The Practice: What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?
Increasingly, the practice of Asana, or the physical poses we understand as yoga, is being alienated from the very source of its conception; its moral, ethical, and philosophial raison d’être and foundation. Perhaps this is because the modern practice has separated the metaphorical wrapping paper from the gift itself, interchanging the two and taking the wrapping paper instead of the gift.
Most practitioners of Yoga have heard of the eight limbs of yoga: Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. These eight limbs are integral to one another: they are neither dispensable nor separable. Why, then, does Asana remain the centerpiece of the modern experience of yoga? Why are they understood as a progression on the path of yoga, when in fact they are a composite and part of an organic whole?
The five Yamas are as follows: Ahimsa, or non-violence, Satya, or truth, Asteya, or non-stealing, Brahmacharya, or moving in Brahman (infinity), and Aparigraha, or non-accumulation. These five principles are universal in nature, without exception. An intrinsic part of human values and an ethical code of conduct. The understanding of, and more importantly, incorporation of them, changes the entire texture of our physical practice.
Niyamas can be understood as the cultivation of the self. There are five Niyamas: Shaucha, or physical purity, Santosha, or contentment, Tapas, or endurace, Swaadhyaaya, or self-study, and Ishwara Pranidhaana, or devotion to the Divine.
Asana is widely understood as the totality of yoga. The Yoga Sutras define Asana as that which is steady and comfortable. Again, in the words of Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “Feeling the body, letting go of the effort, and experiencing the infinity is Asana.”
In Pranayama, we understand the dimension of the breath. Various Pranayama techniques are outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. At a fundamental level, the inhalations and exhalations are controlled in a certain rhythm or pattern. A good example of this is the Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique taught by Art of Living that has helped bring a greater mental clarity and physical well-being to millions around the world. Patanjali has stressed that Pranayam should be explored with proper guidance, as they thin down the curtain around the light – prakash avanaram.
Pratyahara is the inner canvas, the reference of the inner world and the coaxing of the senses to withdraw inward. It is fundamental to cultivating a practice that is not thrown off by the external fluctuations of the body, the senses, and the circumstances. Various guided meditations are helpful to invite the mind to dive inwards.
Dharana and Dhyana
Dharana and Dhyana are sometimes thought of as interchangeable. While meditation has become popular even outside the realm of yoga, the concept of Dharana, which is the singular pointed attention of meditation, was prescribed by a teacher in accordance with the needs of the individual and his or her progress on the path of yoga. Dharana and Dhyana are intimately tied to Pranayama, a good example of why no limb of yoga is separate from the other.
Samadhi, or the state of ultimate bliss, as long been considered too lofty a goal for the common man. This eliminates the opportunity for us to blossom on the path of yoga. Every moment that we feel one with the infinite self is one of Samhadi.
What is truly profound is astoundingly simple. When our experience is clouded, our understand is blurry as well. If your only experience of yoga is sweating in a hot room, then the opportunity for a deeper experience and understanding diminishes. The gift of yoga is the opportunity to experience the whole being, not just the body. Why settle for less?
According to Yogi Krishan Verma, director of Sri Sri Yoga Trainings at the Art of Living Retreat Center, “You are more than just the body.”
While this may sound like a lofty goal, in experience, it is simple, and brings a seismic shift to the way we practice. At the basic level, when the emotions are clouded or the mind is scattered, the body reflects that as well. The body and the physical practice is just one limb of yoga. Why would we take the part as the whole?
When we move through the eight limbs of yoga as a dynamic whole, the practice parts to reveal our true self. All conflict and duality shifts to illuminate the light that we are. As explained by Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “When a body develops, the whole body develops together. Simultaneously all the aspects, all the limbs of the body develop.” The eight limbs of yoga are just that – limbs in the body of yoga. This realization is a gift that we unwrap with a sense of awe and wonder!
by Shalini Parekh
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
Exploring Wisdom: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Revitalizing Prana
Our breath is our life force. When it is burnt down, overwrought, or weak, that feeling extends to both our bodies and our minds. We recently spoke with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar about the movement of our breath, or Prana, and how the meditation techniques learned in our Silent Retreats can help rejuvenate you, body and soul.
Ayurvedic Weight Loss (Part 2): Stress Reduction
In our last blog we discovered how Ayurveda has given us the tools for losing weight and keeping it off. We learned what to eat and when and the reason why fad diets don’t work. Right lifestyle is the key to successful weight management. That lifestyle includes not only right foods but also right stress reduction.
In this blog we’ll look at the reasons why stress = weight gain. You will also discover the #1 way to destress — the stress-busting practice of conscious breathing, or pranayama.
Is Stress Causing Your Weight Gain?
For many of us, stress is a fact of life. Unfortunately, stress is also a fact of fat. “Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight—or even add pounds,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women.
The Cortisol Connection
Few of us reach for carrots in stressful situations. Instead we go for the cupcake or the Krispy Kreme. Why? According to Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco, ”We crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension.” This soothing effect becomes addictive. When you become anxious, you start to crave fattening foods.
Whenever you are having a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to pump out more cortisol, that damaging stress hormone. When cortisol skyrockets, food cravings appear.
Cortisol also drives up the blood pressure and the blood sugar. It encourages the body to store fat. It tells the body to replenish energy, even if few calories have been used up.
Unfortunately, the body will keep on producing cortisol as long as the stress continues. For that reason, stress reduction is a critical component of weight management.
Ayurvedic Stress Management
Obviously, getting completely rid of all stress isn’t an option. But by taking steps to beat stress, you can get your cortisol levels and your weight under control—and improve your health. Let’s look at one of the most effective tools for managing stress and lowering cortisol: conscious breathing, or pranayama.
Breathing with a Purpose: Pranayama
Both Yoga and Ayurveda, the healing branch of yogic science, have given us the tools to reduce the effects of life stress. Perhaps the most effective (and fastest) stress reduction practice is conscious breathing, breathing with a purpose.
The yogic science of breath (pranayama) links body, breath, mind and spirit. Just as a kite string links the kite-flier to his kite, the breath links the mind with the universal life force, cosmic prana. In Yoga, conscious breathing is a unique way to soothe the nervous system and influencing stress-related disorders.
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY)
One of the most powerful pranayamas in Yoga is the Sudarshan Kriya, taught at Art of Living centers around the world. Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) is a special breath technique that calms the mind and energizes the body. Sudarshan means “proper vision” and kriya is a Sanskrit term for “purifying action.” Here purifying means to make sattvic — balanced, centered and calm.
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga has been taught to more than 6 million people in 152 countries worldwide. SKY has been reported to be effective not only for treating stress and anxiety, but also for PTSD, depression, stress-related medical illness and substance abuse.
A recent article in the International Journal of Yoga, “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga: Breathing for Health,” highlighted the benefits of this powerful technique on the body-mind. The article states, “rather than allowing the emotions to alter the breath (and cause physiological changes which may prove unhealthy), one can skillfully use the breath to transform one’s emotional state.”
Besides reducing stress, SKY helps the body burn more fat. It boosts oxygen and stokes the digestive fire. In this respect, pranayama (regulating the flow of breath and energy through working with the breath) is instrumental in natural weight loss.
For those interested in learning the The Sudarshan Kriya, it is taught at AOLRC each month in the Happiness Program weekend workshops.
In this blog we learned how stress is a major contributing factor for weight gain. For optimal weight management, we must learn how to manage life stress. Yoga and Ayurveda have given us the tools for stress reduction. One of the most effective tools for stress management is conscious breathing, or pranayama, like the Sudarshan Kriya. The Sudarshan Kriya is taught in the AOLRC Happiness Program each month.
Question: What is the fastest way to reduce the effects of stress on the body-mind?
Comments? Please share your favorite way to de-stress, using the comment box below.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
Happiness Program: the “Pursuit” of Happiness
This week, we caught up with Jeff Houk, who has been actively promoting happiness and a happier quality of life through spiritual practice for over 20 years. Jeff came to the retreat center for to lead a Silent Retreat and otherwise stays very active as president of the International Association for Human Values.
The Pursuit of Happiness Is a Universal Search
Everybody wants to be happy. And we really want everyone else around us to be happy too. If you’re happy and everyone else is not so happy, it impacts your happiness. The pursuit of happiness is not alien to anyone.
Search for Happiness
Often our search for happiness involves:
- new experiences,
- different people & cultures
- situations and/or events
All these thing are great for a short period of time, be it an hour, a few days, maybe six months. Then they fade.
Like you, I remember that while at work, I was always looking forward to the weekend. When the weekend came, then I could relax; then I could let go because I wasn’t tied to the clock; my schedule was free. I felt the same way when on holiday or vacation. I enjoyed traveling because everything was new; it was fresh and exciting. I was discovering new things.
Always, towards the end of my vacation, this feeling rose up of “Oh gosh, it’s almost over,” and I’d just sort of shrink, knowing that it’s back to that day to day routine. When I was at work, at home, everything became routine and I lost that zest, that enthusiasm.
Discovering Happiness Within
I learned Surdarshan Kriya – a breathing technique that in ten minutes a day, doing that practice, keeps that happiness, that freedom, that energy alive. And what I’ve started to discover is that happiness is just there as my very nature. When I’ve reconnected with that, then no matter what I do, I’m experiencing happiness with those people, with those situations, with those experiences that I’m having and it again just enhances freedom and feeling connected.
I remember that when I was young, there was so much interest in everything and so much energy to do everything. But I felt that fading over the years. Day after day, week after week, I felt I was losing that enthusiasm. Yet here I am in my sixties feeling even more energetic and more excited about life than ever. I just hope that everybody has the same opportunity, just by learning these simple breathing practices. It’s a gift to yourself, like it was a gift to me.
Inner Happiness and the Pursuit of Happiness
To have both is living 200% a life. And that really is the American dream.
It’s okay to have a nice home, nice places to travel, good friends, nice entertainment. But that’s never enough.
So to have outer comfort and also have this inner peace, joy, freedom, happiness is living 200% of life. And that really is the American dream.
If you’d like to learn more about approaches to happiness and try out some techniques and guided meditations online, just sign up for our Happiness Starter Series online: Join the series
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.