21 May

By Nirmala Raniga: When we think of yoga, we often picture crowded studios with students in stylish clothes twisting their bodies into difficult shapes. However, the true practice of yoga is much more than that. In fact, yoga is the Sanskrit word for union, the alignment of mind, body, and spirit. And, while the concept of yoga is simple, the practice consists of many facets.

The most well-known yoga text is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which provides a framework for the practice of yoga. In this book, Patanjali defines the Eight Limbs of Yoga, guidelines to help us live fuller, happier lives. These recommendations are particularly important for those who have struggled with addiction and whose internal compasses may need some assistance to rediscover balance as they strive to recover. That said, whether we are addressing addictive behaviors or simply seeking greater fulfillment, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are universal practices from which we can all benefit.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are: 

  • Yamas: The Yamas are guidelines to help us treat others as we would like to be treated.
  • Niyamas: The Niyamas are our own rituals and practices. They are those activities that help us nurture the body, mind, and spirit.
  • Asana: Asana practice is what we typically see in a yoga studio; it is the practice of yoga postures, which help keep our bodies – the vehicles for our minds and spirits – healthy, flexible, and strong.
  • Pranayama: Pranayama exercises are breathing techniques that bring energy and calmness to the mind, body, and spirit.
  • Pratyahara: The practice of Pratyahara centers on turning our attention inward, away from the outside world.
  • Dharana: Dharana is concentration, and this practice helps us move away from our thoughts as we enter meditation.
  • Dhyana: Dhyana is finding stillness through meditation.
  • Samadhi: Samadhi is translated as transcendence, when we understand and experience the true Self and feel totally connected with the whole of the Universe.

The Yamas are much like the Golden Rule, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, and they consist of five philosophies and practices:

The first is Ahimsa, non-violence or non-harming. When we practice Ahimsa, we commit to not hurting any living thing, including ourselves. Often, when people struggle with addiction, this first Yama is the one that is the most difficult to follow. Addiction not only harms those around the person who is actively using, but it first and foremost hurts the addicted individual.

The next Yama is Satya, which means truthfulness. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest with others and ourselves. When we are engaged in Satya, we do our best to take an honest look at our situations, relationships, and lives, accepting where we are in this moment. As we do this, if we are also practicing Ahimsa, we are able to look honestly at our lives with kindness and compassion.

Often translated as celibacy or sexual discipline, Brahmacharya reminds us that sexual desire and activity must be practiced within healthy boundaries. Addiction often plays a role in one’s losing his or her inhibitions and in sexual infidelity and lack of control.

The next Yama is Asteya, honesty. This Yama reminds us that we need to be honest about what is ours and what is not. Asteya reminds us that we must respect other people’s boundaries, commitments, and possessions and only take what belongs to us. When people are in the depths of addiction, stealing can become part of their lives. As individuals recover and move toward more healthy lifestyles, understanding the impact stealing has on others and oneself can help reinforce the practice of this Yama.

Much like the Commandments that caution not to covet one’s neighbors’ property and relationships, Aparigraha, or generosity, reminds us to refrain from possessiveness. This is different from non-stealing because it has more to do with one’s state of mind rather than the action itself. Whenever we make bad choices in our lives, be that active or within our minds, we create an internal conflict that prevents us from realizing our potential. When we practice Aparigraha and are happy with what we have in our own lives, not looking outside ourselves for what others may have, we nurture a sense of well-being within that can help us expand and thrive.

For those who struggle with addiction, living a “right life,” one that enhances both society and the individual, can be very difficult. It is imperative that people forge new paths toward a healthy lifestyle by participating in yoga asana and meditation sessions, eating nourishing meals, and utilizing holistic counseling for themselves and their families.

Over the next few weeks, we will continue with our discussion of The Eight Limbs of Yoga starting with taking an in-depth look at personal practices and rituals, the Niyamas.