2012-04-08

The 8-Fold Path: Who Cares?


(Also posted on MindBodyGreen.)

During my post graduate work a professor bluntly asked me, “Who cares about the eight-fold path of yoga anyway?” As rude as this may sound it actually opened the door to some interesting discussions! If people are in fact satisfied with the physical does it matter they are missing the rest? The dilemma of course is that learning yoga as exercise is half, perhaps even less, of all that yoga is. This in turn posed the question, "Why settle for less?"

The foundation of the practices of yoga is based on the eight stages or limbs called Ashtanga-yoga. The word 'Ashtanga' is often understood today as the system of yoga taught by the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. However, the eight-fold path is the ground from which all systems of Hatha-yoga are united. At a glance the limbs appear as a linear ladder that moves from one stage to the next. In practice, however, it is a system that is highly interconnected often starting at the third stage (called asana, the postures).

Indeed we all begin somewhere and that is usually with the body. Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar clarified it by stating we start with what is tangible and with what we know. While Hatha-yoga is more popular and sexy than its counter- part Raja-yoga (the royal path), it is the latter practice that makes it complete. The right understanding of Hatha-yoga is that it leads to Raja-yoga (the science of mind control). The physical poses were designed to strengthen the body and prepare the mind for meditation. So whether it is Ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda, Bikram yoga or otherwise, the purpose is to purify the body for deeper practices in concentration.

So is it that no one cares? Or that people just don’t know?

Traditionally, yoga was understood as a means to enlightenment. For Patanjalim, the goal of yoga was to break the concept of the 'self'; a process that leads to Samadhi (the eighth stage). In the West, the understanding of ‘self’ is a bit harder to melt down. It also does not help that most of what is depicted as yoga in media is just flat tummies and pulsating biceps.

Yoga is a process: a discovery that the world and our identities are not as solid as we may think. As a yoga teacher it is not easy to introduce these more esoteric topics to students. Baba Hari Dass said it best when he said we come into this world believing we are this body, but we do not even know who this "me" is who is claiming the body.

I like this a lot because it hits the nail right on the head.


Yoga as an eight-fold path offers a great and tangible means to investigate and explore not just postures but the deeper meaning of life. The practice may begin with the physical, but leads to the mental and beyond. BKS Iyengar reminds us,

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”

The answer to the question of who cares about eight-fold path is obvious. Whether teachers directly lecture on the topic is another story but that they hint toward the deeper nuances is going to change the way people practice.

So, it matters a lot when we care about the practice, the students and the teachings!

Ghoom Monastery: One of the most holy shrines is this renowned monastery that Lama Sherab Gyatso built in 1875 located in Darjeeling, North India. On the top are depicted two deer symbolizing that when the Buddha gave his talks creatures from far and wide gathered to listen to the teachings.

This beautiful monastery is a true haven of complete peace and calm. It is known for housing a selection of rare books on Buddhism. As well, it is home to a statue called the ‘Coming Buddha’ or known as Maitreye Buddha.




© The Yoga Way, Toronto, Canada 2012.

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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