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Yoga: The 8 Limbs of Yoga
(Excerpted from Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness , Owl Books )
Although there are many branches to the tree of yoga, from devotional methods to more intellectual approaches, from schools that emphasize service toward others to those that focus on physical purification, Patanja Sutras, clearly defines an eight-limbed path (ashtanga) that forms the structural framework for whatever emphasis upon which an individual wishes to concentrate. The Yoga Sutras, or "threads," consist of four books produced sometime in the third century before Christ. Such was the clarity of Patanjali's vision of wholeness that he consolidated the entirety of yoga philosophy in a series of 196 lucid aphorisms. Each thread of the Yoga Sutras is revealed as a part of a woven fabric, with each aphorism merely a mark or color within the whole pattern. The threads, however, begin to make sense only through a direct experience of their meaning. This is not a linear process but rather an organic one in which colors and markings gradually become more clear until a pattern forms. And this pattern that Patanjali weaves for us is a description of the process of unbinding our limited ideas about ourselves and becoming free.
The eight limbs of yoga are traditionally presented as a hierarchical progression, but this linear progression toward an idealized goal tends only to reinforce the dualistic idea that yoga is something to "get." It may be more helpful to imagine the eight limbs as the arms and legs of a body--connected to one another through the central body of yoga just as a child's limbs grow in proportion to one another, whatever limb of practice we focus upon inevitably causes the other limbs to grow as well. People who begin yoga through the limb of meditation are often later drawn to practice more physical postures. Those who are drawn to vigorous physical practice later find themselves being drawn into the quieter, more meditative practices just as each limb is essential for the optimal functioning of your body, every limb of yoga practice is important. Growth in practice happens naturally when a person is sincere in her wish to grow.
The eight limbs emanating from a central core consist of the following:
Yamas and Niyamas: Ten ethical precepts that allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family, and our community. Asanas: Dynarmic internal dances in the form of postures. These help to keep the body strong, flexible, and relaxed. Their practice strengthens the nervous system and refines our process of inner perception. Pranayama: Roughly defined as breathing practices, and more specifically defined as practices that help us to develop constancy in the movement of prana, or life force. Pratyahara: The drawing of one's attention toward silence rather than toward things. Dharana: Focusing attention and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. Dhyana: Susta...
Asanas: Dynarmic internal dances in the form of postures. These help to keep the body strong, flexible, and relaxed. Their practice strengthens the nervous system and refines our process of inner perception.
Pranayama: Roughly defined as breathing practices, and more specifically defined as practices that help us to develop constancy in the movement of prana, or life force.
Pratyahara: The drawing of one's attention toward silence rather than toward things.
Dharana: Focusing attention and cultivating inner perceptual awareness.
Yoga: What is Yoga?
(Excerpted from Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness )
All people wish to be happy. This seemingly simple desire appears to elude the best-intentioned efforts of even the most intelligent among us. Yet almost everyone has had glimpses of deep peacefulness when they have felt connected both to themselves, to others, and to nature. Curiously, the state of feeling good and whole does not seem to be something we can order up on demand but rather appears to happen spontaneously.
In such moments we experience a sense of translucence such that that which we see, feel, sense, hear, or touch no longer feels separate from us but is experienced as a part of our own totality. When our hand resting over the heart of the beloved merges and becomes one with his or her body, when we become the same midnight sky that fills us with awe, we remember, however briefly, our place in the scheme of things. These brief flickers of remembrance imbue our vision with freshness and innocence so that we can see things as they truly are.
Because these moments of lucidity are so blissful, we wish that they may become the base state of our lives rather than the brief and oftentimes tenuous experience to which such happiness is usually assigned. These moments of clarity have nothing to do with the caricatures of happiness presented to us through the media or popular culture. These moments have always been there. The beloved's heartbeat and the sky have always been there. These moments are simply awaiting our arrival.
Yoga is a technology for arriving in this present moment. It is a means of waking up from our spiritual amnesia, so that we can remember all that we already know. It is a way of remembering our true nature, which is essentially joyful and peaceful. Developed as a pragmatic science by ancient seers centuries ago, yoga is a practice that any person, regardless of age, sex, race, or religious belief, can use to realize her full potential. It is a means of staying in intimate communication with the formative core matrix of yourself and those forces that serve to bind all living beings together. As you establish and sustain this intimate connection, this state of equanimity becomes the core of your experience rather than the rare exception.
Through observing nature and through intense self-observation and inquiry, the ancient yogis were able to codify the conditions that must be present for realizing our intrinsic wholeness. Although such realization can occur spontaneously, more often than not it is the result of a sustained commitment to practice over a lifetime. This is not to imply that yoga is a goal which we strive toward, or that there is some kind of chronological progression toward "self-improvement." Rather, it is the recognition that each individual can achieve understanding only through his own exploration and discovery, and that all of life is a continual process of refinement which allows us to see more clearly. ...