Insights, Tips, and Just Cool Information
In a recent fashion article, a Hollywood celebrity describes a conversation with her 7 year old daughter.
— “Mommy, are famous?”
Mom: “no, I don’t think so? —-
Is there something I am not seeing? How is this not an outright lie?
In Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga, the word “Avidya” - means “not-seeing” or “not-knowing.” Some translations use the term ‘ignorance.”
While Avidya refers to the inherent fear of death, and how humanity is “not-seeing” the fallacy of that notion (immortality and what it means is a topic for a different article). Here we see Avidya in terms of honesty or truth. Truth in Sanskrit is ‘Satya’ and the word Sat refers to ‘that which exists, that which is.’
As it stands, our Hollywood celebrity comment to her child, who came home hearing from others that her parents are famous, is ignoring that which exists (her new movie is promoted all over the world for over a year), choosing to tell her child that which is…not.
After all, this Hollywood celebrity is no different than you and I. When our children ask difficult questions, we unknowingly (or knowingly) tell them fibs (white lies – small lies - that we feel protect them).
“Mommy, why is that man fat?” asks a child.
“Shhhh,” exclaims a socially frightened mother. “He is not fat. Do not say that out loud.”
What “white lie” did you told your child lately?
About 3000 years ago, a very unique perspective on ‘truth’ was presented by a man name Patanjali.
Unlike ‘don’t lie’ from the 10 commandments, Patanjali says: ‘when you are filled with honesty, anything you say comes into existence.’
Let me say it in another way, when you only speak truth, any wish you speak comes true.
Sounds mystical? Illusionary? Magical?
Maybe that is why Patanjali, whose use of the word Yoga without reference to Gods/Goddesses or Deities, is considered the father of modern Yoga.
During his time, and for many centuries after, Patanjali’s teachings were only available as one-on-one type training, over long period of time.
Today, one can easily read his sutras (or sentences) on multiple different websites, with expanded and varied interpretations.
The word ‘Yoga’ is often associated with body movements called ‘yoga poses’ or ‘Asana,’ in Sanskrit. But Asana is only ‘one limb’ in what we can call ‘Body of Yoga.’ Much like your arm, or your leg are just limbs of your Body.
Imagine if you used or moved only your arms? That would be a limitation to what you could do with your whole body.
In such a manner, modern yoga seems focused on only 4 out of the 8 limbs Patanjali describes.
Let’s call them – ‘the 2 arms’ and ‘the 2 legs.’
This helps explain why it is slow to discover the other 4 limbs.
Think of an action video game, where you see your arms and legs. These are obvious, within reach, and easily accessible.
Patanjali describes these 4 limbs of modern as: Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharana.
Or in English – body pose, breath awareness, inward focus, concentration.
These are powerful things to learn to control.
In fact, when you look at any Olympic athlete, you realize they are do it better than most of us.
One can wonder why we don’t also crown Olympian champions as master yogis and yoginis?
Or rather, if you learn these 4 limbs any person is transformed into an Olympian or star.
And with social media as proof, we ‘crown’ those who ‘look good’ through how they look in their body poses.
The difference between Yoga and Olympics lies in the other 4 limbs.
But learn just these 4 limbs and apply them into any field in your life and you are guaranteed to turn heads, find financial success, and maintain physical strength and mental vitality.
These limbs are these 4 skills: stand tall (body posture), breathe deep, control your inner sensations, and focus on the task at hand.
These 4 skills are mentioned in every self-help book ever written.
It is Patanjali’s other 4 limbs that reveal a deeper aspect of Yoga practice.
Limbs that the sage Vamana Rishi, who developed what is called “Ashtanga Yoga System,” realized grow with regular practice. That practicing these 4 limbs, the other limbs will ‘blossom’ in the individual.
Those other limbs are: Yamas, NiYamas, Dhyana, Samadhi.
Or in English: Personal responsibilities, Social responsibilities, Meditation and Immersion.
Unlike the first 4 limbs we explored, these are not so easy to “grasp.”
The first four limbs are easy to understand, easy to describe, and applicable right away.
You can use them and apply them and immediately see a response.
Next time you walk into any meeting, focus on keeping your body upright and your breath full. Notice the inner sensations, and focus on the people you with (as opposed to what is on your phone, or the conversation of the people behind you).
If you do not notice an immediate shift, send me an email.
Learning how to improve and enhance these skills, is Modern Yoga.
But the other 4 limbs are awkward. How do you apply them in the meeting example above?
It gets even more complex when you realize that Yamas and NiYamas are like the hand or the foot.
Each has 5 digits.
There are 5 deeper aspects in Yamas and 5 deeper aspects in NiYamas.
This is one reason Patanjali’s view on Truth is easily overlooked.
Truth is the second finger on the hand of Yamas.
How often do you think of your fingers? Let alone an individual finger?
How about your toes? Or just one of your toes?
Next time you type, how much attention do you really have on each finger, and how much is the result of repetitive action that you ignore for the sake of seeing the words turn into sentences, before you hit ‘send.’
Truth is a finger in Yamas. The other fingers are: non-violence, no-stealing, sexual responsibility, and non-possessing.
Patanjali has a very unique description for each of these. Let’s take non-stealing, which is described as: ‘when there is no-stealing, you gain everything.’ Or let’s take non-violence: ‘When you are full of non-violence, anyone that comes near you becomes non-violent.’
Unlike the quick adjustments that are easily learned with the first 4 limbs, the other 4 limbs do not produce immediate results. They are a result. A blossoming. Like the fragrance of a flower. Or ripening of a fruit.
Here lies the secret to how we become more truthful, how we drop our lies, how we inspire our children to speak what is, rather than what they think will be impress.
The awareness we develop when we connect to our Yogic Arms and Legs (the first 4 limbs), the attention we begin to experience start to shed light on the words we use, the possessiveness we develop, and the sexual irresponsibility we justify to ourselves. Patanjali has no judgements. He simply points out that when one is conscious of the sexual energy, one acquires great vitality and strength.
It is far easier to master controlling your breath, then to be honest with about sex.
Yet you see that those who are honest with their sexuality have an aura of strength and vitality.
Too many interpretations translate this as ‘abstinence.’ Suggesting an effort to suppress of control sexuality, which further alienates this limb (and its fingers) in most ‘readers’ and yoga teacher trainings.
For a deeper perspective on finding truth through sexuality is in the revolutionary work of David Deida. Who, in my words, uses the first 4 limbs to tap into the second 4 limbs through sexuality.
The 5 fingers of Niyamas are – Sauca, Santosha, Tapas, Savdhyaya, Ishwara-Pranidhanani.
In English - cleanliness (body and mind), contentment, enthusiasm, self-study, and faith in connection.
Like Yamas, these also blossom naturally over time. Faster with awareness on their meaning.
It is interesting to note that Patanjali considered the last 3 fingers of NiYamas as ‘Yoga in Action.’
Rather than praising the body and the poses it can achieve (through focus of mind and calmness of breath). The yoga pose is but a trick, good luck balancing in a yoga pose without the other 3 limbs (breath, inner awareness and focus).
For modern practitioners this is Yoga in Action.
But for Patanjali Yoga in action was: enthusiasm, self-study and faith in connection.
Take a moment and recall the most exciting activity you have had in your life. What were you most excited and enthusiastic about?
It has a texture, right? A taste and a feeling you can almost touch. Not so easy to put into words, but perfectly available when you recall this exciting activity.
Enthusiasm, as a finger in Patanjali NiYamas, refers to our ability to evoke and maintain this sense of enthusiasm, in every moment.
Yoga in Action.
Self-study refers to learning about and from others who experienced and shared what we perceive yoga is. One example is reading and applying these principles from Patanjali.
Yoga in Action.
Faith in connection refers to the active maintaining of a faith, faith that there is such an aspect as a connection among all things. That within all aspects of existence lies a thread of connection, that is the same throughout time.
After all, if you don’t have this faith, why are you doing it?
Yoga in Action.
So much easier to snap a yoga pose picture and post on Instagram.
Let’s wrap up and look at the remaining 2 limbs. Meditation and Immersion.
Meditation is the moment when there is no effort in maintaining attention.
The popularity of the word adds to why it is easily overlooked. In reality that 99% of those who say they meditate, actually engage in concentration.
99% of people who meditate have to keep bringing their attention back to the object of their meditation.
Try and meditate right now. Just fall into a state of perfect presence without the disturbance of thoughts, breath, with hardly any physical activity.
Very few people have experienced sitting next to a person in meditation.
Surfing might be a better example to explore the difference between concentration and meditation.
Surfing, for anyone who tried or surfs, is another misnamed activity.
It should be called ‘body paddling with moments of standing.’
Surfing is a much sexier word.
Meditation is also a far sexier word than concentration.
You spend far more time paddling than you do standing and surfing.
When you “catch a wave” there is a distinct and unique experience that is very different than the paddling that was done to achieve the ride.
As much as riding a wave is a by-product of paddling, Meditation is a by-product of concentration. Meditation is a different experience than concentration. Like riding a wave is not the same experience as paddling.
The limb known as ‘Samadhi’ is even more elusive for the mind to understand. Samadhi is an experience beyond normal vocabulary.
Let’s continue with the surfing metaphor for a moment.
Once you actually catch a ride, the longer it lasts, the longer we can experience the force behind the wave, and the connection the we have to this force (thanks for the board).
There is an undeniable sense of connection to something beyond yourself, to something that is “alive” and moving, that somehow you and this force are “one” together. This awareness is as real as the device you are holding and reading this article on.
While you can feel afraid (like when the wave is too powerful and you lose control), or empowered (as when you ride the wave all the way to the shore and are filled with a sense of glory), if you can keep this sense of connection that you experienced while riding the wave, or, to use yoga terminology, if you can keep the state of meditation while you walk, talk, basically live life, then you are in ‘samadhi.’
Which is described as the state of ultimate bliss. A state of no fear and total freedom. A state of compassion and generosity to any life that comes your way.
Or what Patanjali and any spiritual writing tries to describe in its core, the state of your pure existence, sometimes referred to as God, Goddess, Light, Energy, that which was never born, could never die, was always here, will always be here. That which existence appears and vanishes, only to appear again.
Yoga according to Patanjali is the effort to quiet our own inner distractions so we can relax as this existence that is always looking at its creation.
Knowing that is will be hard, knowing that removing the blinds from our own ‘Avidya’ required time and persistence, Patanjali described a way of looking at Yoga as a Body. With 8 limbs, and 10 fingers/toes.
It will take time to fully notice our fingers and toes, but as we continue to practice with our ‘yoga arms and legs’ we are bound to blossom fully in our Yoga Body.
As we observe our words and our actions, we can make them more true, and discover how to communicate about what is. After all, as an ancient Chinese proverb puts it: ‘what is, IS, and what is not, IS-NOT.’ And when your state is such that you are truthful, any action you take will be successful.
The first 4 limbs we mentioned you can find easily experience in any Yoga class, whether live or on Zoom.
With your understanding of the other 4 limbs, you can watch them bloom in you over the next few years of regular practice.
Look beyond your “yogic arms & legs”
Find your fingers and toes.
Your heart and your soul.
The place inside of you that is of Joy, Light, Love and Peace
That is the fruit of practice. That is why you hear the word ‘Namaste’ at the end of a yoga class.
And let’s be honest, if you are an A-list Hollywood actor or actress, you are famous.
Own it. Don’t lie to your kids. Let them discover how to talk honestly about what is.
You can go to Hollywood and be famous, or you could do Yoga you become a star.
After all that is what you are.
Yoga in Action.