Ashtanga and Daily Life (Part 2): the mind, the focus and finding bliss

Liz Vartanian

Continuing on our eight limb path, we begin to dive deep into the inner works of our yoga
practice the next four limbs: pratyahara (turning inwards), dharana (focus), dhyana
(meditation), and samadhi (bliss). This transition inward can feel a bit woo-woo or too much to
ask of our off the mat lives, but the truth is you probably are already discovering some of these
techniques. So let’s start exploring what each of these mean and how it plays out in our lives.

Turning inwards (or pratyahara), is taking that moment for you. Period. It is looking at what you feel, what you are thinking, and what is happening inside your mind and heart. Sure, it seems simple and easy in concept, to look inside. Yet, so often we get caught up in what is happening outside of ourselves (online, interacting with others, who we think we are) and when the time comes to sit still, breathe, and look, there is always something calling us outward. Except, those first few minutes in the morning. Between asleep and fully awake, we have this moment to reflect about where we are in that moment. We often pause in bed too, making it the perfect moment to close your eyes again and look at what is happening in your head. This is the first step towards meditation, so enjoy it.

Focus (or dharana) is taking that turning inward and bringing a focus to it. Like our focus on
breath for pranayama, it can be that simple, focusing on your breathing with your eyes closed.
It can be using a phrase to focus your attention, your breath, or even just a physical spot to
stare at to be present. When you are feeling scattered or just cannot seem to focus, these
simple practices are the way to settle down, breathing or staring at one point really make you feel your surroundings.

Have you ever done that? Take a deep breath in and out at work or
home when you need to focus on the task at hand?

See, you are already focusing!!

This limb of yoga is probably my most used, I take a LOT of deep breaths to focus my thoughts, my intentions, and my day between the toddler, the baby, and keeping my teaching very present.

Meditation (or dhyana) can be so much more than what we think, no meditation cushions
required! Limbs five and six ask us to turn in and focus, so the obvious next move is meditation.
It can be five minutes of breathing, staring into a warm cup of coffee to start your day, baking
muffins filled with love for your family, all three of these are forms of meditation. There is no
rule about how long you meditate, three or five minutes every day is more powerful than 20
minutes a week, so taking into account your day and what you like to do make meditation work
for you. Personally, I meditate in many ways. Some mornings it is sitting for five minutes quietly
breathing, others it is staring into the depths of my coffee, and most often these days it is in
brushing my teeth or washing my hair. No cushion required and just as fulfilling.

Last of the limbs is bliss (or Samadhi), this limb is often thought of as the ultimate in yoga. We
all are striving for the life of bliss, but are quick to brush off the moments we spend in joy each
day. A job promotion, winning the lottery, or getting married often invoke the idea of joyful
bliss, but there are many small moments we ignore that are blissful if noticed. A hug from a
good friend, free time to relax in a bath, or an unexpected I love you from your little one can
brighten your day, if you take the time to revel in it. When we rush or only keep our eyes open for the big stuff, we miss out on the joys of bliss. 

Life is best lived in the moment and our practice of yoga can help keep us there whether we focus on breath, movements, or choosing some other focus to keep us centered. These last 4 limbs allow us to tone down the thoughts in our mind, noticing our own self so that we can do just that. You don’t have to practice yoga in a cave to fully live the eight limbs of yoga, you can be a house holder or a full time booty kicking professional and still live the life of a yogi.  It is all in how you do it!! If you want to learn more about how to incorporate yoga in your every day life, come explore the eight limb life with me!

Liz is one of our regular contributors and has more articles on her Journal of “Livin’ La Vida Yoga!” Check all of her articles out here.

Liz VartanianLiz Vartanian is a yoga teacher, writer, and mom living in Austin, TX. She teaches restorative yoga offering yogis a chance to leave class feeling energized and supported with a side of community as students are often surprised with home cooked goodies after long relaxing Savasanas. She is the co-creator of eight limb//life, a course encouraging everyone to discover their practice of yoga in all aspects of life. When not teaching yoga, Liz can be found with her family where there is coffee, good friends, toy trucks, and a body of water!

You can follow her on Instagram @lizv_yoga or at her website

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