A few years ago, two yoga students who were long time friends “BY” (before yoga), came up to me after class and said… “we’ve noticed something lately… all the stuff we used to have fun doing – like going out with friends and staying out late and drinking alcohol, and even eating certain foods… it isn’t really fun anymore! What’s going on? Are we depressed?? What changed?” 

Guess what… whether you intended it to happen or not… Yoga transforms your LIFE! You may have started yoga for your body, or even for your mind (or because someone dragged you in because they thought it would help something with your body or mind)… and (if you found a legitimate practice and teacher) you got relief pretty quickly… then you got addicted to yoga, and then you started to notice that your life was changing too – oops, did you sign up for that?!   What is really happening, is that your life is getting more aligned with natural cycles, natural tendencies, natural rhythms and natural goals.  

The natural goals are called – The Four Aims of Life – Purushārtha in Sanskrit.  They are the goals that all human beings are striving to achieve – each of us in our own way. They are the “why” behind every single one of our actions. You can use your knowledge of these natural goals to take your actions to a more conscious level, being aware of the motivation behind your actions will naturally transform them to become more aligned with your purpose. Use your knowledge of the Four Aims of Life to live a balanced life – awarefully pursuing the goals of life in a way that is beneficial to yourself and to others. You’ll not only have more understanding of your actions and the motivation behind the actions, but you develop more understanding of (and compassion for) the actions of others!  The study of the purushartha is actually pretty basic (and very important) knowledge to people who grow up in the yoga tradition – sort of a life guide-book – but something that is not clearly known or understood by most modern western yoga practitioners.  Plus, like the golden rule, it is applicable to all human beings, and while it is clearly laid out in the vedic tradition, this knowledge is not religious or limited to one spiritual path – it empowers each of us in self-understanding and more rightful action in our communities.  In January, I’m teaching a workshop that will unfold this knowledge more deeply than possible in an article, as part of a bigger picture that includes the technicalities of karma and dharma.  

#1 – Artha,  Support

“That which gives you any securty, emotional, economical or social is called artha in sanskrit…Seeking security is common to all.” – Swami Dayananda

Artha is often translated as “wealth”, and essentially means a the pursuit of sense of feeling supported, protected and safe.  Each person has his or her own requirements to feel this.  Some require more – in the form of money, home, food, water and supportive loved ones, and others may require less.  The specific needs vary from person to person, but the underlying drive is the same for all of us – from the first breath and first suckle on mother’s breast, we all share the goal of safety and support.  Artha is really the first goal we pursue in life, and continues to motivate many of our actions throughout life, though there are times when it may be more or less important.  For example, artha may motivate one to engage in education that will lead to a career which will earn a living.

In a restorative hatha yoga practice, you can find a sense of artha in leaning into the support of the props.  Notice the effect of support on your body and your mind. What happens when you feel supported?

#2 – Kāma, Pleasure

“Kāma can take many forms…Anything that satisfies your senses, that pleases your mind, touches your heart and evokes in you some appreciation, is kāma.” – Swami Dayananda

Kāma is pleasure. We each engage in action that results in some pleasure.  For each person, what is pleasurable may be different – whether it is sex, chocolate, yoga poses, gourmet food, gardening, sport, movies, the arts, fashion and so on. How much pleasure we require to be satisfied also varies from person to person. What remains true for all of us though, is that we all seek pleasure in some form. It is natural and good to enjoy pleasure. Even the most austere monk will seek some small pleasure in a cup of coffee or tea, a walk in nature, or the experience of music.  Kāma is the second goal we pursue in life, and continue to pursue in some measure throughout life, though there are times when it may be more or less important.  For example, kāma may motivate one to work a job that earns money which can be spent on something pleasurable.

In your hatha yoga practice, you can find a sense of kāma in how you feel when you experience the release tension.  Notice the effect of pleasure. What happens to your body and mind when you experience pleasure?

The concept of purushartha is simple, it is the “elusive obvious”, and yet, we lose track of this kind of truth in the midst of our over-stimulation and ego-driven confusion… so while they are simple, there is more to “unpack” regarding the 4 Aims of life, and how they are at play for each of us specifically, and for all of us in general, and how we can use this knowledge for deeper transformation and healing in our lives, bodies and relationships.

 

#3 – Dhārma – Harmonious Duty

“…harmony, sharing, helping another person, and so on… it is just doing what is to be done.” – Swami Dayananda

Dhārma is morality, duty, and rightousness.  Dharma is “doing what needs to be done”, but doing it like a yogi – harmoniously!  Awareness of dhārma (what is right) increases as one matures as a human being, and yet, though it may not be the first goal one pursues in life, it is really the most important one.  Once one understands, dhārma should be an underlying factor in each of the other three goals.  One continue to pursue security and pleasure, but not to the extent that one’s actions are disharmonious.  For example, stealing is immoral, and one should not steal money from another, motivated by achieving artha.  To be in conflict with dhārma, leads one to a life of misery, and to live in line with what is right is a yogic life. This is beyond the idea of “my dhārma”, because there is a golden rule – do unto others as you would have done to you.

In your hatha yoga practice, consider the difference between doing it harmoniously… well aligned, consicously, at a natural pace, at the right time, having gotten enough sleep… versus doing your yoga dis-harmoniously – say, having drank alchohol and gone to bed late the night before, or having a belly full of pancakes, or doing it too quickly, or too forcefully, and so on. What’s the difference? Does it matter?

#4 – Moksha – Freedom

Moksha means freedom. This is a goal that we all pursue in some way – seeking to be free from the things that we don’t want or that we believe hold us back. True moksha, in the vedic tradition, means freedom from ignorance, freedom from need, freedom from feeling that we lack.  One pursues this goal when one realizes that no amount of security or pleasure is lasting.  A yogi pursues freedom by seeking to come to know the Truth of being.  When this goal is achieved, you are completely free, because you are the self-satisfied self at all times.  Even when one feels free, he or she still continues to require support (artha) pleasure (kāma) and moral duty (dhārma), but now, because one feels free, these things are engaged with out of natural instinct, not because of a sense of lack.

In your hatha yoga practice, you can notice if you feel a sense of moksha (freedom) after your yoga.