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The Path of a Yogi

by Jo Wilkie

“Modern” Yoga is based on a book written around 5000 BC by the sage Yoga philosopher, Pantajali. He wrote a book called Pantajal Yoga Sutra, in which he detailed the path of Astanga Yoga (NOT to be confused with the current craze of Ashtanga Yoga, a physical STYLE of asana practice).

In Sanskrit, “Ashta” means Eight and “Anga” is limbs so the literal translation is the Eight Limbed path. The eight limbs consist of the Yamas and Niyamas (the ideal actions and behaviors of Yoginis), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (maintaining perspective), Dharana (mindfulness), Dhyana (Meditation), and, finally, Samadhi (enlightenment, or perfect happiness).

Now, here is a confession. I practiced Yoga asana and pranayama for many years before I learned ANYTHING about the other limbs of Yoga. Frankly, it just didn’t speak to me. In fact, it sort of freaked me out. I began studying Buddhism, because the language appealed to me so much more than the Yogic language. THEN I found out that Budda was a Yogi before he was the Buddha!! So, essentially, Buddhism is built on the foundation of Yoga. I began studying Yoga philosophy at that juncture and found many, many similarities between the two philosophies, and Yogic philosophy became something I could relate to as young, modern, practicioner. And honestly, for me, studying Buddhism first made it a lot easier for me to translate Yogic philosophy into something that made sense for my life.

First and foremost, an essential daily practice for me consists of Asana (physical posture), Pranayama (breath control) and dhyana (meditation). This sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? But let’s look closer. On a very busy day, I might find time for 3 or 4 of my favorite postures. Later in the day, when something is posing a challenge to me, I might stop and practice belly breathing for 2-4 minutes. Before bed, I might then take a seat on my meditation cushion for five minutes. Maybe 15 minutes of “formal” practice, but what an impact those precious minutes can have in grounding me, which helps me bring the other limbs of Yoga into everyday life!

Throughout the day (the goal being to *always* be in this place), in all my endeavors, I strive to be fully present and mindful (dharana), while staying above how I think things “should” be (pratyahara, or maintaining perpective).

The Yamas and Niyamas are an interesting dimension to all this. I found that by practicing meditation, asana, and pranayama while working to bring a mindful perpective to my daily life, the ideals of the Yamas and Niyamas began to organically shape my behavior. However, you could also consciously begin working with them (I think the best place to start is ahimsa, or non-violence) and, quite naturally, you would find yourself being more mindful with a larger perspective in your daily life. It depends entirely on what appeals to you.

In any case, the last stop on the modern path of Yoga is Samadhi, or enlightenment. Doesn’t this sound sooooo spacey and unattainable?? In reality, for me and most mere mortals, this is, simply put, living your Yoga. Being in a place of perfect happiness and peace, no matter what is happening. Equanimity, or, what I like to refer to as, everyday enlightenment.

Imagine that you have had your brief formal practice for the day, and you are making lunch for your children. You are totally in the moment, from taking in the happy sounds of your children playing and the smell of the nourishing food your are preparing, to the feel of your feet solidly touching the earth. The sun is coming through the window, warming your back. But, with your perspective of wisdom, you are filled with gratitude for the moment, because you know, like everything, it will soon change.

Fast forward 15 minutes in the future: the children are now hitting a blood sugar low because they are so hungry. They have begun fighting with each other, the phone is ringing and lunch is burning. You banged your head on a cabinet running for the phone and well, still, you are mindful. You recognize, with your perspective, that this, too, is a fleeting moment, quite different from your previous moment, but still yours to live out. You gently separate the children, giving them both some hugs and reassurance, make some peanut butter sandwiches and veggie sticks and sit down with some ice on your head. It’s just a moment, just a circumstance and it doesn’t impact the spaciousness of your heart or the stillness of your mind. It is, simply, life. To be lived fully, both in challenge and delight.

Okay, that would be nice, but even if it doesn’t play out exactly like this (which, if you are anything like me, it won’t)…

What is fabulous to note, as a busy, modern woman is that LIFE IS THE HEART OF PRACTICE!!! We don’t have to go navel-gaze in the Himalayas. It can all happen in your kitchen, the cubicle, the subway…. wherever we are, a practice is available in each and every moment! And maybe, 10 or 100 or even 1,000 lifetimes from now, after lots of stumbling around on the path, maybe we will reach Buddha status… but in the meantime, we can all settle for glimmers of freedom and perfection on the path of everyday enlightenment.

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