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Yoga is one of the 6 traditional (astika) schools of Hinduism, based on meditation as a path to self-knowledge and liberation.
To achieve release, 8 steps must be completed
They are called limbs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
At our school you will be taught about all these stages so that after the course you can apply and teach the right yoga.
The 8 Limbs of yoga are:
1. Yama (Restraints)
The yamas are five ethical precepts that outline a code of conduct that should be observed when interacting with the world around us. They offer guidance on how to act toward others. They are:
Ahimsa probably had a very straightforward meaning to the original audience of the Yoga Sutras and its interdiction against violence is one that is, unfortunately, still very relevant today. In addition, some contemporary yogis interpret ahimsa as a directive toward a vegan diet on the basis that ‘all living beings’ are entitled to be treated with kindness and non-violence.
Telling the truth is a moral baseline we can probably all get behind and it’s certainly one that’s not outdated. In fact, in the age of institutionalized lying when ‘alternative facts’ (aka lies) are condoned in the most public sectors of society, it is more important than ever to speak the truth and support others who do so.
In Patanjali’s day, this was undoubtedly primarily an injunction against taking someone else’s property. While that continues to be good advice (not to mention the law), there are now so many more ways to steal, some of which may not be as obvious. Intellectual property, logos, pictures from the internet: whatever it is that doesn’t belong to you, leave it be. Originality is certainly a good choice for the modern yogi wishing to practice asteya.
Brahmacharya is probably the yama that requires the most massaging to fit into a contemporary yogi’s lifestyle. Yes, it’s highly likely that the original intent was a total prohibition on sexual activity. Yoga certainly wouldn’t be the first school of thought to promote celibacy for its practitioners. Does that mean that’s how we have to practice it today? Fidelity, constancy, and having honest open relationships with our partners work as alternatives for today’s yogi householders.
Now, here’s one that (unfortunately) really stands the test of time, no modern filter necessary. Coveting what other people have, jealousy, envy, and greed are all words for the green-eyed monster that has apparently been with us since the beginning. It’s a tough one to get past. One thing that can help is to name the sensation when it arises so that we’re aware that it’s happening and are then able to realize that we don’t have to become attached to it.
2. Niyama (Observances)
If the yamas are outward looking toward society, then the niyamas are inward practices to improve the self. They are:
Purification of the body and mind are specified in the Yoga Sutras as a necessary step in detaching from the physical world in preparation for meditation. For us, this might mean identifying and releasing thought patterns that have the ability to distract us from our purposes. If we can clear away thoughts that dwell on negativity or meanness toward ourselves or others then there’s less clutter up there when it comes time for inner focus.
Contentment is a real challenge for many people so it’s well worth examining why it’s so damn hard to feel happy with ourselves. The culture of always wanting more, of status, of constant striving to out-do is so pervasive that it actually takes a bit of effort to realize that it’s not compulsory. Existing in a state of constant dissatisfaction and comparison isn’t the only way. A practice of expressing gratitude can help us feel better about the good things we do (already) have in our lives.
One of the translations of tapas is heat, so it is often interpreted as encouraging practices that stoke our inner fire. Miller explains that asceticism was though to produce the heat of tapas. Purification through self-discipline is described in Patanjali’s work. In contemporary yoga, tapas might be observed through the daily practice of postures or meditation which require self-control to maintain.
Svadhyaya is sometimes translated as self-study, which implies that it means introspection, however, that doesn’t seem to be the original intent. Rather, it meant the study, memorization, and repetition of sacred prayers and mantras, which was and continues to be a common practice in Hinduism. In modern times, we may choose to interpret this as an exhortation to be diligent students of the world, whether through formal or personal education.
Pranidhana (Dedication to God/Master)
This can be a tricky one since many modern practitioners bridle at the suggestion that God is a prescribed part of our practice. It’s interesting to note that the meaning of Ishvara in the original text is also open to interpretation. It could have meant a master, a teacher, or an unspecified god. Submission to a teacher is in line with the guru-student relationship that was an established tradition within yoga in India. However, surrender to a guru doesn’t sit that well with many Western students. For our purposes, we can perhaps think of it as a necessity to acknowledge that yoga is a spiritual practice. It affects the whole person, whose constituent parts are mind, body, and spirit.
3. Asana (Posture)
While it might seem like we’re getting onto more familiar ground here, asana also had a very different meaning in its original context. While we now use this term to refer to any part of a postural practice (all yoga poses), it’s original meaning was simply a comfortable seat.
Patanjali’s work has no other asana instruction other than the necessity of finding a posture in which to engage in the practices of pranayama and meditation (see below). In terms of the eight-limbed path, it seems that once we have established that we are right with the world and with ourselves, we can turn our attention to the business of calming and focusing the mind. Of course, asana is now quite often the point of entry for people into yoga.
4. Pranayama (Breath Control)
On the subject of breath control, Patanjali instructs that the practitioner should regulate the inhalations, exhalations, and retentions of the breath in a cyclical manner. All other breathing exercises we now practice came from sources outside of the Yoga Sutras. Since the eight limbs are concerned with preparing for meditation, any breath that is centering and brings us in contact with the present moment helps ready the body and mind to turn the focus inward.
5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses)
Isolating consciousness from the distractions offered by engagement with the senses is the final physical preparation for the meditation practices outlined in the final three limbs. This can be in itself a form of what we would call mindfulness in which sensory input such as sounds, sights, or smells are noticed as external and then allowed to pass without capturing our attention.
6. Dharana (Concentration)
Dharana is the first stage in the inner journey toward freedom from suffering. During this type of meditation, practitioners concentrate all of their attention on a single point of focus such as the navel or on an image in their mind.
7. Dhyana (Meditation)
In this stage, the practitioner meditates on a single object of their attention to the exclusion of all others. While we are accustomed to a type of meditation that attempts to clear the mind of all thoughts and images, this doesn’t seem to have been a requisite part of the method described by Patanjali. As long as the attention is focused, the object is not specified.
8. Samadhi (Pure Contemplation)
Samadhi is beyond the normal mind and intellect, which makes describing it somewhat difficult; it can only be fully appreciated by direct experience.
While reaching Samadhi will be a major spiritual achievement for you, Samadhi also has several levels of refinement through which you may ascend.
Perfect union of the individualized soul with infinite spirit. A state of oneness; complete absorption.
Samadhi, which literally means “to direct together,” is the state in which the yogi perceive the identity of his soul as spirit. It is an experience of divine ecstasy as well as of superconscious perception; the soul perceives the entire universe. In other words, human consciousness becomes one with cosmic consciousness. The soul realizes that it is much more than the conditioned body. Christian saints have previously described this experience as “mystical marriage,” in which the soul merges into God and becomes one with Him.
Although human consciousness is subject to relativity and dual experience, samadhi is the state in which experience is whole, infinite, and single. It is the eighth and final step on the path of yoga described by Patanjali. Samadhi may be attained through deep, continuous, and correct meditation. In this state, the three aspects of meditation — meditator, act of meditation, the object of meditation known as God — are finally united. Just as the wave melts into the sea, so too the human soul becomes one with the supreme spirit.
Level 1: Savikalpa Samadhi
This first level of Samadhi has within it four different stages. The beginning stages of Savikalpa Samadhi are where, during meditation, you transcend all mental activity. Patanjali says that, for a short period of time, you lose all human consciousness. In this state, the concepts of time and space are altogether different. For a minute, an hour, or more you are in another world. Now you see that practically everything happens spontaneously—you have nothing to do. Thoughts and ideas do not affect you. You remain undisturbed, and your inner being functions in a dynamic and confident manner.
However, this is not yet a permanent state and everybody has to return to ordinary consciousness. As you begin to integrate this undisturbed state of silence along with the disturbed states of waking, dreaming and sleeping, Patanjali describes the four stages of Savikalpa Samadhi that are possible.
Stage 1. Sarvitarka Samadhi:
Here the mind totally focuses on the gross aspect of a physical object. This is described as “examination” or learning the “inner secrets” of the object. In this stage, every aspect of the object is understood and you gain full knowledge of the physical object.
Stage 2. Savichara Samadhi:
Now the mind moves beyond the outer layers of the object and the subtle aspects of objects (tanmatras) are contemplated or “discerned.” The abstract qualities such as rednesses, beauty, love or the sound, texture, form, flavor, etc. of the object begin to be understood.
Stage 3. Sa-ananda Samadhi:
Here the mind is devoid of the objective world, you move beyond the intellect. There is no reasoning or reflection, just the tranquility of the settled mind. The sattvic (pure) mind is only aware of its own joy. The focus is on the inner powers of perception and within the mind itself. It’s known as a “blissful” Samadhi filled with joyful peace.
Stage 4. Sa-Asmita Samadhi:
Now even the bliss has gone and you are just here. Only the satvic (pure) ego, the I-ness remains, the I AM. Simple awareness of individuality—you are here and aware of nothing else. This is the ego-sense in its elemental form. No fear, no desire. This Samadhi can be likened to what is known in the Shankara Tradition as Cosmic Consciousness. The mind becomes fully Awake, it is a state of witnessing of the material world and you become aware of the Divinity (Bliss) within yourself.
In Savikalpa Samadhi, the samskaras (latent tendencies or past impressions which condition your life and desires) have not been dissolved. They still remain in seed form. The Great Indian Saint, Ramana Maharshi, described Savikalpa Samadhi as „holding on to reality with effort.” In this Samadhi, the concentrated mind can begin to access some of the “lesser” yogic powers (Siddhis).
However, because the ego is still present, you must be careful how you choose to use these powers. If you use them with a pure motive, you can greatly serve humanity and will progress on your spiritual journey with humility. If you choose to use them for personal greed and ambition, you may cause harm and stall your spiritual progress.
Level 2: Nirvikalpa Samadhi
Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a higher state of awareness where the ego and samskaras have been dissolved and only Consciousness remains.
Patanjali says the material world has become like a shadow from which you are completely free. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi there is no mind as you know it—there is only infinite peace and bliss. Here nature’s dance stops, and the knower and the known become one. Here you enjoy a supremely divine, all-pervading, self-amorous ecstasy. You become the object of enjoyment, the enjoyer, and the enjoyment itself.
Now the heart is fully Awake. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the first thing you feel is that your heart is larger than the universe itself. The universe appears as a tiny dot inside your vast heart. Here, there is infinite bliss and infinite power. You not only feel bliss, but actually become bliss.
This Samadhi is similar to the Divine Consciousness described in the Shankara Tradition, a state of deep love for the world and everything in it, recognizing the Divinity in everything. It is entering a celestial realm. You experience Ritambhara Pragya, where your thoughts spontaneously manifest into reality. The past and future are blended into the eternal present. Everything is now. Everything is here. Time and space have been transcended. The exulted blissful state may last for a few hours or a few days. Initially there is no wish to return from this state and it is said that if one stays at this level for 21 days, there is every possibility that the soul will leave the body for good. However, through continued practice, you are able to come down from Nirvikalpa Samadhi and immediately function normally in the world.
Both Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa Samadhis are considered temporary states in that you can only fully experience them by withdrawing from normal life. Even the Great Enlightened Yogis close their eyes to meditate. However, the Yogi’s “normal” life is not as most people experience it. A Yogi is living a life fully supported by the Unbounded Field of Infinite Possibilities. Imagine the whole of manifest creation is touching the front of your body and the unmanifest, Pure Awareness is touching your back. You lean forward and you are in the localized world but the non-local is fully there, supporting your every breath. To quote Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “It’s living 200 percent of life.”
Level 3: Dharmamegha Samadhi
An even higher level of Samadhi is Dharmamegha or the “Cloud of Virtue” Samadhi.
Patanjali says that this level arises when you have lost even the desire to know God or to be Enlightened. This Samadhi cannot be gained by effort, it reveals itself when all effort has dissolved. It is a Divine Gift, beyond notions of Absolute and relative.
When even the temptations of the Yogic Powers cause no distraction, it is said that Pure Knowledge showers down like a Cloud of Virtue, bringing liberation and the Bliss of the Divine.
This is Jivanmukta—liberation while still in a physical body. The afflictions of all karmas have been removed, the Yogi becomes ever free and shines in his or her own glory. It is said that in this state, the Yogi sees without eyes, tastes without tongue, hears without ears, smells without nose, and touches without skin. His/her mere intention can work miracles. The Yogi simply wills and everything comes into being.
Some contemporary saints such as Ramana Maharshi have also talked about Sahaja Samadhi.
This Samadhi could probably be placed between Nirvikalpa and Dharmamega Samadhis. It is where the inner silence is maintained along with normal daily activities. It is being able to maintain the experience of Nirvakalpa Samadhi at all times. Here you radiate Divine Illumination, the Divine is perfectly manifesting through you at every second. You are filled with Divine Grace. It can, perhaps, be likened to the Unity Consciousness of the Shankara Tradition.
With Samadhi as your goal, you should be regular with your spiritual practices, enjoy the blessings that each day brings, and know that everything will be revealed at the perfect moment