Yoga Knowledge – August 2016

The eight limbs of yogaScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 9.58.34 AM

Around 400 CE the sage Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras, taking materials about yoga from older traditions and adding his own explanatory passages. Patanjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters or books, containing in all 196 aphorisms. In his second sutra of Book 1, he defines the word “yoga”:

“Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhah) of the modifications (vrtti) of the mind (citta).” Edwin Bryant explains that, to Patanjali, “Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object.” (Bryant 2011)

Patanjali provides an integral eightfold approach or eight-limbed path (ashtanga) for the development of consciousness or a sense of wholeness and balanced awareness:

  1. Yamas – rules of social conduct
  2. Niyama – rules of personal behavior
  3. Asana – physical postures
  4. Pranayama – control of the vital force
  5. Pratyahara – control of the senses
  6. Dharana – right attention or control of the mind
  7. Dyana – mediation
  8. Samadhi – absorption

“The first five limbs – from yama to pratyahara – make up the outer aspect of yoga. They are preliminary in nature, laying the foundation for deeper practice. The first two (yama and niyama) refer to the right attitudes, values and lifestyle practices necessary for yoga, its ethical foundation. The next three (asana, pranayama, pratyahara) are the means to control the outer aspects of our nature as body, breath and senses. The last three (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are called samyama or integration. They naturally go together. Attention naturally leads to meditation, which in time results in absorption or the unification of the perceiver and the perceived. They bring us knowledge of our true Self.” (Frawley 1999, 50-51)

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