I went on a life-changing 4-day silent retreat in Mendocino recently. Besides basking in the radiance of the redwoods and the Pacific Ocean, I got so still and quiet internally that I could hear everything my body and breath wanted to tell me.
At first, the images and stories flowed like a rushing waterfall after a rainstorm. I saw faces and places come and go, and emotions rise and fall. My body became like an oversized rainstick, filtering the pebbles of memories through each cell and the impressions they had made on my heart and mind.
To help make sense of things, I asked for a meeting with Babaji. He suggested that all the changes I had been experiencing were in line with the ashram (stage of life) I had just entered. Remembering the ashrams of life felt life-affirming to me and helped me gain perspective on the bigger picture of life.
So, what are the four ashrams in life?
The ashrams are a way of viewing how our Dharma in the world lines up with the stages of our life. The four stages are:
- Student or Brahmacharya – age 0-25 is the student phase, mainly about learning and acquiring knowledge. Asana practice is essential to cultivate discipline and fortify the body for our own hero’s journey.
- Householder or Gṛhastha – age 25-50, is the householder phase where we face the world squarely and take on many responsibilities, including building a career, providing for a family, making connections, and acquiring wealth. Pranayama is important in this phase because it centers and calms the nervous system amongst the chaos of a householder’s life. Short and concise practices are essential so they don’t take too much time but are potent in achieving results.
- Forest walking or Vanaprastha – age 50-75, we take a half turn towards the forest and become less attached to providing, working, and building an identity. We have more time and space to nourish our souls. We have more time to deepen our spiritual practice and often become wise counsel to others as our form of service in the world. Meditation is the essential practice of this phase of life. This includes pranayama to prepare for more profound spiritual experiences, including receiving wisdom from our ancestors and elders.
- Renunciate or Sannyasa – age 75-100+, we are in the forest and amongst the elders thus, we become more inwardly focused. We are more into being than doing and sit in the forest, communing with spirit. Many things begin to leave our lives in this stage, so savoring what has been and surrendering to the fullness of the present moment becomes a deep practice. Appreciating and accepting things as they are and finding peace using our spiritual practices become central in this final stage of life.
Our modern world covets the first two stages because of the value it places on youth and productivity; however, our souls ask us to gleefully look towards the last two stages of life and enjoy the nectar are given for the effort and sacrifices we have made in the first two stages. Those of us still in the householder phase are likely frothing at the mouth to have even a few hours of peace and quiet to ourselves. I remember that stage very well, for it was only just yesterday that I was knee-deep in it.
Whatever the stage we are in, there are always silver linings and golden nuggets of wisdom to gain. Keeping up with our yoga practice will help us stay grounded, calm, and centered. It will ensure that we can be present for life and show up in the Highest way possible for everyone’s benefit.
By, Sienna Smith C-IAYT