Patanjaliís Eight Limbs of YogaIn his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlined what he called "ashtanga yoga", or "the eight limbs of yoga". Although the eight limbs can be viewed as a step-by-step progression, and practiced or applied accordingly, itís better to view the eight limbs like the facets of a diamond or petals on a flower. The eight limbs are interconnected; they all work together. Working on any one of the limbs enhances, or helps, all of the others. We are working on and applying all of the limbs simultaneously. For instance, our asana practice cultivates dharana, concentration, which in turn helps our meditation practice, dhyana. Meditation purifies the Heart, which helps us understand and apply the yamas and niyamas, and so on and so forth. The following is a very brief overview of the eight limbs.
1) Yamas: external disciplines, the restraints, control, moral integrity: eliminating undesirable behaviors
ahimsa: not harming
2) Niyamas: internal disciplines, self-restraint, training the heart: actively cultivating desirable or positive behaviors
Qualities to be cultivated
Through the practice of yoga, your heart is expressed more and more in your life.
As we open tight parts of our bodies through our asana practice, such as the hips, shoulders, psoas and quadriceps muscles, etc., and as we access deep layers of our being like the core (all of the structures and tissues that stabilize and mobilize the spine), two things happen. One: we release the negative energies and experiences that we may have stuffed or stored there - we let go of all of the things we donít need; and two: we access and make available to us the healing, purifying, creative and inspiring energies of Prana and Shakti that are stored there.
4) Pranayama: Pranayama doesnít mean breathing exercise, although pranayama practices are often accompanied by, or linked with, breath work. And also the breath is a fundamental resource of prana. But the actual interpretation of the Sanskrit word pranayama is: prana — life energy, and yama – to control or direct. So the most accurate meaning of the word, and the practice of pranayama, is: to direct or control life energy.
Our breath is such an intimate and fundamental part of our meditation practice. When I bring my awareness to the breath, I donít see it as the breath, I experience it as an unfolding of consciousness: a manifestation, or expression of the wave of my pure consciousness, the Heart or Soul, and ultimately a manifestation of God.
Because our breath is a manifestation of our pure consciousness, the Soul, itís a steppingstone to experiencing our deeper nature. The breath is a key to our practice. Just as we have physical, energetic and consciousness levels to our being, the breath has these same dimensions. Thatís why the breath is such a powerful tool for us to use in our yoga practice.
One of the interpretations and commentaries that I have on the Bhagavad Gita is co-authored by Paramahamsa Hariharananda and his successor Parmahamsa Prajnananada. Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita is on Bhakti Yoga. Through reading and studying the verses in chapter 12 of this interpretation I have distilled several quotes. Here is one of them: "When you watch your breath with love, the mind becomes pure. When the mind is pure, you can move beyond the mind into the Heart".
5) Pratyahara: yoga sutra II.54: sva-visayasamprayoge cittasya svarupanukara ivendriyanam pratyaharah
6) Dharana: yoga sutra III.1: desa - bandhas cittasya dharana
7) Dhyana: yoga sutra III.2: tatra pratyayaika-tanata dhyanam
8) Samadhi: yoga sutra III.3: tad evartha-matra-nirbhasam svarupa-sunyam iva samadhih
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