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The Eight Limbs of Yoga – Part 1

by Bob Ruttenberg Wellness & Yoga Retreats
Yoga Retreats in Costa Rica: Yoga (which means “union” or “connection”) is more than a series of postures for exercise, as it is becoming practiced in the modern world. Yoga is a way of living steeped in tradition and Spiritual Principles based on the Vedas, ancient Hindu scriptures which date back 4,000 to 5,000 years. Over the centuries the knowledge contained in these texts were passed on from teacher to student through memorizing verses and poems.

Much later, around 400 AD, a Sage named Patanjali compiled The Yoga Sūtras,  taking the wisdom of  Yoga from older traditions and creating 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms). Sutra literally means “to thread or weave”.

The sutras are arranged in four sections or “padas.” In the first pada (Samadhi Pada) Patanjali begins by describing Samadhi, the state of super consciousness, or complete unity with the Divine. In the  padas that follow he describes the steps to attain this highest state of Samadhi and the obstacles one may face in the process. Section two, Sadhana Pada, introduces the practice or discipline of Yoga and outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eight Limbed Yoga).

Ashtanga (‘ashta’ means ‘eight’ and ‘anga’ means ‘limb’) refers to Patanjali’s eight limbs or branches of yoga (not to be confused with the Asana practice of Ashtanga which is named for the eight limbs). The limbs are titled Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Each branch is designed to help the practitioner live a more disciplined life, alleviate suffering, still the mind and merge into oneness with the Divine (Samadhi). The goal is to live fully from a place of authenticity, in alignment with what is considered the “True Self”  and what one’s Divine purpose is.

The first limb, “Yama” means “moral discipline”, in Sanskrit: the social, ethical and spiritual guidelines that rule the way we behave towards others and the world around us. There are five yamas:

Ahimsa – nonviolence
Satya – truthfulness, sincerity
Asteya – non-stealing, misappropriating, hoarding
Brahmacarya – search for, respect for the Divine, right use of sexual energy
Aparigraha – freedom from ownership, greed, possessiveness
These five yamas should be observed in one’s actions, words and thoughts, helping purify the Self and leading to spiritual development and hence, a better society.

The second limb is Niyama. Contained in this word is “Yama”, or “moral discipline”. The prefix “ni” in Sanskrit means “inward” or “within”. So Niyama refers to precepts or “rules” for personal discipline, or promises we make to ourselves. There are five Niyamas, and you can look at them as suggestions that Patanjali provides for internal awareness and observance. These are:

1. Sauca – purity or cleanliness (of mind, speech and body)
2. Santosa – contentment
3. Tapah – self-discipline and purification
4. Svadhyaya – self-study and self-reflection
5. Isvara-pranidhanani – surrender to a higher power, and contemplation of the Divine.
Many who are looking to develop a path within the traditions of Yoga find practicing the Niyamas helps build character and, as Patanjali teaches,  enables you to attain a higher quality of life and reach your true potential.

The third limb of Yoga is known as Asana. Asanas are the yoga postures, the most-practiced limb in the west. Literally, Asana means “Seat on the Earth”, or how we are positioned in each pose. What you see in many gyms and yoga studios is solely the practice of yoga postures, which, sadly, leaves out the complementary teachings and many of the basic premises of Yoga. Looking more closely at how true yogis practice in India, Asana is really only around 20% of the traditional practice.

According to Patanjali, asana is a steady and comfortable position (sthira sukham asanam), designed to ultimately help in practicing meditation. Patanjali also states that a yoga pose is mastered by relaxation of effort, decreasing the tendency for restless breathing and promoting an identification of oneself with the Infinite nature of life. When we are present in a Yoga Posture, or Asana, certain dualities of life–such as our reactivity (for example,  to praise or criticism), cease to disturb us.

The practice of yoga asanas as we know them nowadays came about eight centuries after Patanjali’s time, with the goal of helping Yoga students who are dedicated to a life of Yoga ready their bodies for meditation.The idea is to be able to sit comfortably, without aches and pains, so you can go deeper into your yogic practice and the meditative state.

So, next time you go to a Yoga class and you sit “comfortably” try to imagine spending some hours in that pose, motionless, practicing meditation, and ask yourself: would you still sit that way, or would another pose serve you better? {We would love to hear what poses work best for you to achieve that deeper meditative state. Please leave us a comment. What are your favorite poses that make you feel really centered?}

The fourth limb, which goes along with Asana are the important breathing techniques of yoga known as “Pranayama.” In Sanskrit, Prana is Life Force, and ayama means “to extend”; Mukunda Stiles’ interpretation of the meaning Pranayama, in his book, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is “to really bring forth a measure of the eternal cosmic vibration.”

Prana can be described as the essence that keeps us alive and also the vital force and energy of the universe that surrounds us, constantly flowing through all living beings, including ourselves. Pranayama is the act of controlling and directing this energy, by using the flow of breath. There are different breathing techniques which we can develop in order to achieve a myriad of results. We can use breath to energize ourselves, to calm and balance our mind, or to cool or heat our body, with the goal of achieving overall health and well-being. Some even consider that our life should be measured in terms of the breaths we take and the quality of that breath, instead of the years we live.

Here is a good practice to begin to use Pranayama:

First, notice how you breathe: Is it through your nose or mouth? Where does the breath go? Is it shallow or deep? When you inhale, are you filling your chest or is the air going deeper, into the belly? When you exhale, do you feel relaxed or do you remain tense?

If you find that you breathe through your mouth, try to change that to nose breathing, and lengthen your exhales to help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that calms you when you are stressed). Deepen your breath all the way to your belly, filling your abdomen on the inhale and pulling it back on the exhale. After 10 slow deep breaths, notice how you feel and notice your mind.

By working with our breath we can also affect and change our state of mind and ultimately the way we live. We can perceive this as “controlling” the way we think and feel or as “freeing” ourselves from the manipulating thought processes that often unconsciously command our mind. We invite you to learn more about Pranayama, and yoga in general by visiting AmaTierra. Hope to see you here in Costa Rica soon!

Special thanks to AmaTierra yoga instructor Vanessa Pinto for her help in writing this article.

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About Bob Ruttenberg Advanced   Wellness & Yoga Retreats

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Joined APSense since, November 9th, 2020, From San José, Costa Rica.

Created on Nov 30th 2020 01:39. Viewed 101 times.

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