The next chunk of Tree of Yoga that can be easily digested has to do with the phases of life. One of the things I love about Indian and Yogic culture is that is accepts all phases of life as, well, life…They have it neatly packaged into phases and ideas that wherever you are or whatever phase you may be in you might have guidance and assurance that all is “ok”. There isn’t a lot of fretting about “well when I was 20 I could….” or ” if I only still was…” or “ack! where did life go??” The phase or season you are in is exactly where you should be and just living there to the fullest is the work of yoga.
Asramas and Purusarthas
These are the categorizations of life as we look at “chapters” or “seasons” or “phases”. Asramas are essentially 25 year periods that you might cut a 100 year life into and Purusarthas are the 4 “aims” of life that may or may not exactly correspond to those 25 year increments, but I think it can help to at least look at them like that.
Brahmacarya : general educational period as a dependent : Dharma : learning ethical, social, and moral obligations
Garhasthya : home life as an adult : Artha : acquisition of worldly goods
Vanaprastha : preparation of renunciation of family activities, retirement : Kama : enjoying the pleasures of life or the fruits of your labor
Sannyasa : detachment from affairs of the world and preparing for death : Moksa : freedom
I think the thing that strikes me most about these is the acceptance and really the expectant nature of the last two. As we are a culture and society of “work work work and try to ignore that you might be dying”…for Indian culture there is the reminder that you should actually try to enjoy what you have earned and make sure to prepare yourself for that ultimate end that no one avoids. By doing that you might actually stay happier and more peaceful and go out with a little less fight and a lot more freedom.
The last chapters of this first section then deal with some reminders that yoga can be done throughout the life no matter what phase you are in. Children can start, but need to move fast and have some fun while learning. Adults who want a spouse and family do not have to shut away and renounce the world to be a yogi. The keys are bramacharya (moderation, intelligence and reflection in all things) and tapas (a burning desire and discipline to practice no matter what). BKS Iyengar gives some fun anecdotes from his own life regarding these phases.
Then there is the inevitable old age and death. For a yogi it is not to be feared or ignored, but life is for living in the present and doing the best you can in each moment. There is a certain amount of faith that is needed for this pursuit. We do not know what the future will hold and we do not have control over it. We must have faith, either in a higher power or our own self in order to continue forth without expectation or craving. And yoga helps us to stay present and be in those moments.
You Exist. You Must Live. You Will Die. So Have Faith.