EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA - ASHTANGHA

Feb 23, 2015

by ANN HOLADAY | in AYURVEDA AND YOGA


The Eight Limbs of Yoga, devised by Patanjali in the yoga sutras combines all of the yogas and is sometimes described as integral yoga or “ashtangha". Ashtangha means eight therefore any practice which calls itself ashtangha must include all of the eight steps and a regular meditation practice.


 

Niyamas are rules of personal conduct or self discipline for inner development. These are practices in daily living which cultivate a sattvic quality of the mind. They are behaviors which bring happiness, peace and contentment and will not drive us towards feelings of guilt, unhappiness and misery. They promote confidence in who we are and our role on earth and the inspiration to pursue a sattvic way of living. They are: 

Shaucha: purity, refers to the cleansing of ama in ayurveda not just of the body, but of the mind.

Santosha: contentment: Be happy with what you have and where    you are in the moment and do not complain. Complaining breeds negativity.

Tapas: self-discipline, forbearance, penance. If something is    uncomfortable, learn to control the urge to avoid things which don’t suit you. 

Svadhyaya: Self-study, observe the mind and how it behaves. Observe how you act and feel, both positive and negative. Notice how you change and the impermanence of feelings. 

Ishvarapranidhana: Surrender to God and love of the Divine:


 

Yamas are rules of social behavior and apply to all humans, so that we leave the earth a better place. Probably the most poignant of the yamas  is the vow of non-violence or ahimsa. We say, “thou shalt not kill” and we assume this means not to kill another human being. But Vedas say there is always a level of violence when an animal, fish or bird is killed for any reason. This is why yogis are vegetarians.

Ahimsa: non-violence. This is a practice of realizing that everything is a part of you so why would you harm any other living thing. Ahimsa unites us to all creation, not only non-violence against other human beings, but all living things and is why yogis don’t eat meat. Violence is involved in the procurement of meat as food. 

Satya: truthfulness. Because we do not lie to ourselves, why should we lie to others.  

Achaurya: non-coveting. Is the practicing of not wishing that you had something that another person has and comparing yourself to others wishing you had what they have. 

Brahmacharya: is control of sexual energy. Literally means to move in bigger things and not to think of I am man or I am woman which can lead to illicit relationships. 

Aparigraha: non-stealing goes beyond the meaning of taking what doesn’t belong to you. It means not to take what others give out to you. We don’t have to take insults into ourselves.


 

The word asana means seat, because originally asana was the only sitting posture. There are 176 postures described by Iyengar and originally they were done like a dance. Asana or yogic postures prepare the body and mind for long periods of meditation. There are many benefits of asana both physically and mentally. Apart from the physical benefits of flexibility, asana helps digestion, circulation, balances hormones and strengthens the nervous system. Asana is beneficial for all ages especially aging populations or where movement is impaired. When a complete practice is done regularly mental benefits are far reaching


 

Pranayama is probably the most most important of the eight limbs of yoga because it increases prana in body and mind. It balances the doshas in a positive manner, increases the digestive fire and helps to remove toxins. On a mental level it increases sattva and reduces rajas and tamas. As we get older and less able to do asana or generally less active, pranayama is even more important as it doesn’t require a particular space, it can be done in a chair, anywhere at any time. 


 

Many see the benefits of asana which are dramatic on a physical level, but asana is not an end in itself. Coupled with pranayama in daily practice we have a routine which increases prana in the body and mind. Even though spiritual growth may not be our goal creating higher levels of awareness brings peace and contentment. We can have a sattvic quality of mind without being spiritual, but we cannot say that we are spiritual without being sattvic. 


Pratyahara is the daily practice of silence except for the sounds of nature and bring us inner peace and joy. Withdrawal of the senses is probably the most difficult practice of the eight limbs and is the first of inner yoga. In today’s world there is “sensory overload” particularly aimed at the developing mind. Telephones, short bites of information, an emphasis on the physical and sexual and a constant barrage of visual images. Everything which comes into the body and mind is food and has either positively or negative effect. In the silence of the the heart we discover who we are and connect to cosmic consciousness through nature. It is a wonderful world we live in but we must take time to smell the roses, listen to the birds and touch the earth. These are the sensory pleasures which lead us to real happiness and contentment and are reality. 


 

Dharana or concentration is the ability to focus the mind. Experts say the average span of attention is two minutes or so. This is a very sad commentary on human thought and one which I cannot accept. How can we read Dickens, learn Beethoven’s overtures or even write a simple story to say nothing of a complex computer program with so short a span of attention. The art of concentration must be learned all over again, the ability to focus the mind and not allow it to jump from here to there should be practiced daily and especially nurtured in children. 


 

Dhyana meaning meditation happens on its own and is like sleep. what most of us are doing when we think we are meditating is actually  concentrating.  It is impossible to be awake and to have no thoughts, they drift in and out, but in meditation we do not to engage in them. It is like daydreaming when we were young, when we are awake but not aware of time. Laughing and crying are meditation because there is no thought. Meditation does not have to be structured in an ashram sitting for hours. Anytime that we gaze over the ocean or into the sky we are connecting to cosmic consciousness. It is a natural yearning for us to seek the mountains, serene corners of the world where we can immerse ourselves in the peace of nature. The five elements provide us with all the material we need to meditate. Yantra is a geometric shape which can take the mind to the universe in meditation, mantra or chanting brings the mind into focus by repeating Sanskrit phrases which are like prayers. 

 


Samadhi is a very difficult state and very few of us are able to achieve it. But we can get a taste of it when we are completely absorbed in music for instance or in a piece of art. maybe we can get a glimpse of it once or twice in a lifetime when it will happen when we least expect it. But when we are in that place of bliss there is no mistaking it…that is when we realize that there is more to us than just the physical and mental self. 


 

Spiritual practice is an important part of health and it doesn’t have to be any one way. It is well-known that people who have a faith, go to church or have a regular spiritual practice live longer, are happier and are healthier. This is because they take the time to look within and honor that. The devision comes when we believe that our way is the only way and the right way. Pure spirituality is unity and not devision. 


According To Ayurveda & Yoga - Ann Holaday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

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