Yoga Practice Through Four Life Stages

25 November, 2018
David compares the 4 Hindu life stages (student, householder, forest dweller, and renunciate) to the stages of a yogi's life long practice.


4 Life Stages (Ashrama)

An Ashrama in Hinduism is one of four age-based life stages discussed in Indian texts of the ancient and medieval eras. The four ashramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciate). 

Brahmacharya - Student Phase


-State of being an unmarried religious student

-Study of the Vedas, sacred texts

Grhasta – Householder Phase

-Householder duties



-Worldly responsibilities and attachments

-Dharma—sacred work, calling 

Vanaprashta – Forest Dweller Phase

-Retiring to the forest

-Withrawing to live a life of prayer



-Deepening of dharma—vision questing, and also engaging in dharma-living according to spiritual principle 

Sannyasin – Renunciate Phase

-Laying aside


-Giving up

-Abstaining from food



-One who renounces worldly life


Yoga Practice in 4 Stages

Ideas about what Yoga practice might look like through the 4 stages. Keep in mind everyone’s experience is unique and can’t be easily put in a category.  

Brahmacharya –Student Stage

-Unattached student practices with zeal, enthusiasm, has free time, is free of worldly responsibilities, gives most energy towards sadhana, devotion, vision questing, and pursuing ideals

-Entire life revolves around being a student, engaging in daily practice and developing yoga study—sleeping, eating, relationships, work all in place to support and to serve practice. 

-Strictly follows Ashtanga lineage with unquestioning devotion, practices intensely and religiously 6 days per week, faithfully following series, doing every posture in order, fully committed and fully delighting in engaging in the struggle to improve self through improving practice.

-Study of other branches of yoga the sacred texts, bhakti, eagerness to try ascetic practices—tapas, brahmacharya, prayer, and chanting.

-Psychic space occupied with matters of practice, self-development, shooting for ideals, dreaming, visioning, incubation, and also part of community of students who follow the lineage. 

Grhasta – Householder Stage

-Practice secondary to worldly responsibilities—practice serves work, family, children, and other duties in the world.

-Creative with time management to make shorter practices as valuable as possible

-Going outside the strict order of series, thinking in categories of asanas such as standing poses, seated forward bends, standing twists, seated twists, inversions and then mixing up practice by representing the different categories. For example, instead of doing all the standing poses in the sequence everyday do one or some of the poses in this category, and then do the same with the seated postures.  Make selections based on representing the categories or deciding to focus on a specific category. You are versatile, able to vary approach. You are thinking flexibly and creatively about how to use the techniques learned during the student phase.  

-Doing the best to have a deep, fruitful yoga practice while adapting practice to life rather than life to practice.

-Rejecting all or nothing thinking—embracing compromise, making an art out of doing your best even when you have to make concessions and accept lower standards that are desirable. 

-Gain wisdom by letting the divisions between practice and worldly life blur to some extent—seeing that such divisions are ultimately arbitrary and rigid thinking and intolerance are enemies that destroy your ability to practice yoga.

-Flexible, tolerant, accepting, happy with little, letting go of rigidity, softening, allowing the joys of attachment and relationship to mix freely with the joys of asceticism, tapas, and solitude.

-Thinking of your work as doing your dharma—sacred duty—and therefore part of your yoga practice—not something that takes you away from practice.

-Use your ability to skillfully apply hatha yoga technology to support, strengthen, and direct your work in the world. 

-Being devoted to doing your part to make a positive difference in the world 

Vanaprastha--Forest Dweller Stage

-Withdrawal, solitude and seclusion—both psychic and physical. 

-Enjoying your own company and exercising your freedom to spend time with yourself.

-Give more importance to what is happening within your own skin less importance to what others think. Trust yourself, come to know, appreciate, love, and care for yourself.

-Individualize your practice, listen to yourself, and follow your own impulses about how to practice rather than trying to strictly follow the dictates of tradition, teachers, or others. 

-Take your practice more seriously because you know the true limitless value of the daily sadhana.  Give yourself permission to go within—much deeper than ever before.   

-Put full faith in your ability to develop your practice and your understanding of yoga by following what interests you about the hatha yoga technology.  

-Slow down, stay longer in poses, do fewer poses with more integrity and consciousness.  

-Take more interest in Raja vs. Hatha yoga-- meditation versus all the dynamic techniques of asana, pranayama, bandhas and vinyasa.  

-Value inversions develop your knowledge, appreciation, and skill Head Balance and Shoulderstand.   

-Focus more on all matters pertaining breathing during your asana practice and also do more pranayama. Take to the pranayama techniques (ujjayi, viloma, external and internal kumbhakas, nadi shodana, bhastrika and others) spend as much time developing them as you did in the past with your asanas.

-Let it fully sink into your bones and viscera that the best, most foundational hatha techniques are meant to be practiced continuously throughout the day so that you remain close to the state of yoga day and night.   

Sannayasin—Renunciate Phase

-Practice simply for the joy of it.

-Your practice and your life become one and the same thing.

-Practice as a pure act of devotion—free from self-interest or ambition or any ideas of gain.

-Thankfulness and humor.

-In tune with the subtleties of the techniques at the same time as the practicalities of them. For example, poised, skillful breathing gives physical wellbeing but also helps you enter into communion with the sacred dimension of the cosmos.

-Practice as a means of keeping death at bay and yet also tuning in to the naturalness of this part of the cycle. With sustained consciousness there are times when fear melts by itself.

-Enjoying emptiness, stillness, silence, being





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