Do You Practice the Eightfold Path of Yoga? Why it Matters

Ashton Aiden
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Yoga, in our Western culture, has over time become known as a method of exercise. The sad truth is that, in many cases, this is how yoga is being taught – even by those that have undergone training and have been qualified as “experts.”
Leave it to our culture to take such a vast and efficient means of spiritual growth and turn it into something that focuses primarily on how great it makes your body look, buying the right kind of yoga leggings, accessorizing with the latest and greatest props, and taking impressive pics to post on social media.
I’ve had many conversations with serious spiritual seekers that have tried yoga (or at least thought they had tried yoga), only to become disheartened with the practice, and decide that it did not provide them with the growth and progress they had hoped it would.

This is what I usually say in these types of conversations:

“When you went to yoga class, was it mostly about doing physical postures?”
“Did you know that postures are only about 1/8th of the full path of yoga?”
That’s right. Postures – as impressive as they may be, as toned and fit as they might make your body – are less than 15% of the 8-fold Path of Yoga!
Even if we tie breathing exercises into it, we’re still at about 25%, or 1/4th of what Yoga is really all about and has to teach you.
Many of the greatest yogis from our history are not very fit-looking, and are rarely, if ever, caught on camera doing any extreme postures, other than sitting in full lotus. What we do see in many photographs of these great yogis is that they are sitting quietly, with eyes half-closed, meditating.

Postures – as impressive as they may be, as toned and fit as they might make your body – are less than 15% of the 8-fold Path of Yoga!


What is the Goal of Yoga, Really?

Getting back to the grassroots of Yoga, it is important to ask what its aim or goal is. The word “yoga” means union. In the context of the practice of Yoga, it is union with the Divine, the Universe, the union with God (if you prefer that word).
The traditional Eightfold Path of Yoga, as taught through the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is a step-by-step method of achieving such an experience. In this methodology, practices of “right thinking,” “right action,” physical purification techniques, breathing practices, and postures are used as a preparation for the final steps necessary to enter a state in meditation known as Samadhi (where the yogi finally attains this union with the Divine that they have been striving for).

Breakdown of the Eightfold Path

In its most traditional sense, and relying heavily upon The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (I highly recommend this book to any dedicated yogi), the Eightfold Path of Yoga can be summed up in this way:
1. Yama (moral conduct): Non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), integrity (asteya), moderation (brahmacharya), good-will and service toward others (aparigraha).
2. Niyama (spiritual observances): Purity of body and mind (saucha), non-attachment/contentment (samtosha), discipline (tapas), study of religious texts/knowledge (svadhyaya), devotion to Truth or God (ishvara pranidhana).
This is where the Yogi begins to practice things like Kriya purification techniques, and yogic dietary changes.
3. Asana (physical postures): It is here where physical yoga poses and energetic locks are learned, and greater knowledge of the energetic body and its full potential are introduced.
4. Pranayama (breath control): Pranayama builds upon Asana, and further develops one’s control and understanding of the flow of prana (and its manipulation) through the body at its more subtle level.
If you’re interested in learning a specific pranayama technique from me, read this article on alternate nostril breathing.
5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal): This principle can also be described as “interiorization.” Certain techniques and practices are learned to withdrawal one’s identification with and attachment to the physical senses while approaching meditation.
6. Dharana (concentration): To many, this step would be described as meditation, or at least the technique used in meditation. In Dharana, the mind is focused solely upon a single object or thought (a mantra, the third eye chakra, the breath).
7. Dhyana: Though the last two steps could roughly be considered meditation, in Yoga, meditation is achieved after one has fully withdrawn their energy from the external senses, and firmly fixated their attention on a single point of focus. In Dhyana it is common to experience bliss, cosmic light, the eternal sound of “OM,” or the presence of Divinity.
8. Samadhi: The final step of the Eightfold Path, Samadhi is a total immersion or merging with All That Is. In this total state of One-ness, identification with the individual self or ego ceases. Interesting note: Even in Samadhi, there are different subtle “levels” that the yogi learns to master and move through.

The Eightfold Path Expanded

In traditional Yoga (getting back to our conversation about physical yoga only being one small part of this Eightfold Path), postures and breathing exercises are not learned until one has first practiced the disciplines that apply to their daily life (service, integrity, devotion, discipline) with a heavy focus on purification through the Shat Kriyas.
Second, and important to understand as well, the postures and breathing exercises are learned as a means to both prepare for and enhance the later steps of meditation. The main purpose of the postures, and then the pranayama exercises, is to prepare the body and mind to be better able to sit in meditation, withdrawal the senses, and concentrate.


The Takeaway

What this all means, in my perspective, is that postures and breathing techniques are not ends within themselves, but means to move further. As I mentioned before, when we look at old pictures of acclaimed yogi saints, we see their bodies are not so muscular, fit, or developed, and that they are usually sitting in meditation.
This hints at the idea that they did not spend years developing exotic postures and physical moves, but more likely utilized this step in the yogic path to move on to the more important phases that deal with the mind and meditation.
My intention is not to discredit or invalidate people’s efforts in practicing what they have practiced, but simply to give a more broad perspective on the practice of this ancient and effective discipline.
If one wishes to master the asanas because they feel called to do so, this is their path and blessings to them as they walk it. Yet it is important for those who are coming to Yoga with the hope that it will bring them peace, spiritual fulfillment, and perhaps even a legitimate path to enlightenment to understand its full scope, goal, and context.
So in my experience, Yoga is much more about the mind and meditation than it is about postures, exercise, and the body.
It is my hope that this knowledge will help you in finding how Yoga fits into your life, as you weave through both the authentic teachings of this sacred and powerful practice and the commercialization and ego-centric distortions that have come about in recent times.
Blessings to you in walking your path.

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Ashton Aiden

Ashton is a life coach and the founder of BrainWaveLove, an embodiment of his desire to help people find practical, effective ways for manifesting their dreams, and experiencing success in all realms of life. You can download Ashton's free Ebook, Missing Keys To The Art Of Manifestation on his blog.

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