1. Eight Limbs: In your own words, explain each of the Eight Limbs, and how each limb affects and/or supports the other.
The Eight Limbs where recorded by Patanjali sometime between 150-200 AD. Eight Limbs comes from the translation of the Sanskrit word Ashtanga. The limbs, if followed in order, are a guide to attain enlightenment.
Yama, the first limb, are ethical guidelines or moral commandments that pertain to an individual’s relationship to their environment. They are:
1. Ahimsa: non-harming, non-violence
2. Satya: truthfulness in word, thought and deed
3. Asteya: non-stealing
4. Bramancharya: moderation in all things
5. Aparigraha- non-coveting, non-possessiveness
The yamas facilitate an orderly society, and by following the yamas a person can overcome the lower, more animal natural state and be at peace in their relationships with others and begin the journey towards inner peace. R
The Niyama, with means self-purification by discipline, are the second limb. There are also 5 Niyamas:
1. Saucha: purity
2. Santosha: contentment
3. Tapas: burning desire
4. Svadhyaya: self-study
5. Isvara Pranidhana: dedication to the divine, making everything an offering to the divine.
The niyamas build on the yamas, giving the individual restraints/ethical guidelines in relating to themselves. The Niyamas start with purification of the body and mind (saucha), then move on to focus on contentment (santosa), so that the mind is free and can focus on knowing the love of the divine and the burning desire to unite with the divine (Tapas). Next is svadyaya which is study of the self which is exploring the widsomd and divinity within, and also study of sacred texts that can help us better understand this divinity. Last of the niyamas is Isvara Pranidhana which means dedication and offering to the divine. In Anusara we believe that all is divine, so this means that we are dedicated to all we do in life, and everything we do in life becomes an offering to god.
We practice the yamas and niyamas before asana (physical postures) because when we come to the mat we want to come to the mat with pure minds and pure hearts so that we can fulfil our highest intention in the physical practice (“Don’t bring your shit to the mat”). John Friend once said that when we practice you to fulfill one of two intentions: either to help us recognize the divine with in us or to celebrate that divinity. Asana is just one piece of the puzzle that is enlightenment. Often in western culture we get stuck on asana and never move beyond it. Our asana practice we tone our minds and bodies and is very important, but we must also practice the other Eight Limbs. Asana opens out bodies and makes them ready to practice pranayama.
Pranayama is the rhythmic extension of the breath. In some styles of yoga it is a very controlled approach to breathing. In Anusara we like to think of pranayama as expansion and the emphasis is on more passively welcoming the breath in rather than controlling it so rigidly. Pranayama helps us to purify the energies in the body and purify the mental state, so in that way it is an extension of the niyamas and asana. With pranayama the yoginis breath and mind become one, and it brings her towards the next limb.
The 5th limb is Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior distraction. The senses are free the mind is completely turned inward. In this place, the yogini can move towards Dharana, which is concentration. In Dharana, attention is focused on a single point. Dharana is not concentration for its own sake, but rather this single point of concentration must be purely centred on the divine. To maintain this focus the yogini concentrates on AUM, which is the symbol of universal oneness.
When concentration is sustained it becomes Dhyana, or meditation. When the mind is continuously focused on divinity it transforms to be the likeness of its focus. In dhyana the mind is illuminated like the sun in a cloudless sky. Through profound meditation (Dhyana), Samadi or enlightenment is reached. Samadi is a state of super-consciousness where the self becomes one with the Universal spirit. In this state, the yogini is fully awake and alert, yet she has risen beyond consciousness. There is no “I” or “me”, the yogini is one with the divine in a state of enlightenment. The eight limbs build on one another as a guide to help the yogini progress towards enlightenment.