By Yogeshwari Fountain
As 2018 unfolds, each teachings article will explore one of yoga’s eight limbs as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In “Self-Effort & Grace,” Swamiji and Vidyadevi Stillman describe the “self-effort” practices as the limbs of a great tree. Each branch supports you on your journey, beginning with external practices and evolving into ever more inward expansion. The eight limbs include:
- yamas and niyamas (restraints and observances)
- asana (poses)
- pranayama (breathing practices as in Ujjayi Pranayama)
- pratyahara (turning your attention inward)
- dharana (focusing inward)
- dhyana (meditation)
- samadhi (deep inner absorption).
I recently re-read my 1998 notes on Sutra 2.29. It was clear that I had my work cut out for me even then. Scribbled on the page’s margin was encouragement like “Just say no!” or “You must restrain yourself from these things.” I struggled with the question “How do you live a yogic life 24 hours a day?” It all seemed beyond my grasp. My mind was so busy, I had no idea where to begin. You see, I didn’t understand Grace, the wind that has always been beneath my wings, even before I knew it.
I was surprised to find all the ways yoga started to change my life from the inside out. Old habits no longer had the same hold. An “untruth” fell less easily off my tongue, and I stayed in awareness instead of obsession. Now I would rather meditate than watch TV! Self-Effort & Grace tells us that these are signs of spiritual progress, “cleaning up your act.”
Swamiji and Vidyadevi assure us that no matter where you start your climb, you’re going to experience all eight limbs: “It’s like climbing a tree: you can skip some limbs and still get to the top.” When I started on this path, I loved doing Svaroopa® yoga poses. Little did I know that starting with the asana branch would develop into a love of chanting, meditating and writing blogs on the ancient sutras. Swami reassures us, “You don’t have to do the limbs in order.”
Some of my students don’t want the lifestyle change yoga’s limbs provide. Thus, they do actually do less yoga in order to stay in their “comfort zone.” I understand their choice and honor the limb they want to hang out on. Yet yoga is not about happiness or comfort. It is about Self-Realization, the knowing of your inherent Divinity. If you’re yearning for this, you have to still your mind. The eight limbs of yoga specialize in this.
Guru’s Grace is the shortcut to the knowing of your Divinity, your own Self. Swami Nirmalananda awakens the arising of your own inner spiritual energy. She describes it this way, “Patanjali teaches you how to dissolve the clouds. By contrast, my Guru simply gave me the sky.” She is comparing the practices you learn from Patanjali with Guru’s Grace.
Still, you need Self-Effort. You have to do the hard stuff. Whatever limb you choose to begin with, know that the whole tree is rooted in the Grace of our Svaroopa® Vidya lineage. Baba Muktananda said, “The Self is already attained.” You get to choose how to apply yourself to the process. I started with asana, but I now focus on mantra. What will your focus be in 2018?