By Sherrie Wade
I. Yam – life-supporting style of being:
1. Ahinsaa – non-violence
When using substances you are doing violence to your body and your health. Non-violence means not hurting yourself or others. You may overeat or eat the wrong foods because you feel uneasy, emotionally distraught or unhappy. The solution is to counteract this diseased condition in your system caused by your self-violent actions. Therefore, the practice of non-violence starts with loving yourself. How to love yourself then becomes the primal question. To unfold the answer we move on to the other limbs for guidance.
2. Satya – non-deception, truthfulness
How to stay truthful to yourself? The recovering person’s intention is always to be truthful about what substances they use. But the nature of the unfulfilled mind and nervous system is denial and dishonesty. To live in truthfulness is to honestly and clearly observe your mental conditions about what you put into your system. This self observation gets you directly in touch with the Knower of all your thoughts and feelings.
As one practices meditation, putting one’s attention on Knower, one remains free from mind, senses, thought patterns and latent desires. When you are living in a free, truthful state of being you choose what you truly need. You are not dependent on the temporal experience of substances for your permanent sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. From the vantage point of Knower, free being, you can pause and ask yourself: "What is needed for my long-term health and well-being?" Also: “How will I feel after using, is that how I want to feel; if I do something I know is not good for me but I crave it because of the few moments or hours of pleasure I receive while the inevitable downside of feeling physically terrible and mentally guilty for the rest of the week?"
So this is the next step in loving yourself. You are not violent and you are truthful to yourself.
3. Astaya – non-stealing
Are you wasting, or stealing from yourself, your own time, energy, longevity and the good company of your family and friends by using? Well, by practicing satya, truthfulness, your answer is probably yes. To live in a state of non-stealing you have to be clear about what you are creating, why and how.
Enjoying and sharing wonderful company with family and friends, using our supremely-endowed human senses, is a wonderful gift that all humankind is blessed with. There can be so much enjoyment in it. But – it is also important to remember – Why would you knowingly steal from your most important and valued possession – your priceless treasury of long-term health and well-being – when you fully realize you merely gain a few fleeting moments of sensual pleasure? Patanjali states that when one is fully engaged in astaya, non-stealing, all the wealth of the world becomes yours. As it’s often said, the greatest wealth is one’s own health!
4. Brahamacharya – attention on Braham or God
Human attention is naturally focused on getting maximum satisfaction for the senses and mind. By investing all one’s time and energy in fulfilling all the myriad human desires one severely limits the potential of the human mechanism to attain a higher functioning. And, using logical analysis, because these human pleasures are transitory and temporary, one has to keep repeating them, again and again, never actually reaching an ultimate beatitude, the result of which is permanent and unchanging.
Those who get completely consumed fulfilling human desires are ultimately bound to overindulge in addictive behavior. Whether it be with drugs, alcohol, food, etc., the human being, thus inclined, seeks satisfaction through actions that, taken to their extreme, result in dissatisfaction – and these actions, unrestrained, are doomed to be repeated again and again.
Patanjali thus advises the human being, caught in this worldly dilemma, to place the human attention on Braham or God, the higher state of consciousness that we experience in meditation. Established in this state one starts to feel fulfilled, peaceful and needless. When one’s attention is on Braham, the source of all being, including human being, one is progressively less-inclined to overindulge in addictive action in order to feel fulfilled.
Brahamacharya is often translated as celibacy, yet, in practice, it includes the balance and tempering of all human desires and actions. When you direct your spiritual energy, engage in life-supporting actions and constantly place your attention on the meditative state of awareness you are practicing brahamacharya in all that you do.
5. Aparigrah – non-possession
Living a simple uncluttered life helps one to stay organized and efficient in one’s actions. You have more time for beneficial activities when you limit time spent on the ones that aren’t. A simpler lifestyle also means more personal savings – more quality time, more useful money, more valuable resources, etc. Keeping your daily needs focused on the essential basics keeps your head clear and your heart full, and this means less stress and anxiety. Minimizing the negatives creates more self-satisfaction and, subsequently, less overindulgence.
Ultimately, to remain self-satisfied and free from the sense of lack and neediness (the idea that possessing raises self esteem and not possessing lowers it) you must begin to meditate and directly experience the Self Realized state. In the Self Realized state a sense of perfect ease and natural esteem flow constantly from its eternal source. We describe powerful and practical techniques to help you unfold this Self Realized state in the praanaayaam section below.
II. Niyaam – purification of body and mind:
1. Shauch – cleanliness
Shauch advises maintaining a clean living environment and, even more important, a purified inner space. Diet and activity that are not conducive to healthy and aware living are reduced and progressively eliminated. A healthy body and organized home helps one cultivate a buoyant inner space. You can remain easy and mediate more often. Clean space creates clear mind. You can be still and know the Knower.
2. Santosh – contentment
Sometimes it might appear that these eight limbs are not in the right order. You can only be truly content when praanaayaam and meditation are practiced. But, to master these powerful techniques (described later in this guide), one must consistently practice a complete yog sadhaana, one that continuously focuses one’s attention on all the eight limbs as described herein. For they are a package deal and work their magic when practiced together.
The more one practices yog sadhaana the more vairaagya (detachment) is cultivated through Self enquiry and inner observation. You begin to see clearly that acquisition of things and relative association with forms does not bring total fulfillment, rather you observe that they are transitory and impermanent experiences. But when you sit and meditate you can unfold the true state of santosh, contentment, knowing that Self is permanent, undivided and all-encompassing – it exists as and in all. And you know you are not separate from Self. Since Self’s true nature is pure, free and forever, you start to experience your own being as that also – pure, free and forever – and that brings a wonderful feeling of contentment and peace – santosh.
3. Tap – strenuous living
In our developed world things have become so convenient that one, literally, does not have to walk anywhere. You can get into your car and drive to your office, shop or appointment. If you have the money you can hire a cleaning service to do your housework, eat-out or order-in instead of home cook, and just sit on your comfortable couch with clicker in-hand and watch big-screen TV as much as you want.
Modern life, as described above, leaves us with more leisure time to waste in frivolous, sedentary inactivity. People drive to the gym, park in the closest spot and take the elevator so they can walk treadmill, climb stairmaster and ride bike. Obviously, going to the gym is worthwhile, yet, we can also begin to value every activity in our day-to-day lives as an opportunity for exercise and self-reliance.
Even though technology enables convenience we can consciously choose to live a more strenuous, healthy life: walking whenever possible, taking the stairs, cooking and cleaning, etc. You feel more satisfied, self-reliant and independently capable when you cultivate tap. And that, in turn, strengthens your practice of yog sadhaana with physical health, mental strength, stamina and stability.
4. Swaadhyaya – study for the purpose of liberation
You’ve probably already studied many dietary guides, self-help books and philosophical teachings. You realize it’s important to know what and how to study. Swaadhyaya directs us to study, for the purpose of liberation, philosophical treatises like Patanjali Yoga Darshan – the original text on yoga practice. These type of writings guide us to directly experience the liberated state of being. Patanjali Yoga Darshan, for example, is written in Sanskrit (the ancient language of Indian philosophy) which is made up of sounds and meanings based on mantras.
Mantra means ‘mind release’, so when you correctly pronounce the Sanskrit sounds and also remember their meaning, your mind gets freed from its usual waking state thinking patterns and you experience a higher state of consciousness. This type of study allows you to achieve a fulfilled state where you feel liberated from any sense of neediness and desire for sensual satisfaction. Swaadhyaya also recommends the study and enquiry into the knowledge of the Self. This study naturally develops in meditation as you observe your own dynamic nervous system and changing mind and body. Study for the purpose of liberation inspires you to initiate fresh action and remember your unchanging, eternal source through meditation and Self reflection.
5. Ishwar Praanidaan – devotion or surrender to one’s highest ideal
This type of devotion is a very integral component in most twelve-step programs as they all tend to emphasize the importance of surrendering to a higher power. This becomes problematic when one does not believe in or surrender to a higher power. Gyaan yog, the yogic path of expanding one’s intellectual knowledge to reach Self, and advait vedant, the knowledge of Self as One without a second (non-dual), are diametrically-opposite to the idea of surrender to God. Devotion and surrender to a form or ideal means there is division. God, the one worthy of your devotion, appears separate from you, the devotee. A highly-aware, super-intelligent human being may not be inclined to this type of practice.
Patanjali’s yogic system describes kaivalya as the ultimate liberation and when one attains this realized state of being, one is forever free. From the vantage point of kaivalya, the concept of Ishwar Praanidaan, the surrender & devotion to an external ideal, can be very confusing, especially if you do not know who is surrendering to whom. If there is no one other than you, the Self, then you are, in fact, surrendering your own individual sense of separation in order to unite your awareness with the highest aspect of You, which is Self. And in this act of ultimate union you are completely released from your individual dualistic mind and expanded into the liberating knowledge of the whole. So you are not actually surrendering, but, in effect, re-merging with that which you always have been – your very own Self!
The practice of Ishwar Praanidaan empowers people to realize their greatness, wholeness and completeness while simultaneously acknowledging that the individual mind of a human being is limited and incomplete. Since You, Self, are never confined to the human mind, you can, through meditation, and its resulting state of samaadhi (perfect oneness), purify the human mind and intellect to always remember one’s source as Self which is pure, free and forever. Established in that awareness you are totally fulfilled and one with God or the highest consciousness.
III. Aasan – perfect posture:
The third limb of the eight limbs, Aasan, is the one that is most-practiced here in the US. It includes all the popular systems of doing physical yoga postures. However, the deeper meaning of Aasan is often neglected when teaching and learning the many useful yoga postures. Aasan literally translates as ‘easy posture’. And the essential purpose for doing all the different yoga postures is to, subsequently, create a sense of ease in the physical nervous system so that one can sit easily and comfortably to meditate. When this takes place the subtler dynamic energy latently-residing at the base of the spine can rise up easily and powerfully to the higher centers in the human nervous system and open the happiness and wisdom channels.
The many benefits of practicing Aasan also include: stimulating regeneration of the vital organs and glands, strengthening all the muscle groups and restoring sensitivity and subtlety to the delicate human nervous system. When you practice hatha yoga regularly your weight is reduced and distributed more evenly throughout the body, your circulation is improved and the lymphatic system removes toxins and fats. Those who practice hatha yoga improve their sense of health and well-being.
IV. Praanaayaam – regulation of breath:
Praanaayaam, the regulation of your breathing, increases your capacity to take-in and make use of the life force energy. This energy, called praan, is what sustains your physical body, your health and your longevity. However, one can be healthy, in the best physical shape with the perfect weight but still not be happy. Why is this? It is because praanaayaam opens up the sushmana or sukhmana, the happiness channel. Without this opening of the kundalini energy (subtlest spiritual energy) that lies dormant at the base of the spine, your kundalini never rises up to the higher chakras or subtle nerve centers in the human nervous system. Until you practice praanaayaam with proper instructions from an experienced teacher, you may lose weight, overcome your addiction and become healthy, but you will not experience a sense of perfect satisfaction and happiness. This higher state becomes necessary if you sincerely want to stay free from addictions that are created by an unfilled state.
When you are fulfilled you still live with all the choices a human being has available to them but you live in awareness and alertness using the highest knowledge that always know what’s the the best action to do. You are not a victim of your mind and senses. You are not dependent on them to bring about happiness. You are already happy.
V. Pratyaahaar – inward focus of attention:
As you practice praanaayaam your kundalini energy rises, your attention shifts from the senses and now rests on the inner being or Self. This is one of the main benefits of the twelve step programs, one’s attention gets focused on a higher power. But if this higher power is seen as separate and exclusive you can feel small and insignificant compared to it. You, an imperfect individual, surrenders to a higher power. At heart you are still a separate ‘doer’ recovering from some wrongdoing that has been done.
By practicing pratyaahaar and focusing your attention inward you continue to raise your awareness up the through the higher chakras or centers of attention. You recognize the higher power clearly as your very own. You are in human form and, simultaneously, free from its conditions and desires that lead towards temporary, changing sensual experiences. Instead your attention dwells on the blissful Being that You are.
VI. Dhaarnaa – concentrating the mind:
Now that your attention has moved inward you are able to focus. What are you concentrating on? Is it just a mantra or your breath? You might start a meditation using a mantra or watching your breath but what you are really evolving is the focus of your awareness on the Knower – the one who is forever unchanged and watches and knows your mind and its mental impressions as pure, free and forever. Eventually you just know and watch the Knower itself, the pure Being. That Pure Being-ness you always are, permeating all the thoughts and impressions.
VII. Dhyaan – stability in meditation:
There is no other method that is as powerful and useful to overcome any type of addictive behavior then meditation. Why? Because there is no other state wherein one knows one’s self to be totally free, independent, the master of the mind and senses and completely knowing the bliss of your own Self. That bliss is not dependent on any other thing, form or substance.
To live immersed in the meditative state (as it states in Patanjali Yog Darshan Ch. 1, Vs. 14): You must practice for a long time, continuously with great respect for your efforts. However, even one meditation sitting will bring you into the here and now, the eternal presence where there is no time and space. Then you know You as bliss itself!
The eighth limb, samaadhi, helps you to understand what it is and how to unfold it continuously and completely.
VIII. Samaadhi – the state of Oneness:
This is the eighth and highest limb and it can be experienced even at the start of your ashtanga yoga practice. You get glimpses of this state even in your first meditation and by meeting an enlightened teacher who is living the samaadhi state of consciousness. This is a state that is not foreign to the human system. In actuality, samaadhi is your natural and absolute state of being.
In deep sleep you are never troubled by your mind, emotions or even by physical pain, however, you are also not awake and aware of this – you’re asleep. In samaadhi, like deep sleep, your are also not troubled but you are still awake and aware. When the changing human intellect, ‘dhi’, transcends its human nature by merging with its source, the pure Self, then the intellect is called even and unwavering, ‘sam’. Thus the samaadhi state (sam + dhi) is realized by the yogi who, established in samaadhi, remains united in that eternal field of Oneness. This state, when perfectly realized, can be lived all the time. Then there is no question about mastery. You are the master of the mind, senses and you know there is only One vision, One Being, One reality. That is You! And you are the Master free, never bound or confined by the human mind and its related addictions.
The practice of this effective eight-limbed path – Ashtanga Yoga – always leads to freedom, bliss and highest awareness! The more one practices the more one realizes the free state of being and the less the senses and mind feed into human addictive behavior. The perfection of Ashtanga Yoga is the complete purification of the human mind and nervous system! Any sense of neediness or desire for any addictive substance and any aberrant type of behavior is forever dissolved from the awareness of that Realized One! You!