Four Stages of Life

girl on forest bridge

In ancient Indian tradition, people followed a vinyasa or ideal way for living life. That is, living life ‘to be placed’ ‘in a special way’ or to be intelligently sequenced. Particular years of life can be practiced in ‘stages’ or ‘ashrams’ to meet circumstances. Though we may come from different places in the world and different cultures, this simple framework can be beneficial for all of us on the path to self-realisation. The four stages are;

Brahmachayra/Student (0-25) – this is all about learning, learning and learning! Being a devoted yoga student following a teacher and building a community and lifestyle. To shape our lives with the wise. The most important thing is the way we act moment to moment in everyday life. How we behave in every situation. Apply ethics in everything we do. We are to build an inner structure where the mind has no holds and we are not disturbed by external circumstances. We learn to interact with the world on our own. When putting the right effort in, the universe will inform us noting that there is always an opportunity to learn.

Grahasta/Householder (25-60) – efficient time management allows the householder to do shorter practices at the highest value. Serving family, work, children and other worldly duties takes priority. We are not to confuse our career with our life. This is a time for giving, living and loving family and community. Here, the effort is to be in the present, versus effort to be in control.

Vanaprastha/Forest Dweller (60-80) – retreating to a more quiet place promotes the opportunity for the more subtle practices such as meditation and pranayama. The quote, “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half” by Fyodor Dostoevsky suggests that we will have maintained our practices from the previous stages to go deeper in this stage. We are at a point where we can be the commander of the ship instead of drifting in the ocean of confusion. This might mean our role in society is that of a matured mentor.

Sanyasa/Renunciate (80-108) – this phase is practicing for the pure joy of it and embracing the stillness so much so that we are living on the inside. Learning to live, is learning to let go. The measure of success is the absence of thoughts and there do not get involved with the content on of the mind.

Here in 2021, I find myself in the householder phase. It took me a little later to get here in my early 30’s but I’ve arrived. This stage doesn’t mean I completely forego my tapas, but it does mean that fulfilling service to society is part of the journey. I still complete my practices as to plant the seeds for future stages. To form the habits to deepen roots later. No longer do I have the time and energy opportunity to practice 45 minutes of meditation and 60 minutes of yoga asana each morning but acknowledging and accepting the stage of life I’m in makes that ok! Here I am, a wife, a mother and an employee choosing to show up in the world for dedicated service. To fulfil dharma.