In the Western world, Yoga has been largely distilled down to Asana, or the postures. People spend years ‘doing yoga’ without actually realizing that there is a lot more to it that just stretching and postures. Yoga is meant to be something which affects every part of our existence, a practice which opens the many doors of the human nervous and limbic systems. In fact, there are 8 limbs of Yoga, and Asana is only one of them. In this article we will briefly cover the other 7 limbs of yoga, which were beautifully laid out by Patanjali in his book of yoga sutras.
The first limb of yoga is called Yama, which can be translated to mean restraint. This covers several areas including non-violence, truthfulness, preservation of sexual energy, and avoiding vices such as stealing or coveting. This is a requirement for beginning one’s path to spiritual improvement, and to establishing a good life from which to begin the other limbs of Yoga.
The second limb is often referred to as Niyama, or observance. This limb is really two-fold, the first is to be mindful and aware of your actions, to always act based on rational thought rather than blind emotion. It also means observance of the non-physical, or spiritual side of yourself, this means learning the scriptures and having respect for the divine. This limb is the first step towards looking beyond the self and ego towards greater intentions and achievements.
The third limb is the most familiar, and that is Asana, or the postures of Yoga. This is a way to train the nervous and limbic systems, to cleanse the body, to strengthen awareness of the self, and to raise the energy within. Asana is a very important limb of yoga, but unfortunately too many people in the Western World start and end only here.
Asana is a preparation for the next limb, Pranayama, which is “restraint of the life force/breath.” Pranayama involves breathing techniques which are used to stimulate and cultivate the nervous system. It is a way to prepare for deep meditation, divine experiences, and to raise kundalini.
The fifth limb of Yoga is known as Pratyahara, and means “introversion of the senses.” It is derived from the root sound (OM) which is channeled to manifest itself as pure bliss consciousness within the physical world. It is a technique of raising Kundalindi and creating ecstatic experiences which draw our attention more inward.
The next limb is called Dharana, which is to focus your attention or concentrate. This is the first step in deep meditation, using a mantra to focus the mind on a single point, and then let it roam free as it will. This is the first step towards bringing the mind truly inward.
After Dharana, is the seventh limb Dhyana, which means meditation. This is when we use the mantra to focus the mind, but then allow the mind to come to its natural state, that of stillness.
The last limb of Yoga is usually called Samadhi, and in English this can most closely be translated as “absorption or transcendence.” This is the process through which the ecstatic joy that we receive through meditation starts to expand over time into our normal daily life. It is the cultivation of the inner silent witness, or pure bliss consciousness. It is the ultimate goal of yoga practice; it is one which unfolds over time to allow us to experience our own immortal and universal self. It is about finding who we truly are.
As you can see, Yoga is not just about having a healthier body, feeling physically better, or looking good. Yoga is a life long journey of self-improvement. Only by embracing all of the limbs of yoga, and dedicating ourselves to truly practicing them can we achieve the state of bliss consciousness that we all truly desire. The teachings of Yogani, through his system of Advanced Yoga Practices (AYP) is the most readily available system of yoga teachings to people of Western cultures and upbringings. Here at Baan Talay we teach the AYP system as we have explored it for over a decade and found it to be readily available to everybody who has the desire to learn and pursue it. Our head Yoga Teacher, Devrim Zahir is a trained and certified AYP practitioner, and will help to introduce you to the techniques that will help you to evolve your physical and spiritual life towards a more complete self.