Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga – The Eight Limbs of Yoga
“Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha”
‘Chitta Vritta’ translates as the mind stuff, mind chatter, modifications of the mind or turnings of the mind. Nirodha translates as cessation, stoppage, suppression or suspension. Yoga can thus be defined as “the cessasion of the turnings of the mind…the inhibitiions of the modifications of the mind.” This is the translation of the above phrase, which Patanjali, Indian scholar, sage and author of the sacred texts, the Yoga Sutras, lays out as the true meaning of yoga. The Yoga Sutras are a compilation of stanzas on the philosophy of yoga compiled by Patanjali around 600 BC. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” which means to united, yoke or to join together. In the philosophy of this ancient science, yoga is considered to be the sacred union fo the ‘individual self’ with the ‘universal cosmic consciousness’. This union can only take place after the purification of the mind.
What has made us blind is indeed the mind running wild with thoughts, imagination, intepretations, memories, judgments, expectations, fears, etc. When all of these are brought to a standstill we find peace of mind and clarity of percetptiion. We also regain the vision of a magical world lost to us when we were young, when, as children, we started “thinking.” It may take a while for some of us to regain that level of colorful perception, but if all the while we are gaining better health, vitatlirty, happier, emotions, and our knowledge is developing into wisdom, then why not go this route?
According to our research, the master Patanjali, spent many years observing the nature of human beings. From his observations as well as from his vast knowledge of the cosmic universal forces, Patanjali was inspired to help mankind attain this mastery over the mind and union with divine source. It was from these contemplations that he laid out the ‘eight limbs of yoga’ called Astanga Yoga. In the Sanskrit language ‘asta’ translates as eight and ‘anga’ means ‘limbs’. Astanga Yoga is considered to be the ‘eight-fold path of yoga’ as well as the ‘eight-fold path of the purification of the mind’. These eight steps of yoga, as laid out in the Samkhya philosophy by Patanjali, is also referred to as Raga Yoga. Raja is a Sanskrit word which translates as royal. Thus this path is also known as the ‘royal yoga’; the complete mastery of the ‘mind over matter’.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists the stages of these eight limbs of yoga as follows:
In the subsequent chapters on the chakras David defines these eight-limbs and the yama and niyama related to each particular chakra. For your leaning and knowledge, we will take a moment in the next few pages to list and describe each of the eight limbs in sequence.
1. Yama: abstentions ; ethical practices
The five yamas are as follows:
Ashimsa: non-violence in thought, word, deed or action to any living thing
(The word ahimsa literally mean not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.)
Satyam: truthfulness; sincerity in thought or speech
(Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.)
Asteya: non-stealing, non-holding or non-accumulation for things which do not belong to you
(Steya means “to steal”; asteya is the opposite-to take nothing that does not belong to us. This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner.iii The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. This includes fostering a consciousness of how we ask for others’ time for inconsiderate behavior demanding another’s attention when not freely given is, in effect, stealing.)
Brahmacharya: sexual continence; celibacy; ethical sexual practice; the abstaining from sexual relations for specific periods of time during a spiritual practice; moderation in sexual conduct
(Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.)
Aparigrabha: non-grasping; non-greediness
(Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for his future.v Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.)
According to the writings of Hiroshi Motoyama in his book, THeries of the Chakras, the Yoga Sutras state that the observance of yama also generate certain spiritual powers:
For example if a man practices non-violence he will find that his enemies and Conflicts will disappear. One who practices truthfulness will find his wishes fulfilled. Non-stealing may accrue good fortune and wealth. Also celibacy will generate powerful energy in the body
2. Niyama: virtuous conduct; cultivation and observances of virtues
(Niyama means “rules” or “laws.” These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully)
The five niyamas are as follows:
Saucha: cleanliness; personal hygiene; tidiness of personal environment
(The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. “But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.)
Santosha: contentment; ability to be happy in the present moment
(Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment ‘to accept what happens’. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.)
Tapas: austerity; discipline; practice; chanting the sacred scriptures and mantras to the Divine; study of the spiritual texts
(Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal. Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns – these are all tapas.)
Swadhiyaya: self-study; self-observation Ishwara
(The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.)
Pranidhana: worship of the Divine; surrender to God. In the science of yoga this is better described as paying attention to the intuitive voice of the Guru within. The practice of the yamas and niyamas teaches the yogi and yogini to develop a good, moral character. The student follows a set of ethics, principles and values to help uplift their mind. The purpose of the yama and niyama is to prepare the seeker for their spiritual, yogaic path.
3. Asana: sanskrit for ‘seated posture’; 84 classical hatha yoga asanas
Some of the benefits of classical hatha yoga asanas are:
• Creates flexibility in the physical body
• Tones the muscles and strengthens the bones
• Increases circulation of blood and bodily fluids
• Improves the function of the endocrine glands
• Rejuvenates the cellular body, glands and organs
• Rejuvenates and balances the central nervous system
• May cure disease in the body
• Calms the heart rate
• Releases prana into body
• Activates the chakra centers; stimulates the nerve groups
• Increases brain activity
• Helps to clear the nadi channels & meridian pathways in the body
• Good for relaxation ; calms the mind
• Kundalini awakening
• Prepares the body for meditation and union with the Divine
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses the purpose and benefits of padmasana (full lotus) and ardha padmasana (half-lotus). He that said if the body can sit in a good seated posture with a strong back and straight spine, one can experience the many benefits of meditation. A straight spine enhances the flow of pranic energy through the nadi channels located within and along the spinal column. This flow of pranic energy enhances the meditator’s higher states of consciousness. It is said that the purpose of hatha yoga asanas is to prepare the yogi’s body for the higher practices of concentration and meditation.
Asanas keep the body strong and flexible for long periods of meditation. As well, it is said that the practice of breathing and asanas prepare the nerve groups along the spinal column for the increased flow of vibrant pranic energy through the primary nadi channels of ida, pingala and sushumns. )see chapter VI – Kundalini)
4. Pranayama: releasing of prana with control over the breath; distribution of prana through particular breathing techniques
In the practice of yoga, suspension of the breath is one of the techniques used to calm the mind. Khumbhaka, which is retention fo the breath, directly affects the flow of pranic currents in the energy body. Rechaka is the Sanskrit name for holding the body empty of breath. This practice is also very energizing. There are a multitude of pranayama breathing techniques which enhance the awakening of the pranic life force, Kundalini, located at the base of the spine. Alternate nostril breathing purifies the nervous system in preparation for the higher states of mind. The practice of pranayama breathing techniques in conjunction with the practice of asanas, bandhas, mudras and mantra are very awakening for the yoga practitioner. Purification of the mind and body is important before doing advanced practices of yoga. Pranayama prepares the mind for concentration, visualization and meditation.
5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses from outer worldly stimulations; the with-drawing of the mind from the major sense (taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing)
In practice of pratyahara one may withdraw the mind by closing one’s eyes, plugging one’s ears and closing one’s mouth. By removing one’s senses from the outer material world one can begin the practice of concentration and meditation in the present moment.
6. Dharana: concentration; the stilling of the mind by focusing or concentrating on one point, an object, Yantra symbol, chakra center or a mantra; one-pointedness
This form of concentration may be done with eyes closed or eyes open. In the traditional yogic practices some of the points of concentration are usually done by looking upward to the third-eye or sixth chakra, looking towards the tip of the nose, focusing on the heart or concentrating on a particular chakra center. In his book, Mediation and Mantras, Sawmi Devanada teaches that traditionally, ajna chakra concentration is recommended for meditators of an intellectual nature, while Anahata chakra concentration is recommended for those of an emotional nature. It is important to experiment with these practices to feel out which point of concentration resonates more naturally. Saguna: translates as concrete; meditation on an external picture or object is a form of tangible, concrete concentration. Nirguna: meditation practice that is more abstract; concentration on a concept such as love Saguna meditation is sually practiced a long time before the yogi is ready for the nirguna practice for it is easier to hold the mind on a concrete object or image rather than just an idea or concept. Tratak: the practice of steady gazing on a particular object such as a burning candle flame, aum symbol or a picture of a divine master or deity. One may concentrate on the object for a period of time; then close the eyes and visualize the object. This form of concentration calms the busy, wandering mind. The main objective of these forms of concentration techniques is to prepare and clear the mind for the practice of mediation.
7. Dhyana: sustained and uninterrupted meditation; unbroken meditation
Through the practice of dharana and one-pointed concentration techniques, the mind becomes calm, intuition and awareness are increased, and one can achieve a higher state of meditation. Dhyana is the form of meditation where the yogi begins to move into an elevated state of higher consciousness. The individual self and the universal self begin to merge. Swami Gitananda was clear to point out that after you have prepared the body and cleared the mind, the higher experiences of Dhyana and Samadhi simply “happen”, you are no longer attempting to do anything.
8. Samadhi: state of blissfulness; union with the divine; selfrealization; attainment of union with the divine consciousness; liberation from the bondages of the material world
The Sanskrit term Samadhi comes from the roots ‘sam’ which means complete, ‘a’ which means eternal, and ‘dhi’ which translates as buddhi and inner wisdom. * In the state of Samadhi one is free of awareness of the individual self, time or space. Samadhi is the compete state of eternal blissfulness, or Sat Chit Anada which translates as ‘truth, consciousness & bliss’ – Aham (I Am). Samadhi is the final result of the various practices of the ‘Science of Yoga – Chakra System’.