The concept of leisure does not easily invoke the association with yoga philosophy or spirituality. In my experience, however, it is an essential pillar for a joyful and fruitful life. We experience leisure by engaging in activities that help us unwind and relax. Leisure holds an important place in our lives during the householder stage. According to ancient Indian scriptures, human life should be divided into four stages. The Ashrama Upanishad defines them as
There are different definitions as to which stage one should be at what age. The most common definition is that the first 25 years of our life should be spent developing and studying. Then, from the age of 25 until the age of 5o we should fulfill the duties of a householder; raising a family, making a living, and so on. After the age of 50, we should start to hand over household responsibilities to the next generation, take an advisory role, and gradually withdraw from the material world.
The last stage is defined by the renunciation of material desires. When we enter the stage of a Sannyasa we develop disinterest and detachment from material life. This generally also means leaving behind any meaningful property or home. In this stage, we are supposed to become an ascetic and focus solely on attaining moksha, peace, and simple spiritual life.
The stage of Grihastha, householder, is the stage that most of us are in at the moment and where experiencing leisure helps us to continue contributing to society in a meaningful way. The teachings of the six pillars of a happy life help us give shape to our householder stage.
Gunas literally means ‘qualities’. Everything in nature consists of three characteristics or qualities. Every living being is driven by these three qualities. Likewise, all our actions are directed by our gunas.
Sattva manifests as purity, joy, contentment, compassion, faith, fairness, forgiveness, courage, non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-collection, respect, truth, etc.
Rajas manifests as manipulation, ego, greed, anger, arrogance, jealousy, desire, malice, hypocrisy, false speech, cleverness, etc.
Tamas manifests as darkness, violence, ignorance, lack of faith, hatred to rules and discipline, cheating, lying, all rules of conduct, discrimination, blindness, evilness, crookedness, sinful action, senselessness, lack of self-control, etc.
By understanding the gunas we can understand what kind of leisure activities to engage in. Keeping the goal of yoga in mind, leisure activities should be supportive of our spiritual journey:
The same activity can be sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. It depends on how and why it is done.
Brahmacharya is an important concept in yoga philosophy. It is often misinterpreted to mean ‘sexual abstinence’. It actually means ‘non-indulgence’. In leisure, we must keep this principle in mind, as too much indulgence overrides intellect and leads to destruction (e.g. tamasic leisure).
The more we indulge and the more we are attached to our indulgences, the wider and more forceful will the pendulum of our mind swing. We experience incredible heights of happiness and excitement, but we also experience great sadness, frustration and anger.
The law of balance states that everything will always balance itself. In the winter we have shorter days, in the summer longer. Over the period of one year, the hours of night and day are in balance. Likewise, the more excitement and happiness we experience at a certain point in time, the more sadness or depression will come our way too. This can be in this or another lifetime.
To make the swing of the pendulum smaller, we must accept less excitement. At the bottom of the pendulum, we experience peace.
The more we are attached to the excitement and pleasure that certain leisures give us, the more anger and sadness we feel when we can’t experience them anymore. The same leisure can give us happiness or sadness, depending on our degree of attachment to it.
Ram is the Founding Director of the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams India and The Netherlands. Since 2009, the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams have become renowned internationally for their professional yoga teacher training courses, and have up to present trained over 4000 yoga teachers from all over the world.
Born in New Delhi, India, in a traditional and spiritual family, his yoga philosophy education started at the age of eight years as a part of his primary school education. Presently, he is the lead teacher for various teacher training programs at the ashrams as well as at the Arhanta Yoga Online Academy.