Guide to the 8 Limbs of Yoga - Part 2

Picking up where we left off last week, here are the remaining 5-8 limbs of yoga to add more to your practice and to your life.

5. Pratyahara
The fifth limb of yoga encourages one to emancipate their mind to be free from the domination of all senses and exterior objects. Knowing how to bring your senses under control allows for extreme peace to take up the space. The true yogi knows that something that at first may seem bitter or poison, has the potential to become one of the sweetest things. In contrast, regular human nature is to go for the things that at first seem very appealing but later only bring us intense despair and regret. This limb can be a tricky one to overcome as part of being human is to relish in some of your desires…even the simplest ones like having a family, being in love or cooking your favorite meal. The goal is not that you should not have these things, it is that through these things you learn to stay centered and not thrown off the path in any way. When life gives you highs stay grounded, and when life gives you lows stay grounded. A wise teacher once told me : “when someone slips walking on the ground it is funny….but when someone slips climbing Mt. Everest, it is devastating.”

6. Dharana
“When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined through the fire of pranayama and the senses have been controlled by pratyahara, the pupil reaches Dharana.” This limb is all about concentration. When your mind knows how to be completely still, you are only then able to completely concentrate on a task. This is because the mind is an instrument. A very dangerous instrument if you don't understand how it works or how to play it…but the most beautiful instrument in the world if you do.

7. Dhyana
When the flow of concentration is uninterrupted, the state that arises is dhyana – or, meditation. Mediation is when the breath, senses, mind, body, reason and ego are all integrated with the divine spirit and a person therefore experiences extreme bliss. A mind which thinks only of the divinity, transforms into it. In meditation, you become a liberated soul of which is freed from karma. And in meditation, you can start to SEE the light that lies beyond our physical realm of reality on a daily basis. Your third eye becomes activated and your knowledge of the self and the universe starts to expand rapidly. You connect to the cosmic energy of the universe and when this happens, it starts to flow through your body, through your nadis. This energy gives intense stimulation to your mind and body and works to also cleanse the nadis to be freed from blockages that have accumulated.

8. Samadhi
The final limb of yoga; the end of the quest; the mastery of the self. Samadhi is the word for the super consciousness achieved by intense meditation practices. This limb is also known as nirvana, moksha, heaven, paradise,etc. In samadhi the “I”, “me” or “mine” no longer exist in relation to a person’s body, mind or soul because they have not only met the universal spirit…but have become it. In this place, all consciousness and all truth exist – leaving absolutely no question unanswered. And as a human departs the material world into this eternal world, there is nothing to be felt besides incomprehensible ecstasy and joy. Reaching this limb can only be done through vigorous practice and discipline, and it is said that although it is unlikely samadhi can be reached in less than 12 years – when it happens, it happens in an instant. And once a person reaches this level - the ultimate goal of life and yoga - there is no turning back. They are enlightened - a modern day Buddha in the flesh.

So, as you can now see…the practice on the mat is just the tip of the iceberg. Yama and niyama help the yogi to live in harmony with humans while learning to control their passions and emotions. Asanas build the body into a strong and viable vehicle for the soul while keeping it healthy and in tune with nature. Pranayama and pratyahara teach the yogi to learn to cleanse their body and mind through regulated breathing and control of the mind through the freedom of the senses. Dharma, dhyana and samadhi then take the yogi into the deepest parts of their  soul where the final goal results in no longer having to look outside to find God or the divine because the yogi now knows it all exists inside of them. All the limbs put together allow for a harmonious and joyous journey where the knower, the knowledge and the known become one.

This can be a lot of information to take in, and believe me…the “quick” in the title is strongly enhanced because you could spend hours learning about each of these limbs and still struggle to understand all of them. And truth be told, the people who do live according to these limbs – not all of even whom reach samadhi – spend hours a day practicing with extreme discipline. They typically live in a cave in the Himalayas so as to not be tempted by any desires, and to give their mind full clarity and only one intention. I have witnessed these people and it is indeed one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and made me even wonder how exquisite it would be to dedicate your life to yoga like that. However, I know that in our western culture that is just not practical…and that sometimes yoga IS just the hour we can escape to our mat a day. And that's okay too.

I'm not sharing this because we aren’t true yogis if these limbs aren’t all followed. I'm sharing this because if we are true yogis at heart, these limbs should excite us and allow us to pick areas in our life to work on in a guided way, off of the mat. I'm sharing this because the original name and vision of yoga that was developed thousands of years ago deserves to be heard as often only small parts of it’s knowledge seep through the cracks in today’s world. I'm sharing this because these limbs lead to magical transformations and truly have the power to help change the world. I'm sharing this because…..if given a map to a golden treasure - I'd go searching, wouldn't you?

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