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The Eight Limbs Of Yoga

Yoga is not just about physical postures - it has a whole philosophy that goes along with it. The following is a rundown of the eight limbs of Yoga.

 

A QUICK SUMMARY OF THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA:

Limb 1: YAMA, the five universal ethics for living in harmony with the world:

  • Ahimsa: non-violence.
  • Satya: truthfulness.
  • Ashteya: non-stealing.
  • Brahmacharya: positive sexual conduct.
  • Aparigraha: non-grasping.

Limb 2: NIYAMA, the five personal disciplines of body and mind:

  • Saucha: cleanliness.
  • Santosha: contentment.
  • Tapas: self-discipline.
  • Svadhyaya: self-study.
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender.

Limb 3: ASANA, the physical poses.

Limb 4: PRANAYAMA, breathing exercises.

Limb 5: PRATYAHARA, withdrawal of the senses. 

Limb 6: DHARANA, concentration.

Limb 7: DHYANA, meditation.

Limb 8: SAMADHI, the settled mind.

 

A MORE DETAILED EXPLANATION OF THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA:

 

Limb 1: YAMA

Yama means 'restraint' or 'control', and this limb of Yoga is about our relationship with the world. According to Yoga philosophy, these are the laws of life - the five universal ethics for living in harmony with the world. They are:

  • Ahimsa: non-violence.
  • Satya: truthfulness.
  • Ashteya: non-stealing.
  • Brahmacharya: positive sexual conduct.
  • Aparigraha: non-grasping.

 

Ahimsa is non-violence towards ALL living beings. That includes both human and non-human beings, so being vegan (and that's living vegan, NOT eating vegetarian) is essential to living a truly non-violent life.

To read more on non-violence towards all living beings, you can click on this link: Animals, and following are some pertinent quotations on the subject from the Yoga Shastra:

"In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self, and should therefore refrain from inflicting upon them such injury as would appear undesirable to us if inflicted upon ourselves." - the Yoga Shastra

"This is the quintessence of wisdom; not to kill anything. All breathing, existing, living sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure unchangeable Law. Therefore, cease to injure living things." - the Yoga Shastra

"All living things love their life, desire pleasure and do not like pain; they dislike any injury to themselves; everybody is desirous of life and to every being their life is very dear." - the Yoga Shastra

There is one exception to this first and most important precept of non-violence, and that is self-defence. Ahimsa means that in our everyday lives under everyday circumstances we should practice non-violence towards all living beings. What ahimsa does NOT mean is that we should placidly allow someone else to beat us to a pulp, or that we shouldn't call the police if we're the victim of violence. So you could say that ahimsa means: non-violence towards all other beings, except in situations that call for self-defence.

 

Satya is truthfulness in thought, word, and action, to both others and to oneself. The following is from a photo of some graffiti which summarises the notion of truthfulness nicely:

"Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes." - anonymous.

However, while in almost all situations the truth is best, there are some situations where telling the truth is unwise. Below are two examples.

Example 1: Imagine a woman asks you on her wedding day what you think about her wedding dress, and you find the dress to be hideous. Is it really going to benefit her if you tell her what you honestly think just a few hours before she gets married? No, it won't. You can still say something truthful (eg. "I love the colour" or "I think the cut of the dress is very original", etc), but it seems that being brutally honest in this case would be damaging and unkind.

Example 2: Imagine a bruised and battered child bangs on your front door, desperately seeking refuge from an enraged and violent parent. You let the child in, and then the parent comes knocking on your door, demanding to know if the child is there. Should you to be truthful and say "yes"? Based on the situation, it's clear that telling the truth would likely lead to great danger for that child. Better in this case to lie ("No, he's not here") to protect the child, and immediately call the authorities.

So you can see that certain situations are an exception to the rule. However, the overarching idea is to be truthful to oneself and others.

 

Asteya is non-stealing, or not taking what's not willingly given. This is not just about not robbing banks and not mugging people in the street - although it is about those things too. It also includes giving back borrowed items (including money) and being mindful of people's time (eg. not being late, and asking if it's a good time to talk on the phone before launching into a conversation).

Asteya also extends to non-human beings, as is summarised nicely in the following poem by Al-Ma’arri (973 to 1057):

"I No Longer Steal from Nature" by Al-Ma’arri

Come to me, that you may hear something of sound truth.
Do not unjustly eat fish the water has given up,
And do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
Or the white milk of mothers who intended its pure draught for their young, not noble ladies.
And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking eggs;
for injustice is the worst of crimes.
And spare the honey which the bees get industriously
from the flowers of fragrant plants;
For they did not store it that it might belong to others,
Nor did they gather it for bounty and gifts.
I washed my hands of all this; and wish that I
Perceived my way before my hair went gray!

 

Brahmacharya is positive sexual conduct. The following from Yoga With Amey Mathews gives an explanation of brahmacharya:

"Historically, many yogic texts and many yogic practitioners interpreted brahmacharya as strict sexual celibacy...the principal idea being a thorough devotion of one’s energies toward spiritual pursuits, and away from temporal distractions. Today there are some schools of yoga and some practitioners that include celibacy in their practice. Some of these yogis may choose to commit to a temporary vow of celibacy, setting aside a week or a month or even a year to devote their attention and energy inward. This pre-determined period can provide an opportunity to become aware of one’s attitudes, dependencies, habitual behavior, and emotional relationship to sexuality.

However, it is worth noting that throughout history there have also been many knowledgeable and influential yogis who have chosen to marry and raise families, whilst remaining committed yoga practitioners. Just a few of these include Sri T. Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, and Sri Pattabhi Jois. In such an instance, it is emphasized that one should remain...devoted to one’s partner, respectful of sexuality and the gift of human love, and attentive to how one’s sexual energies are used. We are always meant to avoid using our sexuality in any way that hurts ourselves or - especially - others, and to avoid making lewd jokes and comments about sexuality." - Amey Mathews

 

Aparigraha is non-grasping. That is, not desiring more than what's needed, and letting go of what no longer serves us.

To put aparigraha into action, identify something that you can let go of in your life to make room for the future. It can be clothes that you never wear, unhelpful negative thoughts, meaningless relationships, detrimental emotional patterns, baggage from the past - anything that can potentially be released.

And while considering this, keep in mind what Mildred Lisette Norman (aka Peace Pilgrim) said:

"Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you." - Mildred Lisette Norman (aka Peace Pilgrim)

 

Limb 2: NIYAMA

Niyama means 'observances', and this limb of Yoga is about our relationship with ourselves. These five personal disciplines of body and mind are, according to Yoga philosophy, the rules for living soulfully. They are:

  • Saucha: cleanliness.
  • Santosha: contentment.
  • Tapas: self-discipline.
  • Svadhyaya: self-study.
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender.

 

Saucha means cleanliness, and refers to purity of the physical, mental, and emotional.

Start from the outside by keeping your physical surroundings neat and clean.

Next, the physical body: look after it, wash it regularly, and purifying it through asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). Keep the body clean by not ingesting poisons such as drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, or consuming disease-producing animal-based products such as meat, dairy, and eggs.

Next, go inward to cleanse mentally. Purify the mind by avoiding getting bogged down by negative thinking. Regularly clear the mind of of its relentless stream of thoughts through one-pointed concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana).

And finally emotional cleanliness. You can purify yourself on this level by keeping your conscience clear. Practice pure action - that is, acting in a way that will not hurt others. Pure action includes ahimsa (non-violence) towards all beings, both human and non-human; asteya (non-stealing), both actually and energetically; and bramacharya (positive sexual conduct). Pure action also includes pure speech, and that means satya (truthfulness).

 

Santosha is contentment - not to be confused with happiness or complacency.

The following quotation by Donna Farhi from her book Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit is a very clear explanation of this often-misunderstood aspect of Yoga philosophy:

"Contentment shouldn’t be confused with happiness, for we can be in difficult, even painful circumstances and still find some semblance of contentment if we are able to see things as they are without the conflictual pull of our expectations. Contentment also should not be confused with complacency, in which we allow ourselves to stagnate in our growth. Rather it is a sign that we are at peace with whatever stage of growth we are in and the circumstances we find ourselves in. This doesn’t mean that we accept or tolerate unhealthy relationships or working conditions. But it may mean that we practice patience and attempt to live as best we can within our situation until we are able to better our conditions." - Donna Farhi

Confucius put santosha very succinctly when he said:

"And remember, no matter where you go, there you are." - Confucius.

 

Tapas is self-discipline, but can also be described in many other ways: zeal, fire in the belly, burning desire, motivation, dedication. No matter what term is used, tapas is all about hard work: doing what needs to be done by overcoming distractions and keeping your eye on the goal.

It’s easy to ride the wave of enthusiasm when something is new, but once the novelty wears off what keeps you going is self-discipline or tapas. Tapas propels you into action at work and at home when you’re dragging your feet and making excuses to avoid doing a task. Tapas also gets you to Yoga class even when you’re exhausted and it’s cold outside and other responsibilities await your attention.

 

Svadhyaya is self-study. Meditation is considered to be the primary method of svadhyaya because it’s the practice of watching the mind. Through svadhyaya we can live honestly, come to know ourselves better, and therefore able to refine and improve ourselves.

 

Ishvara pranidhana is about surrender. TKV Desikachar summed up ishvara pranidhana in the book Heart of Yoga like this:

"…if we concentrate more on the quality of our steps along the way than on the goal itself, then we avoid being disappointed if we perhaps cannot attain the exact goal that we had set for ourselves. Paying more attention to the spirit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us - this is the meaning of ishvara pranidhana.” - TKV Desikachar

So ishvara pranidhana is about not trying to control everything (after all, we can’t!). This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about the future or prepare - one would be foolish not to. But once plans are made it’s important to act with a sense of surrender so as to be open to what comes.

 

Limb 3: ASANA

Asana literally means 'seat' and refers to the physical postures of Yoga.

This limb of Yoga is the one most people are familiar with - to the point where many think that Yoga is all about asana and nothing else. But, as you can see, asana is only one aspect of Yoga.

The following two quotations from Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life explain a very important aspect of asana:

"Asana encourages awareness...by giving us an opportunity to put ourselves into the various shapes and patterns of existence and experience the dynamic force that animates all form. In the Celtic myth of Camelot, Merlin teaches the young Arthur how to become a good king. The wizard transforms the boy into various life-forms: animals, plants, and minerals. As Arthur experiences the perspectives of those over whom he has lordship, he is better prepared to rule with compassion. This is Yoga, the experience of the vitality of life in all forms of life." - Sharon Gannon and David Life

"Each asana is a unique vibrational expression of an aspect of manifestation…you experience the flowing river of life as you become cat-cow-cobra-dog. When we place ourselves in an asana, we express…the vibrational essence of the life-form that the asana embodies." - Sharon Gannon and David Life

Asana practice also gives us the opportunity to observe our emotional and mental habits. Each pose we do can reveal a great deal about ourselves because we get to see how we respond emotionally and mentally to the difficulty each Yoga posture presents. Even in cases where we find a particular pose effortless, it’s still not easy to stay motionless for an extended period of time. So if we carefully watch our own responses to challenge, to ease, and to stillness we can learn a lot about who we are. And acting on the insights discovered through asana practice can immensely improve our lives.

Last, but not least, asana prepares the body for relaxation and meditation. The Yoga postures tire us out to help keep us still in relaxation, and they make us strong to help us sit in meditation for long periods without fatiguing. Also, by focussing on the breath during asana practice we prepare our minds to concentrate while in meditation.

 

Limb 4: PRANAYAMA

Prana means 'lifeforce', and yama means 'control'. Therefore pranayama means 'controlled lifeforce', and it refers to breathing exercises that are done as a part of Yoga practice.

Examples of different types of pranayama are:

  • Ujjayi (victorious breath)

  • Kapalabhati (shining skull breath)

  • Nadi shodhana (channel cleansing breath)

  • Brahmari (bumble bee breath)

Pranayama is practised in a seated position, and can be done on its own, before asana practice or afterwards.

 

NOTE: The next three limbs - pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana - go hand in hand. They're typically associated with relaxation (Savasana, or Corpse Pose) and meditation at the end of a Yoga class. However, they can be done on their own as part of a meditation practice.

 

Limb 5: PRATYAHARA

Pratyahara refers to the withdrawal of the senses - drawing yourself away from the world and turning inwards. The use of music and closing the eyes helps to foster pratyahara.

 

Limb 6: DHARANA

Dharana is concentration. It involves focussing the attention on one thing, rather than letting the mind wander about randomly. Doing this calms the mind. The focal point used can vary: for example, it can be the breath, a chant, or a mantra.

I suggest you purchase some guided meditations. The ones I use are by Breathworks and Wildmind.

 

Limb 7: DHYANA

Dhyana is meditation, or the emptying of mind. The idea is that dhyana happens spontaneously when you practise pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and dharana (concentration).

 

Limb 8: SAMADHI

Samadhi refers to the settled mind, living completely in the moment, and being in union with all around you. It's the ultimate goal of Yoga, and what following Limbs 1 to 7 lead to.

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Quick Mediations For Workaholics
The electronic copy of my book, Quick Meditations For Workaholics, is just $2.99 (AUD). Click here or on the image above for details.

 

SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!

Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

All information and photos are copyright Despina Rosales.
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