The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga as Compiled by the Sage Patanjali
The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga scribed in the second chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras provide us with a blueprint to holistic heal and transform the complete physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of our human experience.
This powerful methodology can be utilized by Coaches, Therapists and healers as a powerful framework to transcend their clients from Dukkha (pain, frustration, and suffering) to Sukha (happiness, pleasure, joy, or bliss) and beyond to the highest states of enlightenment. May the knowledge in this article assist you to take your personal practice to the next level and provide you with powerful tools to teach meditation.
The Key Components of the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are:
- Yamas: Moral codes of conduct conducive to a balanced lifestyle, tranquil mind, and harmonious meditation experience.
- Niyamas: Inner observances to harmonize the activities of the mind, gain knowledge, and experience connection with divinity.
- Asana: Developing a relaxed, steady, comfortable meditation Posture.
- Pranayama: Breath control to Facilitate and Emotion regulation and preparation for deeper meditative experiences.
- Pratyahara: (Sense withdrawal) Systematically guiding the body and mind into deep peaceful states of internalized consciousness.
- Dharana: Channeling the mind’s energy for concentration, introspective focus, and one-pointedness Awareness.
- Dhyana: Continuous flow of unbroken fully absorbed awareness on the chosen object of meditation.
- Samadhi: (Enlighten states of being and liberation) Absorption or union of the individual consciousness with the divine cosmic consciousness.
Furthermore the Key Concepts of meditation mentioned in our previous article “An Introduction to The Pantanjali Yoga Sutras” can also be seamlessly integrated into the Eight Limbs for purification of the subconscious mind and the mind and to facilitate deep healing, growth, change and transformation.
The key concepts are as follows:
- Samskaras. (Impressions Stored in the Subconscious)
- Vrittis (Compulsive mental fluctuations)
- Klesha’s (obstacles, or afflictions that are the sources of pain and suffering)
- Drashta. The Seer. (Witnessing from the pure power of the individual consciousness)
- Viveka. (Contemplation with right understanding, Intuitive wisdom and Pure knowledge)
- Atma. (Soul, individual consciousness)
The Importance of the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga for Meditation Teachers.
The reason why the methodology is so important for Meditation Teachers is because most meditation traditions and healing systems in the world today are primarily focused on just one of the dimensions of our human experience. For example yoga, (The body) mindfulness and modern psychology (The conscious mind) and so forth.
While these methods are somewhat useful and have their benefits, a human being is a multi-dimension physical, mental, emotional, pranic, and spiritual being.
To deeply heal and facilitate long-lasting growth, change and transformation, a system that heals and transforms the complete multi-dimension of our human experience is necessary.
The eight limbs of ashtanga yoga provide you with a systematic step-by-step system designed for holistically healing and transformation
They help you release deep-rooted mental tension so you can become free of the past and focus on a brighter future. You will be able to create a healthy lifestyle and mindset aligned with facilitating deeper mediative experiences.
You can strengthen and prepare your physical body for meditation so you can sit with more ease during your meditation practice.
The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga will enable you to analyze unhelpful thinking patterns and transform them into positive empowering thoughts. You will learn how to calm down your overactive busy mind so you can develop a calm, peaceful, equanimous mind focuses mind focused on your goals and dreams.
It will aid in your transition from the limited self to Attain higher states of consciousness and an intimate connection with the divine as well.
The eight limbs of ashtanga yoga as compiled by the Sage Pantanjali
In chapter 2:30, Pantanjali introduces the first limb called Yama. Yamas are ethical codes moral codes of conduct that facilitate a balanced lifestyle and tranquil mind conducive to meditation.
The methodology is relevant to all humans regardless of class, place, and time.
- Ahiṃsā: Not causing pain, non-violence, non-harming other living beings and yourself.
- Satya: Truthfulness, not lying. When one is established in truthfulness one ensures fruition of actions.
- Asteya: Non-stealing. One who is established in Asteya all jewels manifest.
- Brahmacarya: Brahma. The Creator, divine universal consciousness. Charya, means “occupation with. Brahmacarya’s literal meaning is “being in the presence with or on the path of the divine,” Commentators on Patanjali’s text advocate the meaning of Brahmacarya to be chastity, marital fidelity, or sexual restraint.
- Aparigraha: Not being greedy. non-avarice, non-possessiveness
2. Niyama: Verse 32
The second component of the sutras is called Niyama. Niyamas are central to one’s discipline and practice and include personal virtuous habits, behaviours, and observances.
Sadhana Pada Verse 32 lists the niyamas as:
- Shaucha: Purification of mind, speech, and body.
- Santosha: Contentment and acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are. From contentment, supreme joy is attained.
- Tapas: By austerity, persistence, and perseverance, (siddhi) Supernormal power are attained.
- Svadhyaya: Study of secret texts leads to communion with your chosen higher reality.
- Ishvarapranidhana: By contemplation (samadhi) and total surrender/dedication on the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being) siddhi and great joy are attained.
3. Āsana: Verses 2.46 and 2.47
Patanjali begins with a discussion of Āsana (meditation posture) by defining it in verse 46 of chapter 2, as a steady comfortable posture that one can sit at ease.
In verse 47 he further mentioned that by persevering, continued effort, and meditating on the infinite, Asana is mastered.
Patanjali does not list any specific asana in his sutras. A commentary on the Sutras by Bhasya, thought to be by Patanjali himself by some scholars, suggests twelve seated meditation postures to master asana:
- Padmasana (lotus pose), Virasana (hero pose), Bhadrasana (glorious pose), Svastikasana (lucky mark pose), Dandasana (staff pose), Sopasrayasana (supported pose), Paryankasana (bedstead pose), Krauncha-nishadasana (seated heron pose)
- Hastanishadasana (seated elephant pose), Ushtranishadasana (seated camel pose), Samasansthanasana (evenly balanced pose) and Sthirasukhasana (any motionless posture that is in accordance with one’s pleasure).
4. Prānāyāma: Verses 2.49 through 2.51
Prāṇāyāma is derived from two Sanskrit words prāṇa breath) and āyāma (stretch, restrained, regulation).
After mastering posture Pantanjali recommends Prāṇāyāma. Prāṇāyāma is practised in several ways and is regulated by space, time, number, suspension of the inhalation and exhalation, and concentration on an external object. In the preceding sutras on pranayama, Pantanjali states that by the practice of pranayama, mastery of the senses is attained and the mind becomes fit for concentration. (Dharana)
Pratyahara is the process of systematically withdrawing the senses from the distractions of, and being controlled by the external world, to connect with the self-knowledge and freedom of one’s true nature of their inner world.
In this state, purification, and the highest control of the mind and senses are attained.
An analogy for Pratyahara is when horses are trained and obedient, they will take you where ever you want.
6. Dhāraṇā. Chapter 3.1. Vibhuti Pada: Mystic Powers
Dharana (translated into English as concentration) is the process of binding one’s mind to one place, object, or idea.
The object of one-pointed focus can be fixed on anything of one’s choice, i.e a mantra, yantra, the breath, a deity, or your higher reality.
Dharana is intimately connected with and leads to Dhyana. In Dharana, concentration can be intermittent or distracted, in contrast in the state of Dhyana, a continuous flow of unbroken fully absorbed awareness is maintained on the object of meditation
An analogy for Dhyana is like a continuous flow of awareness, like pouring oil or honey from one pot to another.
Different states of Samadhi defined in Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
All the preceding practices outlined in the yoga sutras facilitate a purification process of the body and mind in preparation for Samadhi. Samadhi is not a single meditative state, but rather a series of states that occur in stages and unfold in a progression.
The progression through the stages of samadhi also purifies and cleanses the mind preparing it for the sequential higher stages of samadhi.
There are various ways to achieve these higher states of consciousness, each stage may take months or years to achieve. Depending on the practitioner’s desire for liberation and one’s samskaras, (mental impressions) it can take even more time to stabilize and maintain these awakened states. You will understand the concepts of Dharana and the Samadhi better when your experience the states personally.
Here is a general overview of the stages of samadhi:
Dharana and the Samadhi are to be experienced in meditation. You will understand the concepts better when your experience the states personally.
- Samprajnata Samadhi. Knowledge with awareness in association with reasoning reflecting and rejoicing on individuality (pure I-am-ness)
- Savitarka Samadhi. Absorption with reasoning. It’s the stage of gaining knowledge by altering consciousness between thoughts/words, true knowledge, and sense perception. In the state of Savitarka Samadhi, the mind analyses and decides whether thoughts are useful or not.
- Asamprajnata Samadhi.18 is attained by practice that leads to the cessation of samskaras, (mental impressions) then only latent impressions remain and the seeds of past impressions are rendered harmless.
- Nirvitarka Samadhi refers to the state in which the mental fluctuations are suspended and the mind loses its awareness of being the knower. The verbal thinking process (our main tool for cognition in both ordinary consciousness and savitarka samadhi) is suppressed at the Nirvitarka level. Greater purification and control over the mind, intellect, and dialogues are attained.
- Nirvichara Samadhi true one-pointed concentration and absorption without reflection occur. Even subtle thoughts do not occur. The perceptual limitations of time and space are transcended; this state is called Nirvichara Samadhi. In the purity of Nirvichara Samadhi, the supreme self shines.
- Kaivalya Samadhi. Ultimate freedom, or Kaivalya. In this stage, one becomes absorbed with and merges with the cosmic or universal consciousness.
These concepts can be considered advanced, however, the initial stages of samadhi are defiantly attainable with regular practice and following the framework advised by Patanjali.
Even getting short glimpses of these powerful meditative experiences will change your life forever. You will understand the concepts of Samadhi better when you experience the states personally.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
In the Transformational Meditation Teacher Training Program I go deeper into how to integrate these powerful practices to lead one on one meditation sessions, conduct live and virtual retreats, and create your own unique courses, products and services.
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