Road to Dhyana

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If you haven’t already read my previous Blogs: “The 8 limbs of Yoga” & “To meditate or not to meditate… that is the question (Part 1)”, I suggest you read them before continuing this post.

Dhyana, meditation or contemplation is the 7th limb of the 8 limbs of yoga. This post is called ‘Road to Dhyana’ because meditation is hard to achieve; it is a long and arduous journey. Sometimes, I can fully meditate and other times I am just practicing Dharana (concentrating) which is the step that comes before Dhyana.

I started meditating before I even knew I was meditating. As a young child I would sit in the sun in my mum’s beautiful garden with my back against the garage wall and… just sit and observe my thoughts without getting caught up in it. Sometimes I would get distracted by surrounding noises or a particularly interesting cloud, but for the most part I would just sit and observe. Then somewhere along the way- around my teenage years, I lost my ability to just sit and meditate. I had to always be doing something; with school, work and a busy social life there was little time to just sit.

But like everything else in my life, I found meditation again in my time of need. Whilst laying in a hospital bed in Honduras my ability to temporarily ‘slip away’ provided me with some relief from the terrifying situation that I was in and the pain that I should have been experiencing.

You see, after my accident I was taken first to a public hospital and then to a private hospital and finally to another private hospital. While the public hospital was beyond comprehension, it did not cause me too much trauma as I was there for only a few hours. However the second hospital was one hell of a traumatic experience, one in which I needed to escape from.

I lay in the hospital bed for 4 days in a foreign country with the only person who could speak English constantly telling me that I needed to give them money before I lost my leg. They refused me antibiotics for any infections and no pain killers were administered. My ankle and lower leg were a big as my thigh as my bones in my leg had bowed. I was scared, lonely and at first, in a lot of pain.

Luckily, I had meditation. Meditation provided me with temporary relief through diverting my attention and distracted me from the source of my pain by allowing me to focus on something else. My real pain and suffering thoughts and emotions were held in abeyance. I had learnt how to not give them any attention- to tune them out. My attention was elsewhere, and the relief was palpable.

Of course this isn’t a forever­‐state; it’s temporary. Relief is lovely but, by its very nature, it’s short­‐lived. I am in no way endorsing anyone to use meditation to escape their pain or suffering. For me I was able to use meditation to provide me with temporary relief from a certain situation that I knew would not last forever.

For those people out there reading this and thinking “Great! I can meditate my problems away” think again! These problems, issues, emotions, or pain keep on arising because they need your attention. They show up to be healed, blessed, and transformed but when you’re using spiritual practice to seek relief you’re doing the exact opposite. Meditation­‐as‐relief is an escape strategy and not a healthy way to deal with you problems. When you seek to escape thoughts and emotions you’re not dealing with them and instead you’re denying them what they need to transform.

Instead I suggest that you use meditation to help understand it, come to terms with it and perhaps find ways in which you can begin heal it. Dr Ian Gawler of the Ian Gawler Foundation states that “No matter where in your life you want to see improvement, meditation can help. It does not matter what age you are, your culture or beliefs; meditation is for everyone and can provide you with great benefits, many of which have been scientifically confirmed. This simple, yet powerful mind training tool, can bring long-term improvement to your health, well-being, relationships and career.” Mindbody Mastery. I can certainly testify that meditation has brought long-term improvement to my health and well-being and I am starting to use it for personal growth and to improve my relationships and career.

 

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

(May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all).

Om, Shanti.

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The 8 limbs of Yoga

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Yoga is not about perfection and while in the West, it has become about coming to your mat one day at a time to learn more about yourself and train the mind to focus, it is also about something that goes past the asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath work). Even when this seems obvious it can be difficult to articulate what that “more” is, well I know it was for me to articulate exactly why yoga made me feel so good and why I kept on coming back to the mat. It is obvious that it was something more than just the physical, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I did my Yoga Teacher Training that I discovered what that something more was- it was The 8 Limbs of Yoga that are interwoven into all good yoga classes. The 8 Limbs were written by Patanjali in a sacred text called The Yoga Sutras in around 200 A.D. The 8 limbs help to define yoga and is a common thread in all styles and systems of yoga.

Living your life to the fullest takes time and dedication. Putting in the effort will take a little bit of self-discipline, but the rewards you will gain will be well worth it. The 8 limbs are a comprehensive way of life/ life philosophy that will help guide you to a more fulfilled life. Each of the eight limbs addresses a different aspect of our multifaceted being, and together they act as a road map to what most yogis refer to as “yoga off the mat.”

Here’s a brief overview of each of the eight limbs:

  1. The 8 limbs begin with the Yamas which deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. There are 5 Yamas are universal practices and are as follows:
  • Ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Bramacharya (sexual restraint)
  • Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

2. The second limb consists of the Niyamas which are about self-discipline and spiritual observances and include:

  • Saucha (purity)
  • Santosha (contentment)
  • Tapas (discipline or austerity)
  • Svadhyaya (spiritual studies)
  • Ishvarapranidhana (constant devotion to the Divine, God, or whatever you want to call ‘IT’- for me it is nature).

3. Asana refers to yoga postures but in Patanjali’s initial practice, it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation. The practice of yoga asanas came about eight centuries later, which helped disciples ready their bodies for meditation.

4. Pranayama is generally translated as breath control and consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognising the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. It is yoga breathing techniques designed to control prana or vital life force. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.

5. Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. By withdrawing we are able to objectively observe our habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.

6. Dharana refers to concentration and it is through Pratyahara that we create the setting for dharana. Once we have relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we are then able to deal with the distractions of the mind itself which, if you have read my previous blogs, is no easy task for most people! We learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single object.

7. Dhyana is the practice of meditation or contemplation. It is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus.

8. Samadhi, the eighth and final limb, is described by Patanjali as a state of ecstasy/ enlightenment/ bliss.

Yoga is a practice that anyone can do, on and off the mat. You don’t have to follow Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, but in my opinion it is when you begin to take yoga ‘off the mat’ that you start seeing the vast benefits of yoga in your everyday life. Keeping in mind these values and striving to aspire to them, even moderately, could be a huge tool in the pursuit of happiness. In addition, I feel like it is nice to understand the roots and foundation of a practice that you love doing for a deeper appreciation of the practice. As long as you remember that yoga is not about forcing, but about embracing the practice and the journey, it will certainly benefit your life.

I truly believe that knowledge is power, so I hope that in sharing this knowledge with you has, in some way, enhanced or empowered you in your life.

 

Namaste, Natalie