my beliefs tattooed down my spine

Amelia Ricci

What you might not know is that I was a full time yoga teacher for many years and had my own yoga school with fellow teacher Jim at the Fullarton Community Centre. It is no longer in operation, however I have a tattoo of the 8 limbs of yoga in Sanskrit which runs down my spine. At the time that I finished teaching at my yoga school and then started teaching at gym’s back many years ago,I did not want to forget the following principles by which I live my life. Therefore I had them tattooed down my spine. I post these in the hope that they may also help you to be a better person.

I still practise Yoga (Ashtanga is my preferred method) and I will be going back to teaching this August. The principles below are about not lying (speaking the truth), maintaining awareness and focus on the important things in life, controlling the senses and behaving in a moral way each day.

I’ll be back to update this blog with a report on the latest Living Beauty fitness show The INBA Classic held last Saturday and some photos but in the meantime visit my facebook if you want to see the new photos of my clients click here

What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoying lasting peace.

The eight limbs are as follows:

Yama : Universal morality
Niyama : Personal observances
Asanas : Body postures
Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara : Control of the senses
Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
Samadhi : Union with the Divine

Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given on how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.

The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics.” Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, “they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.” They are as follows:

I. Yamas (Universal Morality)

1. Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things
The word ahimsa literally means not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.

2. Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness
Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing.

3. Asteya – Non-stealing
Steya means “to steal”; asteya is the opposite-to take nothing that does not belong to us. This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner.

4. Brahmacharya – Sense control
Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.

5. Aparigraha – Neutralising the desire to acquire and hoard wealth
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else.

II. Niyama (Personal Observances)

Niyama means “rules” or “laws.” These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully.

1. Sauca – Purity
The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. “But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.”

2. Santosa – Contentment
Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment ‘to accept what happens’. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.

3. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy
Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal. Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns – these are all tapas.

4. Svadhyaya – Self study
The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.

5. Isvarapranidhana – Celebration of the Spiritual
The practice requires that we set aside some time each day to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives.

III. Asanas (Body postures)
Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The practice of moving the body into postures has widespread benefits; of these the most underlying are improved health, strength, balance and flexibility. On a deeper level the practice of asana, which means “staying” or “abiding” in Sanskrit, is used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being. The challenge of poses offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and unity between the physical and the ethereal body.

As one practices asana it fosters a quieting of the mind, thus it becomes both a preparation for meditation and a meditation sufficient in and of itself. Releasing to the flow and inner strength that one develops brings about a profound grounding spirituality in the body.

IV. Pranayama (Breath Control)

Pranayama is the measuring, control, and directing of the breath. Pranayama controls the energy (prana) within the organism, in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution.

Pranayama, or breathing technique, is very important in yoga. It goes hand in hand with the asana or pose. As the yogi follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing “the patterns strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and reduce craving. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration.”

V. Pratyahara (Control of the Senses)

Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ahara means “nourishment”; pratyahara translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions as we constantly return to the path of self realization and achievement of internal peace. It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more.

Pratyahara occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we are so absorbed in the object of meditation. Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it; it is not happening the other way around. No longer functioning in their usual manner, the senses become extraordinarily sharp. Under normal circumstances the senses become our masters rather than being our servants. The senses entice us to develop cravings for all sorts of things. In pratyahara the opposite occurs: when we have to eat we eat, but not because we have a craving for food. In pratyahara we try to put the senses in their proper place, but not cut them out of our actions entirely.

Much of our emotional imbalance are our own creation. A person who is influenced by outside events and sensations can never achieve the inner peace and tranquility. This is because he or she will waste much mental and physical energy in trying to suppress unwanted sensations and to heighten other sensations. This will eventually result in a physical or mental imbalance, and will, in most instances, result in illness.

Patanjali says that the above process is at the root of human unhappiness and uneasiness. When people seek out yoga, hoping to find that inner peace which is so evasive, they find that it was theirs all along. In a sense, yoga is nothing more than a process which enables us to stop and look at the processes of our own minds.

VI. Dharana (Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness)

Dharana means “immovable concentration of the mind”. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction.

The objective in dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some stable entity. B.K.S. Iyengar states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect, and ego are “all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service. Here there is no feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

VII. Dhyana (Devotion , Meditation on the Divine)

Dhyana means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. The concept holds that when one focuses their mind in concentration on an object the mind is transformed into the shape of the object.

Meditation becomes our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind.

VIII. Samadhi (Union with the Divine)

The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realise what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged.

The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy. The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task. For this reason the Yoga Sutra suggests the practice of asanas and pranayama as preparation for dharana.

These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality.

Sources:

HolisticOnLine

Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, by Donna Farhi

Light On Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar

Yoga Mind & Body, Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center

The Essence of Yoga, Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Bernard Bouanchaud

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