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BITE SIZED YOGA: THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA IN 50 WORDS OR LESS

I am writing some short, daily steps on the journey to understanding Yoga. They will be brief. Each post will be 50 words or less.

Read them one at a time. A little something to think about when stepping into each new day. Hopefully, a few "Aha!" moments too.

(Simon Levett 20th April 2020)

What Is Yoga? What is Yoga? Yoga is 'connection'. Connection with what? Yoga calms the mind. Calm minds are more aware. Calm awareness sees beyond superficial distraction. Beyond superficial distraction is your real self. So, Yoga connects you to your real, calmer, more compassionate self. How?

The Yoga Sutras 2500 years ago Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras are the 'threads' of Yoga. The threads explain ashtanga, the '8 limbs' of Yoga. The limbs are like the spokes of a wheel. Spokes connect the rim to the hub. They connect us to our real selves. What are they?

The 8 Limbs of Yoga Yoga takes us on a journey. The journey follows 8 paths. The paths guide us from the outer world, through our bodies, to our minds. The 8 paths are:

  1. Social – Yama

  2. Personal – Niyama

  3. Postures – Asana

  4. Breathing – Pranayama

  5. Senses – Pratyahara

  6. Concentration – Dharana

  7. Meditation – Dhyana

  8. Connection – Samadhi

How do they work?

#1 YAMA – Social Behaviour Yama means 'rein'. There are 5 yama:

  • Non-Harmfulness

  • Truthfulness

  • Non-Stealing

  • Abstinence

  • Non-Greed

These 5 'reins' guide our social behaviour. We are not perfect. So, we practise trying to avoid actions that, directly or indirectly: Hurt – Lie – Steal – Indulge – Take more than our share. Put simply – Do no harm.


#2 NIYAMA – Personal Behaviour Niyama are 'inner reins'. There are 5 niyama:

  • Purity

  • Contentment

  • Austerity

  • Study

  • Dedication

These 5 'inner reins' guide our personal behaviour. We are not perfect. So, we practise:

Cleansing activities – Accepting opposite extremes equally – Refining excess – Studying spiritual texts – Contemplating the divine. In short, improving Body, Mind and Spirit. How?

#3 ASANA – Postures Actually, asana means 'sitting', not 'posture'. So, why do 'postures'? Because, eventually, we meditate. To meditate, without distraction, we must sit 'firmly and easily'. Sitting comfortably needs flexibility and strength. So, we practice 'postures' that loosen our joints and strengthen our muscles. Then we can 'sit' and meditate without distraction.

#4 PRANAYAMA – Breath Control Prana is 'breath' – Yama is 'rein'. So, pranayama is 'breath control'. It is the subtlest connection of mind and body. Our minds harmonise inhaling, exhaling and holding. Our breathing can be: long or short – deep or shallow – slow or fast. Focused pranayama calms the mind. It prepares us for meditation.

#5 PRATYAHARA – Withdrawing the Senses Our senses are vitally important. They are also deeply distracting. So, we 'withdraw the senses' (prati – back; ahara – taking). During Yoga, we focus on tristhana - 'the 3 dwelling places':

  • Gaze point (drishti)

  • Sound of the breath (ujjayi)

  • Feeling of movement (vinyasa)

Training our senses – tristhana – calms our minds for meditation.

#6 DHARANA – Concentration Dharana - 'concentration' - is Yoga's final conscious activity. We focus the mind, consciously, upon a single point – often the breath. We return it, consciously, to that focal-point if it wanders. We repeat this, calmly and consciously, as often as necessary. Eventually, 'single-pointed focus' becomes a habit. Then, effortless 'concentration' becomes Meditation.

#7 DHYANA – Meditation Dhyana – 'meditation' – is the continuous flow of attention towards a single point. The 'attention' is effortless. The 'flow' is unbroken Like golden oil pouring from a jar. In 'concentration' – dharana – your focus is conscious. In 'meditation' – dhyana – your focus is effortless. Your mind and the object connect, smoothly and steadily.

#8 SAMADHI – Absorption (Connection & Integration) Samadhi - 'absorption' - cannot be practised. 'Absorption' is the result of 'concentration' and 'meditation'. In 'concentration' – dharana – we focus consciously. In 'meditation' – dhyana – our focus flows effortlessly. In 'absorption' – samadhi – there is no focus. In samadhi, meditator and object become one.


THE PRACTICAL PRACTICE or HOW TO DO IT

The first 6 Limbs of Yoga are`practised simultaneously.

They do not need to be mastered separately.


As you 'Refine' your body with 'Posture' practice you learn 'Non-harmfulness'.

As you control your 'Breath' and train your 'Senses' you develop 'Concentration'.


Eventually, 'Concentration' becomes 'Meditation'; together they create 'Connection & Integration'.

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