The next few limbs of yoga are considered the “Inner Practices”. After the “Outer Practices” of Yamas and Niyamas have set the mental framework, and Asanas have removed restlessness from the mind and body, the “Inner Practices” prepare us for meditation. Finally, the “Innermost Practices” use meditation to work with the nature of the mind and and expand our understandings of the nature of the soul.
Pranayama (literally, “life force extension”), is the fourth limb of yoga. It involves working with the breath. Breath directs the prana (vital energy, like the concept of chi or qi in the Chinese tradition, and ruach in the Kabalistic tradition). This balances and directs the flow of vital energy. It also purifies the mind and nerve channels. It reminds us of the connection between our breath, our mind, and our emotions. Once we notice that our emotions or mind are turbulent, we can consciously calm our breath, and our emotions/mind will follow. There is a great deal of research available demonstrating this connection and its value for stress reduction, as well as many other health benefits.
Pratyahara literally means “withdrawal of nourishment” and refers to the nourishment of the senses. Practicing Pratyahara, we withdraw our attention from the constant stimulation of our senses. We turn it inward to focus on the subtle senses. This sharpens the senses and allows us to hear our inner voice. It also allows us to step back and detach from external events and the emotions they can trigger (detachment rather than suppression). Pratyahara happens naturally in meditation because we are focusing on the object of our meditation.
Dharana literally means “concentration” and it is the natural result of Pratyahara. Perception is a selective act of intention, attention, and interpretation. Concentration encourages the focus of our attention to grow, so as we focus on what we want, more of what we want will grow in our lives. The reverse of this is also true. This is why they say, “Worry is like praying for what you don’t want”. We learn to value our attention as a precious commodity, and intentionally place it where we want it.
In meditation, mantras are often used to practice a single point of focus. Gazing at a candle or at a yantra (geometric design) is also useful. This focal point helps the mind become steadier, and prepares us for inner healing (as well as the release of inner potential). At this point there is a subject (us) and an object (the focal point).
Dharana is the transition between the “Inner Practices” and the “Innermost Practices”.
Dhyana and Samedi are the “Innermost Practices”.
During Dhyana, we fine-tune our concentration even further. The distinction between subject and object blurs and eventually disappears. We become more aware of the nature of reality and our place in the universe. Meditation is the tool we use to learn to see beyond the illusions that cloud our perceptions. This can carry over into our daily lives to help us remain centered and awake in the midst of challenges. From this centered place we are able to make the best choices possible.
In Samadhi, we are at rest but alert and aligned with the Universal Consciousness (you may use another name — God, spirit, the Universe…). Fear and anxiety have faded away because Samadhi is beyond individuality. The body, mind, and intellect are quiet and we can experience pure truth and joy. Samadhi is the ultimate “union” or “yoking” of yoga.
Last time, we listed Eight Limbs of Yoga as delineated by Patanjali about 2300 years ago. If you missed that one, find it in the “Yoga” category at marciarandalldebard.com.
Each limb of yoga has many facets; here we will barely brush the surface, with the plan to explore more deeply in the future. Each limb can be studied and learned through practice. Once they are integrated into our lives, we will find that they have led us progressively to the highest states of awareness. We may find we have a quality of life that may have seemed unattainable when we first began.
The first three are the Yamas, Niyamas, and Asanas, which are called the “Outer Practice”. The Yamas relate to social behavior, the Niyamas relate to our personal behavior, and the asanas are the physical poses of yoga. The descriptions below are VERY rudimentary; each one could be a whole discussion in itself.Read more: Yamas And Niyamas You Know By Other Names
When people hear the word “yoga” most think of the physical postures, called “asana” (pronounced ah’ sauna). If you’ve taken yoga classes, you’ve noticed that the Sanskrit names for the poses usually end in -asana. For example, kapotasana is kapota (pigeon) asana (pose or seat). More specifically, asana can translate as, “The seat shall be steady and comfortable”, or “…be steady and sweet”.
The physical postures are actually only 1/8 of yoga. Yoga can be translated as “union” or “yoke”. The joining involves mind, body/environment, an spirit.
Some people list environment as a separate, fourth element. I include environment with body in this context because our physiologies are inseparable from our environment. The food, air, water, etc., is outside our bodies, then they are inside us, and finally they are outside again. When we die, our bodies literally become a part of the environment again.Read more: Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga
This is the time of year when many of us review the past year and preview the coming year. Sometimes we see habits that didn’t benefit us in the last year, and we resolve to improve those habits in the new year. Most New Year Resolutions last a month or two at most.
For many years, I was a consistent, 4-times-a-week gym member. As January approached, I always mentally geared up for the sudden overcrowding as the gym became extra-full with new members keeping their “get fit” New Year Resolutions. It was a minor inconvenience, really–waiting for a machine or signing up for a turn on the aerobic equipment. The inconvenience was short-lived; by February the crowds started to thin out and by March, the gym had returned to “normal”.
Haven’t we all set resolutions, only to see them dissolve within a few weeks? I think it’s because even the word “resolution” has a sort of striving, clenching, gritting-the-teeth feel to it. We are using our intellect, our ego, and our strong wills to force things to happen. Even more significantly, we are committing to this resolution out of a sense of having fallen short, of not being “good enough”. It’s worth asking ourselves whose standards we are using when we feel “not good enough”. Whose voice is speaking to us that way? If we follow it to its core, we will discover it is not the voice of our inner, authentic self.Read more: Willful Resolutions vs. Joyful Sankalpa
One way to apply Ayurveda is by using the 10 pairs of attributes. In Ayurveda these are called the 20 Tattvas (Sanskrit for “attributes” or “qualities”). These polarities are:
Everything in the world, from plastic drinking straws to cedar trees to foods are all made of these qualities. You and I are made up of these qualities, and each of us tends toward one end of the continuum or the other for each pair of traits. So, how to apply this for increased health and well being?Read more: Applying Ayurveda: The 10 Pairs of Attributes