I have been practicing yoga for six months regularly after not having practiced in over 10 years. I feel better physically than I have in years but the physical feeling is only a small part. I don’t currently practice ashtanga, although ashtanga is my intended path when the time is right. I got a taste of ashtanga years ago and it has stuck in my head ever since.
My teacher is an ashtangi, but the class I take from her is a vinyasa flow. She is going to Mysore soon to study at the source of ashtanga, so I will have to wait until her return to start working on the primary series. Through her classes I have become familiar with and am now reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This cat really laid down some deep stuff thousands of years ago and I am really becoming aware of the bigger meaning of yoga.
Patanjali speaks of the eightfold path and ashtanga literally means eight limbs. These eight limbs are basically guidelines for moral conduct and self discipline, with emphasis on individual health and the spiritual nature of life. I will give a brief summary of the eight limbs as I see them, but if you are interested in yoga I would encourage you to search the term and read several takes on the subject.
The first limb is Yama, which deals with one’s ethics and moral behavior. The five yamas are nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, continence, and noncovetousness. The second limb is Niyama, which deals with self discipline and spiritual observance. The five niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, the study of sacred scriptures, and surrender to God. The third limb is Asana, with which most of us are familiar. Through the practice of asana we develop more discipline, we take care of our temple and we develop strengthened concentration. Pranayama, which is the fourth limb, literally means life force. This consists of various techniques to gain mastery over the breath while recognizing its connection with the mind and the emotions.
These first four limbs are about gaining mastery of the body, working on our personalities and becoming aware of ourselves. These lay the groundwork for the next four limbs, which deal with our senses, our true mind and our state of consciousness. This includes our perception of things and how we see things clouded by our judgmental minds. What we are striving for is seeing things as they truly are without the filters of our mind interpreting them for us.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb and is about withdrawal. Withdrawal of our senses and our sensory perception that is. This is where we detach from our senses and the outside world and focus on the internal. We begin to observe things objectively without the veil of our perception clouding our awareness. Dharana, the sixth limb, is concentration. With pratyanhara we have gotten rid of outside distractions and now we can work on the distractions in our mind. Concentration comes before meditation. Here we learn how to slow down the craziness of the mind by concentrating on a single point or mental object. This can be a single sound, image of a deity or chakra of the body. As we become better at focusing on a single point concentration becomes stronger and brings us closer to being prepared for true meditation. Meditation is the seventh limb and is called Dhyana. When we can concentrate without being interrupted, then we are ready for meditation. To me, this stage is the capability to just be. The mind is quiet without having any focus. The final limb of ashtanga is Samadhi. This is the stage where we become aware of the connection between all living beings. Some call this a state of ecstasy or pure awareness. We feel a profound connection to God, more so than we could ever have imagined. Some describe this as being at one with the universe. Much devotion is needed to get to this point, but the reward of peace and contentment certainly make it worth striving for.
This is just my simple interpretation of what I have been studying recently and how I feel about my yoga practice. While much of this is still beyond my humble understanding, I did begin my yoga practice knowing that it was about more than the poses or how far I could bend. I wish that I was eloquent enough to express the profound joy the practice of yoga has brought to my life in a relatively short period of time. It transcends into my everyday life and makes me view all beings in a much different light. I hope this has been informative and I welcome any critique, comments or discussion on the subject. I will be sharing more of my yoga practice in the future and will wrap up simply by saying Namaste for now.