Limbs of Yoga Practice
Your development in yoga begins from the moment when you are able to control your the disturbances or movements of the mind, in other words Yoga begins when you can control your thoughts.
ATHA YOGA ANUSHASHANAM Without discipline you cannot succeed.
Yoga happens when there is stilling of the movement of thought. YOGAS CHITTA VRITTI NIRODHAH
There are 8 limbs of the 'Raja' Yoga we practice in modern society (physical practice being just one). Though not everyone knows what they are let alone even considers them as parts of daily practice. Yet without applying ourselves to every limb our efforts cannot be totally successful. So it's well worth knowing what they are and starting to incorporate them into our daily practice.
The first limb of raja yoga, even before Asana is yama; universal principles of moral conduct. These are; ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha.
Ahimsa is the principle of non-violence or non-injury to all living beings. Ahimsa means love. When you feel love, you cannot harm anyone. But if you hurt, or try to hurt someone it’s called himsa. Ahimsa is a principle to be followed throughout one’s entire life.
There are three ways of creating karma: mental, verbal and physical. It is important first of all not to think negatively, for a negative thought is in effect a negative deed. The physical body is carried by your mind and steered by your thoughts. Words can also have powerful effects! You will always remember those who were unkind and who addressed you abusively. So every word that comes from your mouth should be like a full of kindness, harmony and understanding.
You have the power to harm people or make them happy and when you can make others happy you too will be happy.
The second principle is satya – love for the truth. Always tell the truth! Not so easy as you often bring yourself into a situation where you have to lie. And with a lie goes inner peace, power and courage. You also lose the trust of other people. If you have told a lie, you should apologise, tell the truth and ask how you can make up for it. However always bear in mind to speak the truth with love, understanding and consideration for the feelings of the person.
The third principle is asteya - not stealing. It is very hard not to steal since stealing includes far more than obvious examples such as taking somebody else’s property. You can steal many things and do it in a number of ways of which you are probably unaware.
Do not steal somebody’s beauty. Do not foster a thought of enjoying something that doesn’t belong to you. That is also theft. Do not steal other people’s thoughts or their hard work and accomplishments. Do not steal other people’s emotions. Do not steal somebody’s love. When two people are in love, you should not come between them. Do not steal your own feelings. You feel love or respect for somebody but the feelings also belong to the person you feel them for. Don’t steal, that is, deny them to somebody who has the right to share the feelings with you. What is positive should be released.
Brahma means “the Supreme” and charya is “motion” so brahmacharya is the principle of directing energy towards the Divine. The implication is that the person who thinks about the Supreme has no time or inclination to think about anything else.
You should learn to be strict with yourself. We are too weak and pleasure seeking. To be a yogi means to be one’s own master, which in most cases we are not. It is because our buddhi, our understanding, isn’t strong enough. You should always be conscious of the consequences of your actions.
The fifth principle of yama is aparigraha - not accumulating. Accumulating and collecting too many items creates problems. The problem lies mainly in thinking things belong to you. When you possess something you become attached, and this leads to unhappiness. Anxiety arises because we fear loosing something, suspicion arises that someone may want to take it away and this makes the mind restless and you feel unsettled. Yet when we consider what we’ll take along when we die it’s not much!
There is a Hindi saying:
SANTOSHI NAR SADA SUKHI: The one who is content is always happy.
Next are personal observances. These are shauca, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana.
The first principle is shauca – cleaning or purification. It is very important to keep oneself clean every day. Wash your clothes and wash your body. You can clean your body from the inside too. For that purpose there are hatha yoga kriyas. However, Patanjali wasn’t just referring to physical cleanliness. He also had in mind the cleanliness of one’s inner being which means purification of thoughts, feelings, words, deeds and karma.
Try always to be pure, like a crystal.
The second principle is santosha - contentment.“Take it easy,” although it isn’t always easy. But being content is the aim of yoga, attaining inner happiness and overcoming the restlessness of mind.
Some people constantly fidget, they scratch their beard or move their head in a certain way. Others are occupied with their fingers or fingernails. All of these reveal an inner restlessness. You should try to control that restlessness - and that is tapas. In other words, tapas means consistency, being constantly in the same mood and never losing your peace of mind no matter whether you are happy or unhappy, or whether somebody tells you kind or unpleasant words. That is balance.
Svadhyaya - studying or reading. Read attentively, memorizing valuable points and then apply them in your life. Read biographies of great personalities, historic persons or self realized yogis. You will learn about the problems they encountered, how they removed obstacles from their path and how they struggled and persevered. It will inspire courage in you and give you strength to endure the hardships of your life.
In order to achieve such inner trust and be able to deeply follow the teachings you have chosen, Patanjali gives the fifth principle of niyama. Ishvara pranidhana; devotion. First of all towards your inner self and then in your path and in extraordinary accomplishments because everything is possible.
Next is asana - being comfortable in any pose and following a sequence of movements in such a way the energy flow throughout the body is enhanced. Yoga asanas keep the body flexible and healthy and enable us to sit for a long time. It should become easy enough for you to manage an hour and a half to two hours meditation without making any movement. Then you will feel peace rising in you and those around you will feel content because of the calmness, happiness and strength that you radiate.
Prana is life force or vitality. It binds everything into a harmonious whole. Subtle prana is spread throughout the cosmos.
Pranayama means control of prana. As prana is closely connected to the breath this term is also used for yogic breath techniques and exercises.
Yoga practice isn’t complete without pranayama. It is even more important than practising asanas because when we inhale and exhale there is the potential for direct perception of the life-force. When you were born the first thing you did was inhale, and in the last moment of your life you will exhale. Through the practice of pranayama you can make your life long and healthy, as long as you wish, because it keeps your body clean and active by relaxing and regenerating your inner organs.
Pranayama works with the subtle prana that freely flows throughout the whole body, in and out. This subtle prana can change in a moment.
There is another consideration in connection to prana. We inhale and exhale with our whole body. That is why a yogi should wear clothes made of natural fabrics. Then you will feel relaxed, both physically and mentally.
Pratyahara - withdrawing all the senses from the external world.
The aim of yoga is to realize the hidden power in the depths of your consciousness. Different abilities can be found in various layers of consciousness and the deepest part contains the greatest treasures. Observe your senses and be able to control them when you want, so pratyahara can be applied before you start meditating
Dharana – concentration, or the ability to focus attention on a particular object for a long time. For a yogi, concentration is a weapon for fighting the obstacles that detract from spiritual life. Concentration is the key for opening the door of your inner treasury.
And it is only through concentration that the chakras, the centres situated at particular parts of the human body can be awakened or re-activated. There are techniques called yoga kriyas for cultivating prana by concentrating on specific centres. You feel yourself dissolving as your karma melts away. The spirit of the yogi becomes one with eternal joy and happiness. That is when your concentration ends and meditation begins.
Meditation or dhyana refers to the state when your mind dissolves and becomes one with the object of concentration – the Source.
If you want to experience meditation, first you should create in yourself the inner quality of harmony and love. Nobody can achieve liberation without love.
During the process your three major nadis become very active. Prana, the power of inhalation and apana, the power of exhalation, come together in the manipura chakra and climb up the spine. That is the awakening of the shushumna, the main nadi, or of kundalini, that energy which enables the yogi to attract the power from the universe in the form of bliss or ananda.
There is just one thing you should be aware of – meditation itself cannot be practised. You can only practise your mantra. Meditation comes of its own accord, like sleep.
Meditation leads to the eighth grade of raja yoga that Patanjali calls samadhi - to become one with all. When the three things: knowledge, the knower and the object of knowing become one, it is called samadhi, the final awakening of consciousness. Past, present and future becomes one. Then you are liberated and your self becomes the Divine Self. This is the ultimate goal of yoga: liberation, self- realization.