The Royal Path: The Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga

1.  Yamas

  • Ahimsa non-harming, non-violence. This includes working with compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others in thought, speech and action. In becoming our own best friend. Developing deep trust and patience with life through direct experience of noticing and stopping aggression or harm towards ourselves and others.
  • Satya – is truthfulness to ourselves and others in thought, word and deed. We cannot ‘see’ or let in what we judge, which makes Ahimsa and Satya a powerful pairing. Gently working with defense mechanisms and delusion or magical thinking are included.
  • Asteya – is non-stealing and goes far beyond refraining from theft.  We can be haunted by the thought that someone else has what we feel we need to be complete and fulfilled.  Cultivating asteya develops a sense of completeness, freedom and self sufficiency.
  • Brahmacharya – appropriate use of the senses. This becomes possible when sensory input and desires are enjoyed in a context permeated by kindness, truth and the other principles of yoga. Brahmacharya can include celibacy for some people, for others the focus is on conscious appreciation of all the senses and on action that brings no harm.
  • Aparigraha – non-grabbing, non-attachment, non-possessiveness. This is a mental attitude of not being addicted to or dependent on one’s possessions and relationships.  Suffering comes from attachment or in craving more.

2.   Niyamas

  • Shaucha is purity of mind and body.  Cultivate mindfulness and discrimination. Will this thought lead me to greater freedom or to suffering?  Sincerity and perseverance are essential for this niyama.
  • Santosha – contentment, is a state of mind not dependent on material status. Being happy with ‘what is’ leads to effort based on service not anticipation of rewards. It is choosing to enjoy what there is to enjoy in any situation, rather than suffering what there is to suffer.
  • Tapas – ‘turning up the heat’, involves practices that lead to perfection of body, mind and senses.  It is balanced, not excessive, where we push our edge, working at the limit of our capacity but not beyond.  Tapas develops strength of body and mind and the blaze of spiritual fervor. Tapas must be practiced with ahimsa.
  • Swadhyaya is study that leads to knowledge of the Self (Consciousness).  It can begin with reading and intellectual understanding.  The rational acceptance of spiritual truths leads to intuitive insights and true experience and understanding.
  • Ishwara Pranidhana – is surrender to ultimate reality.  Using the other 9 yamas and niyamas in conjunction with this, we learn to be present with what is, seeing life as arising in an infinite field of Consciousness.

3.   Asana – physical postures of yoga.  Meditative asana are for sitting for meditation and   pranayama and cultural asana are for preparing the body for meditation as well as improved health and flexibility.

4.   Pranayama working with breath and energy. It is control of prana, our vital energy that sustains body and mind.  It’s grossest manifestation is the breath.  Regulation of breath leads to regulation of mind. If the mind is disturbed, the breath will be also. Pranayama purifies and strengthens the nervous system.

5.   Pratyahara  is withdrawal and control of the senses.  Our mind contacts the world through the senses.  We can voluntarily withdraw our mind from our senses and isolate ourselves from distractions.  This control is a mental awareness process, not necessarily a removal of sensory input.

6.   Dharana – concentration. The dissipated powers of mind are gathered together and directed towards an object of concentration through continued voluntary attention (an act of will).  The mind thus becomes more powerful and penetrative.

7.   Dhyana – meditation. A concentrated mind in meditation is a product of prolonged concentration practice (dharana).  Concentration makes the mind one pointed.  Meditation expands the one pointed mind to a superconscious state by piercing through the conscious and subconscious.  The uninterrupted flow of our mind towards one object leads to the dawning of intuitive knowledge.  Meditation can take one to this blissful state of mind beyond the conscious and unconscious.

8.   Samadhi – enlightenment comes after prolonged and intense meditation.  It is beyond the three states of waking, sleeping and dreaming in a fourth state called turiya, sleepless sleep.  Your entire life becomes an expression of the unhindered flow of the Divine.

 Contact: Lynn Fraser   [email protected]