Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed Yoga (ashtanga)
First Four Stages: refining the person, mastery over the body, awareness or internal energies.
The first limb, yama, deals with one's ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
a. The five yamas are:
i. Ahimsa: nonviolence. The root of all other yamas. Not harming any living creature anywhere at any time.
1. Commentators: The aim of the other yamas is to achieve ahimsa. Difficult to dop this and continue to perform one’s dharma, but one must strive for it. Includes no eating of the flesh of any other creature.
2. A sattvic person is empathic and compassionate toward all other embodied beings.
ii. Satya: truthfulness
iii. Asteya: nonstealing
iv. Brahmacharya: celibacy
v. Aparigraha: Renunciation of possessions
Niyama – Observances
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances.
a. The five niyamas are:
i. Saucha: cleanliness
ii. Santosa: contentment
iii. Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities
iv. Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self
v. Isvara pranidhana: surrender to
Asana – Postures
Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
4. Pranayama – Breath
a. Breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.
b. Pranayama = "life force extension," yoga rejuvenates the body, extends life itself.
These first four stages of Patanjali's ashtanga yoga prepare one for the second half of the eight limbs, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
Pratyahara – Disengagement
of the senses. Literally means
“withdrawal or sensory transcendence.”
a. Involves the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli.
b. One cultivates a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally.
i. This allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with advancement in yoga.
ii. Pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration
6. Dharana – Concentration
a. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself.
b. One learns how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object (ekagrata)
i. For example, a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound.
ii. In the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses one has begun to develop concentration:
1. In asana and pranayama: one pays attention to one’s actions but our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique.
2. In pratyahara one becomes self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to dhyana -- meditation.
Dhyana – Meditation
Meditation = the uninterrupted flow of concentration.
a. Distinction between dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation):
i. Dharana practices one-pointed attention,
ii. Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. The mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all.
1. Extremely difficult to reach this state of stillness
Dhyana precedes the final
stage or limb.
8. Samadhi – Isolation of pure consciousness
merges with his or her point of focus = a profound connection to the Divine
1. An Esoteric Anatomy
a. A subtle body with centers or ‘wheels’ (cakra) along which flows the energy, or life-force (shakti), which animates the body
b. Energy present in the person, coiled and dormant snake at base of trunk. Uncoils through cakras to crown of the head.
Three channels of energy: central channel, trunk to
head = vertical axis; two channels on left and right, from nostrils to
awakened rises up central channel, piercing the centers
2. The Yoga of Inner Sound (mostly 14th-15th centuries)
a. In Hatha-yoga: yoga of inner or ‘unstruck’ sound
b. Absolute manifest in the form of sound
c. Concentrating on sound (which resounds in the central channel and can be heard by plugging the ears, nose, and eyes, and controlling the breath): become absorbed in the supreme reality which is ultimately his true self.
d. Mind is controlled and becomes absorbed, like a serpent hearing a flute doesn’t move
i. Om (aum): sound of the universe identified with Brahman.
ii. Repetition of mantras (mantra-yoga) as means of accessing the inner sound which is their source
Three sounds, A-U-M,
and culminates in a fading nasal resonance that symbolizes communion with
Brahman (the Absolute).
2. Metaphor of ascent:
a. Abdomen – procreation – Brahma (creator god) - AAAAAAAAAAAAAA
b. Chest – preservation (breath) – Visnu the preserver) - UUUUUUUUUUUUU
Head – destruction (i.e., of ignorance) –
Siva (destroyer) – MMMMMMM
3. Metaphor of descent – levels of consciousness:
a. Waking – AAAAAAAAAAAAA
b. Dreaming – UUUUUUUUUUUU
c. Dreamless sleep – MMMMMMM
d. Atman -
"A - emerges from the throat, originating in the region of the navel U - rolls over the tongue M - ends on the lips A - waking, U - dreaming, M - sleeping It is the sum and substance of all the words that can emanate from the human throat. It is the primordial fundamental sound symbolic of the Universal Absolute."