‘breath of fire’
  • Bhastrika – rapid and forceful inhale and exhale for energising the body and clearing the mind, also known as ‘bellows breath’
  • Bhramari – also known as hummingbee breath, it involves humming whilst taking Shanmukhi mudra and is excellent for managing stress and soothing the mind

Asana ~ Ashtanga Yoga

Asana is the most well-known and practiced limb of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, usually described as the “physical practice”. In the Yoga Sutras, the Sanskrit word Asana is defined as “a position that is steady and comfortable” and the practice of Asana involves the ability to sit for long periods of time in one posture.

So, if Patanjali intended it to be a seated practice, why is it that nowadays the typical Asana practice involves hundreds of elaborate body-bending poses and dynamic sequences? In this article we will explore how the interpretation of Asana has developed over centuries.

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥

sthira sukham āsanam

Asana means a steady and comfortable posture.

Yoga Sutras 2:46

The Early Asanas

The earliest records of Yogasanas are contained within the Hatha Yoga Pradipika where the 4 most important seated postures are described. These are:

  1. Siddhasana
    Sitting cross-legged with the hands resting on the kness or forming a mudra. This is a good position for beginners to sit in long meditation.
  2. Padmasana
    Lotus position.
  3. Bhadrasana
    Soles of the feet together, drawn in as close to the body as possible.
    This pose is good for activating the muladhara chakra.
  4. Simhasana
    Also known as Lion pose. You can perform it by sitting kneeling with ankles crossed, opening the mouth wide and extending the tongue. Exhale with a loud ‘ha’ and feel the stress-relieving benefits.

Beyond the Seated Poses

As centuries passed, gradually more and more Asanas were described. They were developed to aid the seated Asanas by making the joints more loose, muscles more flexible and circulation better. Most people cannot immediately sit in Padmasana for three hours without a great deal of discomfort, which is not condusive to effective meditation. Instead, we need training to prepare our bodies for the seated Asanas.

Teachers like B.K.S. Iyengar worked to make Yoga more accessible to all kinds of people, whether they were flexible or inflexible, healthy or unhealthy, fit or injured. Iyengar was taught by Krishnamacharya (often called “the father of modern Yoga”), alongside K. Pattabhi Jois who also had a huge influence on modern Yoga by bringing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga from Mysore to the Western world.

20th Century Yoga

More recently, Yoga has been used by many as a physical exercise and millions have experienced the healing benefits of practicing just the Asanas, especially in the Western world.

While some say that Yoga has lost its way by straying from tradition, there are positives to modern Yoga – the physical benefits (healing, weight loss, stress relief, strength building, etc.) invite people in who would otherwise never be interested in Yoga. The spiritual aspect can be intimidating to many, so it is good that they can enjoy the Asana practice without having to embrace anything else before they are ready. Eventually, consistent Asana practice changes a person’s mindset, making them calmer and more compassionate. This often results in the student becoming interested in learning about the spiritual side of Yoga after some time.

The Ultimate Goal of Asana

It can be confusing to learn how the interpretation of Asana has changed so dramatically over the years, but at the end of the day, no matter which branch of Yogasana or style you practice, you can always do it with the ultimate goal in mind: to be able to sit comfortably in a position for meditation for a long time. This in an invauable skill to have because it enables us to achieve deeper states of meditation, and, combined with the other aspects of Ashtanga Yoga, achieve a state of oneness with the object of meditation – Samadhi.

The Niyamas ~ Ashtanga Yoga

In my last post I spoke about the Yamas, the 5 moral guidelines for behaving towards the outside world. The Niyamas are the second limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and provide us with guidelines on how to behave towards ourselves.

Following the Niyamas cultivates self-discipline, inner happiness, integrity and confidence yet humility.

1. Saucha, Self-Purification

Saucha means purity or cleanliness. Making an effort to keep the body and mind clean results in radiant health. Physical cleanliness also results in a clearer mind which allows us to reach a calmer meditative state.

Maintaining a pure self not only involves cleaning the physical body, but also making wise food choices and being conscious of the thoughts we are having.

2. Santosha, Contentment

Practicing Santosha means being content with what we have, who we are and where we are in life. It does not mean being a weak person or letting others walk all over us, it simply means not condeming ourselves for not being more successful, richer, wiser…

Removing self-judgement and striving for what we don’t have allows for acceptance and inner happiness.

3. Tapas, Discipline

“Tapas” directly translates to “heat”.

People with passion and inner drive to take action can be described as having “fire in their belly” – this describes the quality of Tapas. We need Tapas to motivate ourselves to become better. Doing things that are difficult but good for us (e.g. early morning practice, persevering through a restless meditation, or breaking bad habits) requires self-descipline, or Tapas.

4. Svadhyaya, Self-study

Svadhyaya, or self-study, can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. ‘self’ being ourselves in our physical form. Then practicing Svadhyaya means being mindful of our thoughts, actions and emotions. It requires seeing who we are, inlcuding our flaws and weaknesses, which gives us an opporunity to grow and learn.
  2. ‘Self’ being Atman, the divine within us. Then practicing Svadhyaya involves studying sacred and spiritual texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas. It allows us to see beyond the ego and recognise our connection to the divine.

Either way, Svadhyaya is a journey of introspection and constant learning in order to better ourselves.

5. Ishvara Pranidhana, Devotion

Ishvara pranidhana is described in the Yoga Sutras as a method to resolve the fluctuations of the mind and achieve samadhi. This is because devotion to something greater than ourselves allows us to surrender the ego, lose the obssession with ‘I’ and gain some perspective on our mind’s distractions.

While we can practice devotion by honouring or making offerings to the divine (this does not have to involve a ‘God’), we can also practice it in more subtle ways by letting go of the things we cannot control – in a sense, surrendering to a higher power. Instead of fighting against life’s ups and downs we can be open to whatever happens.


Ashtanga Yoga ~ The Yamas

My previous post introduced the 8 Limbs of Yoga, a pathway derived by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Now we’re going to explore the first part of Ashtanga Yoga – the Yamas.

It can be confusing to learn that Asana is not the first but the third step, since the physical postures are so often the first to be taught in modern Yoga. Practicing Asana makes you strong, initially physically but also mentally. It brings health and mental clarity so you can have a good foundation and mindset to then approach the ethical guidelines of Yoga – the Yamas and Niyamas, which Patanjali placed before Asana in the eightfold path.

So, what are the Yamas?

They are restraints regarding interaction with the external world. It is benefical to practice the Yamas as they help with personal growth. They cultivate desirable qualities in a yogi (gentleness, honesty, kindness, discipline) which creates a state of being that allows them to live in unity and peace with society.

There are five Yamas, as follows:

1. Ahimsa, Non-Violence

Practising Ahimsa means refraining from causing harm to all living beings. It is one of the reasons why most yogia avoid eating animal products. But Ahimsa does not just apply to physical actions – it also involves speech and thoughts. All living beings have a spark of the shared divine energy, therefore, to hurt another living being is to also hurt yourself, whether it be through physical violence, hurtful words or negative thoughts.

Patanjali defined Ahimsa as a necessary foundation for progress in Yoga, implying that we cannot be truly successful in our Yogasana practice until we purify our deeds off-the-mat too.

2. Satya, Truthfulness

Truthfulness is considered a form of reverence for the divine and is an important virtue in Yoga. We practice Satya, or honesty, by always trying to speak and act with integrity; stating the truth without distortion and choosing silence when we do not know the truth.

We can even apply Satya to the physical Yoga practice. Have you ever pushed through an injury while ignoring pain signals from your body, or allowed your ego to force you into performing a posture that you weren’t ready for? With the virtue of Satya we learn to be honest with ourselves in every moment and this is when we can make real progress in our Yoga practice.

3. Asteya, Non-Stealing

Of course, we should avoid physically taking things from other people without permission – this is stealing in the most basic sense. But the act of stealing can also be done with non-physical objects; for example, we can be guilty of stealing joy, time, energy, relationships, peace, freedom or success from others.

Sometimes, the reason behind the desire to steal is a lack of faith in ourselves. If we lack the belief that we are capable of fulfilling our needs by ourselves, it is tempting to take from others. We can also fool ourselves into thinking that our worldy desires are our actual needs – Asteya means letting go of the desire to possess these things. When we start rejoicing in what others have, rather than being envious, we can find a greater sense of contentment and freedom.

4. Brahmacharya, Right use of energy

In the strictest sense, Brahmacharya translates to celibacy as it means following the path of the Brahman who abstains from sexual activity. However, we can also interpret Brahmacharya in a broader sense: using your energy in the correct way by managing your sensory cravings.

Why should we manage our sensory desires? We can obtain temporary enjoyment by indulging in these cravings, but overindulgence depletes our Prana (vital life force) which leaves us in a worser state in the long term. By practicing Brahmacharya, we can enjoy control over our senses rather than letting them control us. When we are a slave to our desires, our happiness becomes reliant on external factors such as money, status, people and objects. Any dependency like this is unhealthy since nothing in the world is permanent – money can be lost, status can be taken away from us, people can leave and objects can be broken.

Practicing Brahmacharya rejuventates the body and mind, bringing clarity and an opportunity to deepen our spiritual awareness. It teaches us to experience enjoyment from inside, from a source of happiness that is non-fleeting.

5. Aparigraha, Non-Possessiveness

Aparigraha means letting go of greed and attachment to worldly objects. We can practice not being overly attached to our possessions by donating things we no longer need and being conscious when making new purchases.

Non-possessiveness also applies to people and emotions; we do not have control over other people, nor can we control our feelings (positive or negative) – it is their nature to come and go. While it is natural for humans to pursue happiness, having the unrealistic desire to feel happy all the time can ultimately lead to suffering when it is not possible. Instead of being attached to a state of happiness and living in fear of losing it, we can enjoy it while it happens and allow it to pass. The final verses of the poem “Hokusai Says” by Roger Keyes encompass the virtue of Aparigraha in the mind…

“Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
are life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.”


Next week will be looking at the second limb of Yoga – the Niyamas!

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Introduction to the 8 Limbs of Yoga

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोध
yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ


One of the most well-known Sutras from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the 2nd: yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah – this can be interpretated as ‘yoga is the cessation of the thoughts in the mind’.

It is the essence of what Yoga can help us to achieve – freedom from the desires that draw us away from our natural state of peace.

The Yoga Sutras were compiled by Patanjali – a great sage in India, believed to have lived sometime between 500 and 200 B.C.. Renowned as being one of the most important texts in Indian tradition and the foundation of classical Yoga, the Yoga Sutras include the practice of Ashtanga Yoga (not to be confused with the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga which was created later on).

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Ashta is the Sanskrit word for eight and anga roughly translates to limb, therefore it can be seen as an eight-fold path to help us cultivate a life of purpose, with the ultimate goal of achieving enlightenment or Samadhi.

For those who wish to follow the pathway of Ashtanga Yoga, it provides core principles that guide us through every aspect of life- one of them being the physical practice of Yogasana of course- but also extending out to include how we treat others, how we treat our selves, and how to train our minds so we gradually gain control and awareness over our thoughts, senses, desires and emotions.

Below is an overview of the 8 limbs of Yoga; each one will be expanded upon in its own article.

1. Yama – right living with others / social restraints

2. Niyama – self-discipline / right living with ourselves

3. Asana – body postures

4. Pranayama – control of the breath

5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses

6. Dhyana – concentration

7. Dharana – meditation

8. Samadhi – enlightenment / unity with the object of meditation

Here are a couple of books I’d also recommend reading if you are interested in learning more…

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Saraswati Swami Satyananda


Food and the Environment


Would you like to reduce the environmental impact of your diet by up to 73%? Environmental scientist, Dom Eardly, tells us how…


Many of us today are aware of the impacts humanity is having on the world. 19 of the last 20 years are the warmest on record according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)(1). Blue Planet II showed us the extent of global plastic pollution and global climate strikes are likely to be a feature of our summers for some time to come. 

As a result, people are looking to reduce their individual environmental impact in a whole host of ways. Some get reusable water bottles to cut down on single use plastics. Others opt to take showers rather than baths to reduce their water consumption. There are loads of great things we can do to help the planet but what’s the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact (shy of shunning all society and technology to live in a cave)? According to a 2019 study conducted at Oxford University and published in Science, it’s avoiding meat and dairy(2)

The study in question, titled ‘Reducing food’s environmental impact through producers and consumers’ is the biggest of its kind. Almost 40,000 farms were involved across 119 countries, covering 40 food products which represent 90% of all the food eaten globally. A thorough lifecycle assessment of each food product was undertaken from how it is grown, packaged, transported and purchased for consumption, with the assessment quantifying land use, emissions, use of freshwater and the pollution of water and air. 

It was found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce your environmental footprint from food by as much as 73%. Meat and dairy products were also found to be the main culprit regarding air and water pollution. 

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Today, almost 2/3 of greenhouse gases produced in agriculture come from meat and dairy, but these industries provide less than 1/5 of our calories and less than 2/5 of our protein. Meat and dairy also take up over 80% of land use in agriculture. That’s a huge amount of land for such a small return. 

Animal agriculture has always been inefficient. When a cow, pig or chicken takes in energy in its food, some of that goes to growth (which is then passed on to a human when they eat it), but the animal also uses energy to move about and to power its complex organs. Plants on the other hand, put almost all of the energy they receive into growth, making for a much more efficient source of food. One way for animal agriculture to improve its efficiency is to limit the movement of livestock. This is achieved with methods such as battery farming, where animals are kept in cramped cages. Less than ideal. 

The number one driver of habitat loss worldwide is agriculture(3). Vast swathes of ancient forests in the Amazon and Southeast Asia are being cleared in order to grow soy. Although soy is often consumed highly in plant-based diets, the vast majority of soy is grown to feed animals. A paper published by Chatham House in 2016 estimated that 70-75% of the world’s soy ends up as feed for chickens, pigs, cows, and farmed fish, with only 6% of soy being consumed directly by humans(4)

Amazon deforestation hits new high according to latest official ...
Amazon deforestation hit a new high in November 2019

Because animals are so inefficient at converting calories from feed into calories in meat, if we were to remove the chickens, pigs, cows and fish from the equation and directly consume the crops we feed them, the amount of land saved would be the equivalent of the US, China, Australia and all of the EU combined. This could then free up land for rewilding, providing natural stores of carbon which will be vital in the fight against climate change. 

That sort of transformation is a long way away. In the meantime, small individual choices can help. Why not try switching cow’s milk for oat milk?


Written by Dom Eardly

References:
(1) https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-2019-second-warmest-year-on-record
(2) https://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/360/6392/987.full.pdf
(3) https://www.forest-trends.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/doc_4718.pdf
(4) https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2016-01-28-agricultural-commodities-brack-glover-wellesley.pdf