This is also commonly referred to as ‘Patanjali’s Eightfold Path’.
Your successful and well-rounded growth through Yoga will depend on how effectively you integrate these eight limbs in your practice. These are wonderful fundamental principles found in the ancient text, Yoga Sutras, by Patanjali, an ancient Sanskrit scholar who wanted to make Yoga principles accessible to everyone.
The eight limbs are as follows:
1. Yamas (also called ‘the Laws of Life’). These sutras cover your external relationships, or the relationship you have to your environment and those around you.
There are 5 sub-limbs to Yamas:
2. Niyamas (also referred to as “Rules of Living”). This limb covers our internal relationship or the relationship we have with ourselves.
There are 5 sub-limbs to Niyamas:
3. Asana – These are physical postures/ asanas that open up the energy centers in the body allowing the flow of prana (life force, also called chi). Practising the asanas regularly, with a view to being able to hold a meditation posture comfortably still for extended periods. When the posture is steady, so is the mind.
4. Pranayama – The expansion and increase of life force/ prana in the body with the asanas / yoga postures, and as a separate practice. Also means, “controlling the life force”. Commonly over-simplified to refer to “breathing”.
5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses from external noise/ distractions/ stimulation. This serves to prepare the mind for visualisation and concentration.
6. Dharana – Concentration – learning the one-pointedness of the mind.
7. Dhyana – Practising regular meditation so that the fluctuations of the mind or the internal dialogue ceases and you become calm and undisturbed by interrupting thoughts.
8. Samadhi – The final goal: bliss/ enlightenment/ transcendent consciousness.
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Written by experienced yoga teacher James Bryan from Knoff Yoga School in Cairns, Queensland
For those of us who practice Hatha Yoga (asana, pranayama and meditation), when we are pressed for time, meditation often gets set aside – we want to do it, but how to fit it in our busy day? To get the full benefit that Hatha Yoga offers, we do need to meditate and in this article, we will look at a few reasons for setting up a daily routine to include it.
Patanjali, the father of Yoga, recommends an 8-step program which includes the practice of:
This is based upon:
… or, moving from the gross to the subtle. Another way of looking at the intent of Patanjali’s traditional sequence is comparing to a child’s developmental stages of crawling, walking, running. You need to learn how to control the energies of the physical body, which is tangible, before we will have success with the less tangible breath and the ephemeral mind.
The effects of yoga practice are cumulative, this is, they build upon each other and overall it is greater than what would be achieved from doing the asana, pranayama and meditation separately – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Because the body and breath have already been awakened by the time we are ready to meditate (with traditional sequencing), the meditation can be more powerful and effective. Keep in mind that 10 minutes of focus is more beneficial than 30 minutes of fuzz. No part of yoga practice is about chronological time; it is always about the awareness/consciousness we attain.
“A slack spine equals a dull mind”. When meditating, it is vital to sit correctly with a properly activated and elongated spine. To do this we need to slightly flatten out the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) curves. Internally we balance along the median plane by aligning the soft palate of the mouth over the perineum – then pressing down into the sitting bones and lengthening through the crown of the head. When sitting properly, the mind is energized and meditation will be more successful, i.e. alert and attentive to whatever meditation technique we are using. With correct posture and technique, the spine should be longer after the finish of meditation than when we started.
In Vipassana Meditation it is recommended to sit for 2 hours per day, 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. Because we encourage the practice of Hatha Yoga for 1 to 2 hours per day, as well as meditation, the overall time commitment is impractical for those with work, family and life responsibilities. We found that when meditating for 2 hours (in addition to asana and pranayama), some of the time we would be mentally drifting off because we were tired, i.e. non productive time. This experience taught us to adjust the Vipassana ‘chronological’ recommendation (doing time) and focus on the quality/clarity – “quality vs. quantity”, that is, making the best use of our limited time.
Meditation is highly beneficial BUT ONLY when we are awake, alert and attentive. If you are tired and falling asleep, go to bed!
Regardless of the type or style of yoga we practice, the ultimate goal is the same – Samadhi, which is super-consciousness or experiencing a profound sense of belonging in the universe, of oneness with the life-force sustaining all of nature. We require a strong body and nervous system in order to achieve this desirable goal. We obtain a strong body and nervous system from practising asana and pranayama. The Buddha did 6 years of austerities (yogic practices) before reaching enlightenment. By his example, we see the importance of asana and pranayama in any meditation practice.
In Patanjali’s teachings, we see that all of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are equally important, and with experience in practice it is obvious that they are all spokes in the same wheel – each contributing to the overall integrity and strength of the whole.
Once students are competent with the Beginner Level syllabus (Knoff Yoga) they should easily be able to complete it in 45 minutes (including relaxation and pranayama) in order to fit in 5 minutes of meditation – for a total daily investment of 50 minutes. This is not too much to ask for health and well-being. It is possible to get up an hour earlier to make space in your life for yoga.
Once students are competent with the Foundation Level syllabus (Knoff Yoga) they should easily be able to complete it in 1 hour and 10 minutes (including relaxation and pranayama), in order to fit in 20 minutes of meditation – for a total daily investment of 1 and 1/2 hours. Yes, this is a considerable slice out of the day, but it can be done by getting up earlier and dedicating yourself to becoming the best person you can be.
Make sure with your meditation, you are focusing on quality and not quantity. 5 minutes of sitting with a dull mind is 5 minutes wasted.
Experiment with the practice and see what works best for you.
Yours in Yoga,
James has a range of products available for you – from Chair Yoga for all levels to Pranayama for beginners and intermediate:
Written by Katie Spiers
Previously published on Australian Yoga Life magazine March-July 2008 Issue no.20. Visit Australian Yoga Life at www.ayl.com.au.
Each of us will come to yoga for different reasons, many having hears about the benefits of increased flexibility, strength and muscle tone to name a few. Yoga practice helps to nourish, cleanse and invigorate the body – improving posture and muscular structure, revitalising the circulatory system and internal organs, improving digestion, stimulating the endocrine system and strengthening the immune system. The therapeutic application of yoga can ease ailments such as arthritis, back pain and digestive problems as well as strengthening the reproductive system and alleviating stress and related symptoms.
Developing flexibility and strength in the body is a wonderful benefit from practising yoga, but in time you will also notice benefits far beyond your physical body, leading to an inner sense of wholeness, a feeling of greater balance. Yoga means union – a joining or integrating of all aspects of the individual – body with mind and mind with spirit. As a non-religious practice, yoga is ultimately a tool for working towards a better understanding of the self, working through blockages and tightness in the body and learning to appreciate aspects of ourselves we have not previously been aware of. Yoga is about cultivating acceptance of ourselves in a balanced way. It is a powerful tool for mind, body and spirit.
Yoga teaches patience in a world where we expect instant results. Regular practice on whatever level, even for short periods can provide stability and consistency in a world of constant change. In times of upheaval, our yoga practice can be the grounding constant that helps keep us focused.
Your practice will ebb and flow with your moods, affected by such things as energy levels and hormonal balance. Over time you will learn how yoga can help you get in touch with what is going on in your body. With regular practice you will wake up in the morning having a sense of what your body needs that day to maintain balance. On low energy days a gentle restorative practice with lots of resting postures and relaxation is appropriate. On days when you need a pick-me-up instead of a cup of coffee, an energising practice including inversions and dynamic pranayama (breathing exercises) is helpful. This is where yoga can help with issues such as depression, insomnia or chronic fatigue.
Many of us in modern society are over- achievers by nature and we don’t like to go back to the beginning with something and not be so ‘good’ at it. Yoga is an opportunity to opt out of competition and relax about what we are able and unable to do on any particular day. The beauty of yoga is that we always move deeper just by doing the practice. Each day becomes a creative process in itself.
Yoga is a practice for everyone, but different styles of yoga vary enormously, so in the beginning we have to work towards developing a method that suits us. Beginning to practice yoga takes a little perseverance and researching until you find a style and a teacher that you connect with. This means working with and openly embracing a few different schools, styles and teachers until you find something that works for you. A 65 year old with a hip replacement will need a very different practice from that of a 22 year old athlete, but both will find great challenges and benefits in yoga. As the old saying goes “when the student is ready the teacher will come”. Ask yourself what draws you to yoga, then choose a school which offers those kinds of teachings. Often the right teacher will come along at the right time, but here are a few of the more common schools or styles of yoga which you may want to investigate:
DIFFERENT FORMS OF YOGA
In Australia, as in other Western countries, the most familiar and commonly taught form of yoga is hatha yoga. Although ‘hatha yoga’ traditionally referred to a whole range of physical practices these days the term is the popular label for the postures, movements and breathing practices which are the most familiar face of yoga in our society. Each of the styles listed below comes under the umbrella of hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga is only one part of the Sivananda tradition, which also includes chanting, meditation and study of the Vedic scriptures. The Sivananda organization has many ashrams (yogic retreat centres) all over the world which offer excellent programmes for beginners.
Swami Satyananda, the founder of the style that bears his name, was a disciple of Swami Sivananda, so the two styles have many similarities. Satyananda classes are gentle, with a careful progression, and are good for those wanting to start with a softer practice or people working with injury or physical limitations. Other special features of Satyananda yoga are the long guided relaxations at the end of every beginners class and the inclusion of regular sitting meditations as students progress to higher levels.
Ashtanga is a very dynamic practice based on the teachings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Students follow a set series of poses at each level. There are six series, but only relatively advanced practitioners get beyond even the primary series. All poses are linked by flowing movements and the whole practice flows on the breath.
This style focuses on postural alignment and precision, usually involving holding poses for longer periods of time, and often using a number of props such as bolsters, straps and blocks, to facilitate better alignment and support in the postures. It is based on the teachings of BKS Iyengar.
Bikram yoga was designed by Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury. The practice is done in a room heated to 37 degrees Celsius, which is designed to increase flexibility, minimise muscle strain and assist detoxification.
You will find many benefits in attending just one yoga class if you listen to your body. Don’t worry if in the beginning it is difficult to practise regularly; build slowly on your practice so it becomes sustainable. There’s no point burning out and having to stop altogether. When you are ready to start practising regularly try to attend a class regularly once a week.
For long term benefits and real changes to the energetic and physical form of the body, it is ideal if you can practice every day, or at least three times a week. Little and often is a useful framework in the beginning. An hour’s practice at home may seem daunting, so 15 minutes is fine; set yourself something manageable. You’ll be surprised how time goes as you begin to practise for longer periods. Start to ask questions of your body and see how you respond to different postures, timings and approaches to practising. Practising yoga is not just a physical work out. You are working with your body’s energy and gradually the practice will draw you in.
Over time as your asana practice deepens you may notice more of a desire to explore the roots of yoga, the spiritual and philosophical background. This usually happens as a progressive part of deepening one’s practice; as we practise the postures questions come up about the remarkable effects of yoga. One text that helps us deepen our understanding of yoga as a whole is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras an ancient text in which yoga practices and guidelines were first written down. The yoga sutras outline three principal aspects of the yoga tradition:
Bhakti is the practice of devotion. Bhakti yoga is really practised in any tradition where there is a longing for knowing God (in whatever form you perceive God to be), or a sense of devotion in your practice. Bhakti yoga practices include any form of devotional ritual, such as a Hindu or Buddhist puja (devotional practice) or even a Christian mass. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hari Krishna) is one example of a Bhakti movement with ancient origins.
Jnana Yoga, the yoga of wisdom and knowledge, is the aspect of yoga which perhaps relates most directly to the Western mind set, dealing with the aspect of inquiry into the true nature of reality. This is accomplished through contemplative meditation. Jnana Yoga is the development of wisdom through opening the heart – true wisdom does not come from knowledge alone.
Karma yoga is the yoga of positive action. This means working for the greater good, and could be demonstrated by volunteering spare time to a charity organization or working in some way for the community you live in. Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa are well known karma yogis.
Patanjali also wrote of the eight-limbed path, the ‘steps’ toward enlightenment for a yogi. The ancient sages were very fond of creating steps and methods to explain the practices of yoga.
The eight-limbs of yoga are:
Yama: ethical disciplines, guidelines for living
Niyama: personal observances of self-purification
Asana: the physical postures, a combination of physical alignment and mental awareness
Pranayama: breath control
Pratyahara: internalised awareness by sense withdrawal
Dharana: single pointed focus (for example by focus on the breath)
Dhyana: meditation, arising as a consequence of the practice of dharana
Samadhi: bliss consciousness, the path to enlightenment, an experience of unity with universal spirit.
In the beginning letting go in your own practice is most important – not over intellectualising or trying to understand everything instantly. Just doing the practice is the first step. Once you have found a school you like, start to work with your practice. Find sequences that serve your needs and try them at home.
The beginning is always a time of experimentation, so try to cultivate an open mind. Value your beginner’s mind; it is a precious tool for enquiry! When you have a regular practice there are many books you can read to further your knowledge. The lineage of past teachers is great; their teachings can help you immeasurably in your quest to understand yoga.
Written by Sarah Trestrail
“Atha Yoga Nushasanam” YS I.I
Now here is yoga as I have observed it in the natural world.
In Patanjali’s very first Yoga Sutra, we are told exactly where we can find yoga – very simply, it is all around us. It is everywhere. It is the sheer wonder of creation itself, which of course includes each and every one of us.
Often we all get so caught up in the doing of yoga or the trying to achieve yoga – we expend so much effort reaching for things we consider to be outside of ourselves. But Patanjali tells us right here in the very first piece of wisdom he extols that, as part of the natural world, we are the yoga.
The sanskrit word “yoga” comes from the root word “yuj” which means to yoke – to join something to something else. Sharon and Davids teacher, Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, says “yoga is the state where you want for nothing”. It is the complete state of wholeness where we realise we are intimately connected to everything – we are already plugged in. We are already perfect.
The reason it is difficult for us to truly know this and embody it, is because we have fallen out of tune with nature. We embrace lifestyles, often unconsciously, that draw us further away from our natural state – and this takes a lot of energy, to be something you’re not. It creates a great disturbance in our state of mind.
When we are used to doing something one way – when a habit has been created – it is difficult to break the mould and create a new behaviour. However, this is essential if we want to be truly happy and absolutely free. Author Henry Miller says “our destination is not a place, but a new way of seeing things”.
Initially, attempting to see the yoga in everything is going to take some effort, as habit has blinded us from it. But that habit can be broken if we start with a little faith. Have faith that the yoga is there. And have that faith because Patanjali tells us that it is there. His methods have been practiced by yogis for thousands of years – yogis like us who seek to be liberated, which means our faith is not blind, it is validated by all those who have practiced before us. And thousands of years is a pretty good track record.
So start by believing and then start looking. Next time something you judge to be negative happens, try not to let your initial reaction of frustration, anger, sadness etc take root. Catch yourself and look for the divinity there. Meditate on it, ask the universe “what does this mean?”, “why has this happened?” and then be prepared to listen to the answer.
The universe is divine order – it is all part of a perfectly orchestrated plan – that is the yoga of it. Mother Nature never fails to set the sun in motion in the sky or herald the change of the seasons. She wants us to be in the loop and enjoy a harmonious relationship with our world, and so the answer will arise.
Remember if we are connected to all things, we are infinite potential – this means that we can embody any aspect of the creation we choose. So when things don’t work out exactly the way you planned, trust that the universe knows your true potential and likely has bigger plans for you.