Art of Living founder and guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar spoke with Philip Goldberg on the importance of the eight limbs of yoga. As relevant as ever, Sri Sri’s wisdom encourages us to consider all aspects of a yoga practice as a path to greater fulfillment, health, and happiness.
What would you like people to know about Yoga?
Yoga is like a vast ocean. You can just go for a breeze, or you can go with an oil rig and drill for oil … yoga offers many things to different people at many different levels—whatever they aspire for: union with the cosmic consciousness, or physical health, mental clarity, emotional stability, spiritual ecstasy—all this is part of yoga.
Does it concern you that people think of Yoga only as asana [the familiar physical postures]?
Not really, because at that moment that’s what they understand. But once they start doing asana they start seeing there is something beyond that. If interest for meditation gets kindled, then they are on the right track. But if it stops at exercise … it’s not bad, but they will not reach the goal.
When people think of the classic eight limbs of Yoga…
I knew you would ask about that. Unfortunately, people think the eight limbs are eight steps, one after another. You know, when a baby is born it’s not that one limb develops after another. All the limbs develop simultaneously. The eight limbs of yoga are so interconnected, if you pull one all the others will come along with it.
Some people think you have to master the yamas and niyamas before you can do the others. [The yamas and niyamas—five behaviors to avoid and five to engage—constitute the first two limbs.]
The limbs are not sequential, they are all together. The practice of the others contributes to the ability to observe the yamas and niyamas. When we teach meditation in prisons, we see that the moment they have a taste of meditation, their whole thought process and behavior pattern changes. They start on the path of non-violence. They become very truthful, and the tendencies to cheat disappear. So the yamas and niyamas start happening in people’s life just when they begin meditation.
How do your Art of Living programs fit into the eight limbs of classical yoga?
Yoga would be incomplete if even one limb is absent from it. All the eight limbs coexist. Our program is the same way. We do some asana, and some pranayama—breathing exercises—and meditation that leads to samadhi [the 8th limb; not a practice but a state of consciousness transcending thought].
This interview first appeared on Huffington Post, and is presented in excerpt.