The Mandala painting on the Eight Limbs of Yoga, was inspired by my semester long study on the history and philosophy of yoga and Eastern thought, and although it was a challenging semester, I learned so much about my own yoga practice and the necessity for following a disciplined routine that has been practiced for centuries. One of the more beautiful aspects of yoga as I have come to understand it, is the essential truth that “I” bring my own unique strengths and weaknesses to my practice that are going to be different than any other person. And because there is no one size fits all yoga school, even though many might object to this last statement, I alone am responsible for being mindful and aware of exactly where I am closing and holding and where I am opening and flowing. This is where the beauty of the Eight Limbs comes in. They represent a blueprint of centuries long investigation into the nature of being human, and a workable framework for transcending our limiting but beautiful humanness.
Every yoga student, even beginners, can initiate an inquiry into all aspects of the Eight Limbs. Even the more advanced levels of yoga practice; Concentration, Meditation and Samadhi (ecstasy) can be looked at and experienced by any person who sets the intention to remain open and present in this very moment.
The premise of the Eight Limbs is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, compiled between the second and third century C.E. Without getting into a philosophical treatise on the whole of the Sutras, I would like to stay with the two most important Sutras as they pertain to the Eight Limbs. Sutra number 1.2 says Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind. And Sutra number 1.3 says when that is accomplished; the seer abides in its own true nature. This is the crux of classical yoga, calming our minds so we can stand in our own true nature.
As an artist, I have come to understand within myself, that the very act of following a brush stroke through the stages of beginning, middle, and end, help create the space I need to still my mind. There is a Zen-like quality about setting the intention to follow the tip of my brush, and watch the pressure I put on the canvas and the amount of pigment I release. It’s a magical moment when I become the brushstroke, the line being painted, and all thoughts, goals, and objectives fade away. I am not disappointed by the fact that these moments are often short lived, or come and go in such an erratic fashion, I love the process of it all.
The Mandala of the Eight Limbs depicts a wheel with eight spokes or limbs, each with a different aspect for the yoga practitioner to use. The first is Yama (moral restraints), the second is Niyama (ethical observances), the third is Asana (postures), the forth is Pranayama (breath control), the fifth is Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from objects), the sixth is Dharana (concentration), the seventh is Dhyana (Meditation), and the eighth is Samadhi (final absorption in the self). Obviously, there is so much more to the eight limbs of yoga than this tiny description, and the wisdom from a qualified teacher is strongly recommended. However, I personally do not want to limit my experience of this moment, and the “work” I am doing on myself, because I haven’t studied the sutras hard enough or practiced yoga Asanas for years. It’s a simple reality for me; I am embracing many of the aspects of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, when I am a consciously engaged in my art, and the painting of the mandala above, is one result of my inquiry. And every day, there begins a new inquiry, and thus, the painting process continues. I will share more about my process as I go along.
January 13, 2018