The Yoga Sutras, also known as The Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) of Raja (King) Yoga, was the first fully developed by Patanjali around 400 CE (Common Era) and recorded system of yoga. The Eight Limbs of Yoga will introduce yogis to the basic of concepts of yoga philosophy which will greatly enhance the benefits of yogis practice and put him/her on the path to mindfulness & self-realization.
The first and second limbs, Yama and Niyama, form your foundation. Both lay the footing for awareness and realization to come. The focus of the first limb, Yamas, is on being an ethical and moral person, and on improving your relationship with the outer world. The Yamas are meant to help develop a greater awareness of one’s place in the world. When taking steps to transform our inner world, our outer world becomes a total reflection of this effort. There are 5 Yamas:
- Ahimsa: Non-violence
- Satya: Truth to be expressed in thought, word, and action
- Asteya: Non-stealing and non-covetousness
- Brahmacharya: Abstinence from sexual intercourse when not married, practicing monogamy and not having sexual thoughts about another person who is not your spouse
- Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness or non-greediness
Let’s focus on Brahmacharya. It is believed that a life built on celibacy and spiritual studies done by free will increase energy and zest for life. If you are married or serious settling down with your soul mate, celibacy may sound like an unrealistic goal, but it may help to remember that brahmacharya is also about monogamy. When brahmacharya is fully realized in marriage, the sex lives of both partners improve because the level of trust and devotion deepens their connection. Sexual activity is an expression based on the highest level of mutual respect, love, selflessness, and wisdom.
On the other hand, the literally translation of Brahmacharya is ‘walking in the presence of the divine’. In practical world, it means replacing superficial pleasure (e.g. smoking, fast food as comfort, drinking, etc.) with divine ones that fills us with aliveness. In this sense, Brahmacharya requires the highest integrity and self-mastery – being honest in how you are connecting, with whom, and under what circumstance, so that your vital energies are utilized for transformation and not merely for entertainment.
Mindful living practice
How can you apply Brahmacharya to your everyday? It takes conscious self-reflection to become mindful of the ways in which you stray from the middle path. You can ask three questions below to help you become aware of situations and habits where you tend to take things to the extreme. Trying to ask the three questions below related to caffeine, alcohol, relationship, or anything that knocks you off balance and disturb your peace of mind.
- Where do I take things to the extreme through overindulgence?
- Where do I take things to the extreme through deprivation?
- How can I practise walking in the middle path in daily life?
Yoga does not ask you to avoid pleasure or giving up all the belongings and live in a cave in the hope of achieving non-existent spiritual perfection. In fact, it is actively encouraging you not to only avoid self-indulgence but also avoid self-denial. Why not let your intuition guide you to when you are straying from the middle path (such as over-eating or over dieting, etc) and mindfully bring yourself back by practicing Brahmacharya and treating your body as scared.
Your breath can use to quieten your nervous system and release your cravings for excess. Three-part breath, also known as Deergha Swasam, is a calming breathing exercise that allows you to breathe fully and deeply using your diaphragm. This helps to relieve tension, increase your supply of oxygen and calm the nervous system.
When I think of having a chocolate, I try three-part breath for five to ten minutes and it suppresses my craving as it is become more manageable along the way.
Three-part Breath technique
- Place your hands on your collarbones to feel the movement of the breath. You can be either lying on your back or in a seated position
- Breathing through your nose, into your belly and feeling it rise like a balloon. When you exhale, let your navel fall back towards your spine. Take five breaths like this.
- As you inhale, breathe into your belly fully. As you exhale, release from the ribcage first and then the belly. Take five breaths like this.
- This time, as you inhale, first feel your belly expand, then your ribcage, then your ribcage, and then fill your upper chest, expanding the areas around your collarbones.
- Exhale in reverse, from your upper chest, then from your ribcage and then from your belly. Take 10 to 15 breaths here, focusing on breathing smoothly and seamlessly.
Meditation practice give you the chance to see when you are off balance. It is deeply somatic; fully grounded in the body and the physical sensations that arise. Anapana meditation is a simple practice that helps to calm and concentrate the mind by focusing on the subtle sensations of the breath.
Find your comfortable seated meditation position, close your eyes and breathe naturally and mindfully. Try to be aware of sensation of the breath around the nostrils and the upper lip and focus your attention here.
Observe any sensations that is happening. Notice the ordinary physical sensations that arises as you breathe. The coolness of the breath as it enters the nostrils, the heat on your upper lip as you exhale. You will feel a subtle tickling at the edge of your nostrils, tingling on the tip of your nose.
With your effortless gentle, loving awareness, observe the sensations like watching a sunset- no judgement, no expectations, no force. Always reminder to bring your awareness back to the sensations of your breath if you catch your mind trying to escape into the pastor future.
Practise the meditation from 5 to 20 minutes a day. Gradually, you will see your body begins to stop thinking obsessively and beginning to listen your breath & body to the quiet call of your heart.
Ivy Ng (July-2021)