As part of my beautiful yoga teacher training retreat, I have been asked to contemplate on the first two sutras of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts here in this blog.
The first two limbs are part of the classical collection, The Yoga Sutras – an ancient scripture with 196 sutras written by the sage Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras offer suggestions on how to develop a spiritual practice, as we walk the path of self-realization.
If you’re not familiar with the sutras, please see my earlier blog – Yoga Sutras: 8 steps to a more purposeful and meaningful life where I talk more about the eight limbs of yoga, and the art of living our lives in love, spiritual truth and divine connection.
Along our journey of spiritual awakening, there comes a point where we seek deeper connection, higher consciousness, and greater awareness. With a dedicated spiritual practice, many of us get to enjoy the bliss of samadhi during savasana and deep meditation, but the question I often ask myself is – how do I totally awaken, and stay in that enlightened consciousness forever?
The answer, according to Patanjali, as described in the Yoga Sutras, is to practice the eight limbs of yoga.
The first of these is Yama, which involves nonviolence (this includes negative thoughts against others), truthfulness, non-stealing (this includes not working on your own projects while working for someone else!), continence and non-greed.¹ Yama is centered around right action, and focuses on good conduct, and how we behave in life. And it’s so true, isn’t it? When we treat others well – we feel better ourselves!
When I first became acquainted with the yamas, it was shocking to me to see how many negative thoughts I still continue holding against others – despite all my spiritual growth. I have a particularly hard time letting go of not getting paid – because this affects my ability to provide for my daughter, and I am often experiencing having harsh thoughts against people who have harmed a person, or an innocent animal. I am following Patanjali’s advice of changing my thoughts as soon as a negative thought arises, because I know nothing will get better by me feeling hatred. What is required, I believe, is action taken from a place of love!
I can give you an example. Some time ago I did not get paid for quite a few meditation groups I had facilitated with an organization. One of my colleagues who had not received her payment either, decided to file a lawsuit against the owner of the center. Whereas I really needed the money at the time, I felt with all my heart that a lawsuit would come from a place of hatred, and would ultimately cause the owner harm – and since we’re all connected – also myself.
I decided to let it all go, and trust in a positive outcome. Months went by and nothing happened. However, I had not fully let it go – I was still secretly upset with the owner from time to time.
Every time I would have a thought of having been treated unfairly, I would feel sad for me and my daughter to have to suffer because someone else struggled with their path. However, this exact realization – that it was really just another person’s path – was what made me through it, and I found love in my heart. When we realize that someone else’s action is their own journey, and are able to let our negative thoughts go – we’re practicing what Patanjali refers to as pratipaksa bhavana.
One day after having practiced pratipaksa bhavana for about two months, I intuitively felt it was time to speak my truth – but now from a place of love and non judgment.
I texted the owner and told her how much I appreciate our working relationships, and how I would prefer to keep a nice future open for working together again. I also added how special it would be for me to receive payment for my classes. She texted me back within an hour and asked me to come down and pick up a check that day!
Sometimes, we just need to surrender and accept what is – until we feel intuitively guided to take action. If I had sent her that same message two months earlier, I would probably not have had the same results – because I was still upset and hurt from not getting paid on time. I see the whole example as a divine exercise in switching my negative thoughts – into understanding, compassion, and realizing that another person’s actions do not always have to do with me – it is likely that it’s their own anger and pain shining through. The best way to deal with those situations is therefore from a place of acceptance, love, and understanding. If we’re not there when it happens, I suggest taking some time in silent reflection, changing our thoughts – and think about something else – until we feel ready to deal with the situation from a place of love!
The second limb, niyama, involves our own individual spiritual observances, and helps us live a life in grace and spiritual dedication. The niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books, and worship of God.¹ I love this step so much! To me, when I devote myself to my spiritual path, studies, and practices, I am content wherever I am, and there is an experience of limitless and causeless joy.
My favorite place to be in – is definitely contentment. If you take the time really getting to know someone, you will soon see that they have had their own fair of struggles in life. I am not an exception. I know what it’s like to suffer, and live in fear of not being able to provide for my family. I was on temporary immigration status for several years, and that included some time periods without work permits – where I would pray for miracles to help me and my daughter through each month – and often I lived not only month to month – but day to day.
Beautifully, it was during this uncertain time that I was able to experience real inner joy! All my life I had so many fears about what could happen, and what may happen, and now all of a sudden, I was forced into situations where some of my worst fears had come true. As it turns out these were the moments when I was able to find true contentment -living fearlessly, and just observing. Some things we have no control over, and some we do. Learning to see the difference is an important aspect of observance to me.
It was during this time that I truly realized that life is always changing – and there is no outer situation in the world that can make me feel safe. I accepted what is! I also saw how a feeling of safety can only be found within. I realized that if my situation had been different, and I would still have had a secure corporate job (like I did for so many years), there would have been other fears and worries. When we are content we accept situations as they are. Things come and go.
Living in observance is just what I needed on my path – and no surprise, I attracted circumstances where I could practice non judgment, and live a life in devotion, have faith that all is well, and for the first time in my life – really love and understand myself with compassion, connecting with my heart and the divine, and really being there for others.
As a blossoming yogini, I love practicing, honoring, and living the 8 limbs. I am looking forward to flowing with ALL OF THEM one day, somewhere in time.
Love & Gratitude,
¹ Satchidananda, Sri Swami (1978) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Buckingham, VA: Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville
Anna-Karin Bjorklund is a writer and inspirational speaker, and the author of Dream Guidance: Interpret Your Dreams and Create the Life You Desire! She loves sharing her passion for dreams and soul growth with audiences near and far, and has made expert appearances on Fox & Friends, and the Steve Harvey TV Show on NBC, and been interviewed by Money Magazine, Daily Worth, Marie Claire UK and other media outlets.