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The Eight Limbs of Yoga

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Practised world-over by men and women from every walk of life, Yoga is the format of self-preservation technique that is thus far unrivalled. It is probably the only series of physical activity that brings about internal and external wellbeing.
Ancient yet still contemporary, yoga remains till today the most revered form of exercise.
It is often said that when a person arrives at the pathway of yoga, he or she is instantly transported to dimensions that promises eternal bliss and health. Although a great many people come to yoga simply for the physical benefits, the practitioner learns over a period of time that the benefits are more than just what meets the eye. John Scott, the world renowned Ashtanga-Vinyasa yoga teacher said that, “Exercise merely exercises the body. It cannot give you peace of mind nor can it provide you the answers to the questions, ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘Who am I?’ for the answers will not come on a treadmill or even when skiing down the slopes of the Alps.”
Yoga began as a method of sacred sequences imparted only amongst the men folk – and it was sent down from father to son. It is a logical process of spiritual realisation with the aim to set free our full human potential, including our physical, moral, emotional, mental, scholarly and spiritual dimensions. Yoga is a dynamic perspective and sensible discipline that brings about a synchronisation of all these diverse facets of the human experience.
The path of yoga teaches us how to amalgamate and mend our personal existence, as well as complement our individual awareness with the greater Self that is God. The practice of yoga brings about a greater sense of harmony between Self, God and the world around us.
“Exercise merely exercises the body! It cannot give you peace of mind nor can it provide you the answers to the questions” ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘Who am I?’ for the answers will not come on a treadmillor even when skiing down the slopes of the Alps!
Often called “meditation in motion”, the main aim of yoga is the ‘union’ of the mind, the body and the soul. Although the physical
factor of yoga is of great importance, it is only one of the eight limbs of yoga practice, all of which have meditation on God as their purpose.
There are eight limbs of the complete yoga system as they are found in the famous yoga textbook known as the Yoga Sutras, written by the sage Patanjali in approximately 200 B.C. and they are:

Yama –
ethical adherences for interactions with others. There are five positive abstinences that include non-violence, fidelity to the Absolute, non-stealing, truthfulness and non-attachment;

Niyama –
moral observances for interactions with the Self. There are five positive behaviours, including cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and devotion to God;

Asana –
postures. These are the actual physical exercises that people usually associate with yoga. These powerful poses are designed to give our bodies strength, flexibility and energy. They also contribute to the deep sense of relaxation that is necessary in order to meditate on the Absolute;

Pranayama –
breath. These are the energizing breathing exercises that produce vitality, overall health and inner calm;

Pratyahara –
sensory inhibitions. This is detachment from the ever-present fluctuations of life. Through this practice, we can transcend all the trials and sufferings that life often seems to throw our way and begin to see such challenges in a positive and healing light;

 

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Dharana –
focus. This is the practice of powerful and focused concentration;

Dhyana –
meditation. This is devotional meditation on God, designed to still the agitations of the mind and open the heart to God’s healing love; and

Samadhi –
assimilation of one’s individual consciousness in the essence of God. The result of samadhi is peace, bliss and happiness without end.
Gathered together by Maharishi Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are a progressive series of disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading to the path of enlightenment. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient foundational text of Yoga. In Indian philosophy, yoga is the name of one of the six orthodox philosophical schools. Though concise, the Yoga Sutras are a mammoth dominant work on yoga philosophy and practise which is just as pertinent today as when it was first compiled. It is necessary to understand these eight limbs when ardent about the practise of yoga as only then it is said, that yoga is implemented in its sacred and actual form.

Yama
Yama has diverse connotations in diverse perspectives. It may mean “restraint or control” and in the present context, it is used to mean “self- control or tolerance”. It can also be construed as “mind-set” or “conduct”. Indeed a particular outlook can be conveyed as a discipline, which then influences our behaviour. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra reveals five different Yama which are behavioural patterns or affiliations between the individual and the outside world.
The other five behavioural patterns that fall within the confines of Yama are:
1. Ahimsa – non-violence;
2. Satya – truthfulness;
3. Asteya – honesty or non-stealing;
4. Brahmacharya – sense of control; and
5. Aparigraha – counter the need to attain and
accumulate wealth.
1. Ahimsa
Although the origins of the principle of ahimsa are unknown, the initial indications to ahimsa are found in the texts of the historical Vedic religion, dated to 8th century BCE. Here, ahimsa at the outset associates with “non-injury” devoid of a moral undertone, but later to non-violence to animals and then, to all beings. The theory resurfaces again in the Hindu texts Mahabharata and Manu Smriti, where ahimsa is said to be warranted by good Karma.
The word ahimsa plainly means non-violence or the showing unkindness to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is familiarly associated with the perception that all kinds of violence give rise to negative karmic effects. The level to which the theory of non-violence can or should be applied to different life forms is controversial concerning several authority’s movements and currents within the three religions and has been a matter of debate for thousands of years.
In its broad significance, ahimsa means absolute abstinence from causing any injury or harm to any living creature, either by thought, word or deed. It is a positive cosmic love which revolves around the implementation of a mental attitude in which abhorrence is substituted with love. Ahimsa is true surrender, a sympathetic trait and Sakti (power).
2. Satya
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. The Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, says: “Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths. Do not lie, even if the lies are unpleasing to the ear. That is the eternal law, the dharma.”
3. Asteya
Asteya is a Sanskrit word meaning “avoidance of stealing” or “non-stealing”. The concept is frequently confused as being an equivalent of the Western commandment “Thou shall not steal” although in principle it means more than that. Asteya refers to not stealing, not coveting, nor hoarding, as well as not obstructing other people’s desires in life. Swami Jyotirmanda of Miami’s Yoga Ashram frequently states that “all the wealth of the world will be drawn to one who has mastered the practicscreen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-46-55-ame and discipline of Asteya.”
In yoga we are taught that when we no longer desire something it will come to us by itself. This is also the case for asteya. Since the basis of taking what doesn’t belong to you is desire, when you give up desire for things, all types of worldly goods will come to you by itself. To master this yama we should try to curtail our desires little by little through the regular practice of yoga, and eventually our mind and our actions will come more under our control.
Most people don’t know this but the idea of stacking is a further characteristic to asteya. The idea is that you are keeping more than what you need for yourself instead of sharing or giving things away that you no longer need. Stacking applies to many things such as food (eating too much), money, and possessions. Of course one should always keep what is reasonable and necessary to provide for one’s self and family members, but a thoughtful analysis should be made as to what is actually necessary to keep, and what one is keeping because of various attachments.
4. Brahmacharya
Literally translated brahmacharya means ‘dedicated to the Divinity of Life’. The word is often used in yogic practice to refer to celibacy or denying pleasure, but this is only a small part of what Brahmacharya represents. The purpose of practicing Brahmacharya is to keep you focused on your purpose in life, the things that instill a feeling of peace and contentment.
Historically, Brahmacharya as celibacy was likely a product of teaching yoga to young men, whose desires can be difficult to harness. Unless you are living the ascetic life of a sadhu, chances are you will indulge in sexual pleasure, food pleasure or any number of possible treats. To bring brahmacharya into your life and yoga practice is to practice moderation in all things, including those things that are pleasurable distractions. Swami Sivananda said that, “Brahmacharya is a divine word. It is the sum and substance of Yoga. Brahmacharya is the achara or conduct by which you can attain or reach Brahman (God). It is life in the absolute. It is movement towards God or Atman. Barhmacharya is purity of thought, word and deed. It is celibacy and
continence.”
5. Aparigraha
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedily. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. In addition, unearned rewards can bring with them obligations that might later cause problems.
Parigraha on the other hand, is the increasing orientation toward material things. If we reduce parigraha and develop aparigraha, we are orienting ourselves more inwardly. The less time we spend on our material possessions, the more we have to spend on investigating all that we call yoga. We will learn to enjoy what we have rather than constantly seeking things we
don’t have and never getting satisfied in life. It is a scientific
fact that the more money and material possessions we have, the more stressful we become.
Initially when reflecting on the virtues of aparigraha, there are a few important elements which must be considered. What does it mean to possess something? What does it mean to need something? What are some of the objects, ideas, and beliefs that you possess? Does it seem that you need these possessions? When we hold our breath, we actively prohibit the experience of a new breath. When we are holding so much that our hands are full, we prohibit the capacity to hold even one more item. When we set forth holding pre-determined ideas and beliefs, we inhibit our capacity to discover new ideas and experiences.
Therefore, we must carefully consider which objects and ideas we choose to hold on to. For most of us, our homes and minds are full of various objects and ideas which we did not consciously choose to possess. Perhaps we inherited these from our families, perhaps we received them as gifts – there are countless possibilities. Aparigraha encourages us to consider our possessions with attention and awareness.

  • Pearl Tan
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The Eight Yoga Limbs of Yoga by Pearl Tan