8 Limbs of Yoga

The Art of the Inner Body and Inner Being

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means "eight limbs" (ashta=eight, anga=limb). The Yoga Sutra is considered the fundamental text on the system of yoga, and yet you won't find the description of a single posture or asana in it. Essentially, Patanjali says, your entire life is being called to attention and intention.

 

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Buddha in the MindBody Studio

    You’re not practicing yoga in class by going to a good “asana stretch class”, nor by keeping a (messy) home where you’d rather not have drop-in guests!   To perform the boat posture simply to get a flatter tummy or even to do the perfect physical appearance of a pose is, “missing the yoga boat” according to Patanjali. Yoga is not a series of postures – it is a guide for living the right life, no matter who you are with, and what you are doing, your full presence is being called for. These eight steps act as guidelines on how CULTIVATE a purposeful, intentional and directed life.

     

    1 Yama – Virtues, “Clean Your Home”

    The first limb, yama, deals with one’s discipline integrity in behavior, the ethics of cleaning up one’s act. These universal practices relate to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others” but are also easily summarized as “Cleaning House”. Yama is social behavior, how you treat others and the world around you. These are moral principles. Sometimes they are called the don’ts or the thou-shalt-nots. There are five yamas:

     

    Non-violence: Ahimsa

    kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too.

    • Speak from your heart.
    • Express gratitude and your appreciation for the normal.
    • Harm no insect, no moving, living thing. If you must, bless it first.
    • Reduce apathy.
    • Kind use of words; never, always, I hate that, whatever.

     

    Truth and Honesty: Satya

    • Honesty as speaking up
    • Truth as being forthright, not just not telling lies.
    • Don’t say anything if you can’t say something good

     

    Non-Stealing: Asteya

    • Be considerate.
    • Speak wisely. Take up less time to say the same thing.
    • Don’t steal intangibles like (time) the center of attention or your child’s chance to learn responsibility or independence by doing something on his own.
    • Don’t steal objects, like paper clips, pens, towels.
    • Be on time.

     

    Non-lust: Brahmacharya

    Avoids meaningless sexual encounters

    But, as B.K.S. Iyengar says, “sees divinity in all.” Use sexual energy to regenerate connection to spiritual self.

     

    Non-possessiveness: Aparigraha. Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth

    • Take only what you need. No second helpings.
    • Take only what you have earned.
    • Let go of hoarding & collecting – come to know the providence of God.
    • Release attachments – change is the only constant.

     

    2 Niyama – Personal Observances, “Re-decorate Your Home”

    Yama sets the stage for Niyama, for doing right. Cleansing sets the stage for right activities and energies to take root. Niyama is concerned with discipline and spiritual observances – how we treat ourselves, or begin to cultivate the inner being. These are sometimes called observances, the do’s, or the thou -shalts. There are five niyamas:

    Purity: Sauca

    All of the 8 elements !

    • Clean and fresh … self, clothing, and surroundings.
    • Less pizza, coffee, sugar. More greens.

    Contentment: Santosa

    • Appreciate what you have.
    • Appreciate who you are.
    • Appreciate the small things every day.
    • Seek happiness in the moment, take responsibility for where you are, and choose to grow from there.
    • Live graciously.

    Austerity: Tapas heat. Show Disciplined use of energy, in body, speech, and mind.

    Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns – these are all tapas.

    Study of the sacred text and one’s self: Svadhyaya

    Read Sacred texts that are relevant to you and inspire and teach you.

    As Iyengar says, a person starts “to realize that all creation is meant for bhakti (adoration) rather than for bhoga (enjoyment), that all creation is divine, that there is divinity within himself and that the energy which moves him is the same that moves the entire universe.”

    Live with and awareness of the Divine: Isvara pranidhana

    Surrender to God, to an omnipresent force that guides and directs the course of our lives

    • Regularly attend temple or church
    • Say grace before meals
    • Maintain a personal meditation or reflection practice
    • Enjoy the habit of taking contemplative walks alone

     

    3 Asana – staying/abiding in the inner being. “Enjoy your home ”

    Niyama sets the stage for Asanas, for resting in the body. Asanas, are postures which discipline the body in order to develop the ability to concentrate, the pre-requisite for meditation. The poses offers the practitioner the challenge and opportunity to explore and take charge of all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and the sense of unity between the physical and the ethereal body.

    Yoga practice reattaches us to the body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we connect with the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of the body. As B.K.S. Iyengar states: “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he know that He is within.” Move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience.

    Although the asanas are regarded today as a kind of Hindu calisthenics designed to promote health, it is clear from Patanjali’s comments that the product on health was not the primary reason the ancient yogis developed these postures. As he notes in the Yoga Sutras, the main purpose is to bring about a condition of imperviousness to “assault from the pairs of opposites” by lessening input from the external senses.

    • Ground your feet.
    • Open your pelvis.
    • Engage your spine.
    • Extend your arms.

     

    4 Pranayama – Enliven Your Home.

    Asanas set the stage for Pranayama, for breath to harmonize. Prana rides on the breath. This respiratory practice leads to the mastery of the connection between breath, mind, and emotions. Develop a sitting practice or integrate it into your daily yoga.

    Pranayama is the measuring, control, retention and directing of the breath. Pranayama controls the energy (prana) within the organism to promote evolution. When the in-flowing breath is neutralized or joined with the out-flowing breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are realized.

    The practices produce the actual physical sensation of heat, called tapas, or the inner fire of purification. It is taught that this heat is part of the process of purifying the nadis, or subtle nerve channels of the body.

    • Notice your breath without doing anything about.
    • Connect with your breath through a discipline (count, ex/in control).

     

    5 Pratyahara – Rest in Your Home.

    Pranayama sets the stage or Pratayhara, for drawing the self inward through sensory transcendence. It is a conscious effort to draw awareness away from external stimuli. Staying aware of the senses without attachment, attention is gradually drawn internally. Withdrawal allows for rest in order to objectively observe attachments, or cravings. The senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on stimulants and are not fed by them any more. These habits may be detrimental to health or inhibit growth and forward movement.

    Pratyahara occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we are so absorbed in the object of meditation. Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it; it is not happening the other way around. No longer functioning in their usual manner, the senses become extraordinarily sharp. Under normal circumstances the senses master us rather than being our servants.

    Concentration, in the yoga room or the boardroom, begins as a battle with the distracting senses. In mastering pratyahara, you no longer unnecessarily respond to the itch on your big toe, hear the mosquito buzzing by your ear or the popcorn popping at the theatre.

    The eight limbs work together: The first five steps — yama, niyama asana, pranayama, and pratyahara — are the preliminaries of building the foundation for spiritual life. They are concerned with the body and the brain. The last three, which would not be possible without the previous steps, are concerned with reconditioning the mind. In a sense, yoga is nothing more than a process which enables us to stop and look at the processes of our own minds; only in this way can we understand the nature of happiness and unhappiness, and thus transcend them both. They help the yogi to attain enlightenment or the full realization of oneness with Spirit. Enlightenment lasts forever, while a flat tummy can disappear in a week.

     

    6 Dharana

    Pratyahara sets the stage for dharana, for immovable concentration. Relieving the body from outside distractions lends the opportunity to deal with the distractions of the mind itself. Slow the brain’s thinking by concentrating on a single object: a specific energetic body center, a deity image, or a silent sound repetition. While Yamas are the beginning of directing attention, asanas and pranayama develop concentration through a travelling focus that clears bodily distractions and gathers the sense of relationship through felt nuances within the body. Then, in pratyahara we are still enough to become observant of the mind. In dharana, concentration is effortless. You know the mind is concentrating when there is no sense of time passing.

    • Focus the mind on some object such as a candle flame, a flower, or a mantra.
    • Time flew by, and yet went on forever
    • A sense of infinity beginning.
    • Focus on the flame. Penetrate.

     

    7 Dhyana

    Dharana sets the stage for dhyana, the perfect contemplation of meditation. This uninterrupted flow of concentration creates devotion. Dhyana distinctly differs from the one-pointed concentration of dhrana in that it is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. In this quiet stillness the brain produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive

    How do you tell the difference between concentration and meditation? If there is awareness of distraction, you are concentrating and not meditating. The calm achieved in meditation spills over into all aspects of your life.

    • Practice during a hectic day at work, shopping for groceries, coordinating the Halloween party at your child’s school.
    • Focus around the flame. Broad.

     

    8 Samadhi

    Dhyana sets the stage for Samadhi, where subject and object merge as one. In the transcendence of the ego self lies the experience of the ecstasy known as bliss. The meditator comes to a profound connection with the Divine, the interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the “peace that passeth all understanding”; the inherent state of being at one with the Universe. The continual devotion of a practice with focused aspiration brings a fulfillment and freedom that exists in the face of all things.

    Samadhi means harmony, “to bring together, to merge.” The body and senses are at complete rest yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, awake; one goes beyond consciousness. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged. Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the “I” and “mine” of our illusory perceptions of reality. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. This identity without differences is a liberated soul that enjoys pure awareness. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of truth and unutterable joy.

     

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