Yoga Philosophy For Beginners
(The 8 Limbs of Yoga)
Although many of us like to imagine we know what yoga is, our mind usually comes directly to the wrong aspect of yoga when we think of it instinctively.
This is due to the western media and how we illustrate it to be online, as just stretching or spiritually being here with the practice. But yoga is much more than just physical postures, which is only a part of it.
Yoga is not a tool to be in shape or to become more flexible or more in tune with yourself. It is beyond all these definitions. Because yoga at its core is a method of realizing oneness with reality.
It is beyond the ego and beyond our minds. It is our true nature as human beings. It is falling into this divine reality, reducing the path between the heart and the brain.
In a sense, Yoga = Union.
“Yoga is merely the practice of restraining the mind from taking any sort of form.”
— Patanjali, an ancient Hindu philosopher.
The thing is that there is more than just one way seeing & doing this.
The physical practice yet is just one of these many ways to grasp the whole picture. As Patanjali calls, there are eight limbs of yoga.
These eight modes can all be done separately, but usually, are meant to be done together to attain moksha (emancipation).
To come into this space of truth beyond the mind,
recognizing your true nature.
There are videos, lectures, books that go into much greater detail about this. But this text is just an introduction.
Because by knowing these yoga sutras and implementing them into our lives, we can kick-start this awakening process much more than if we were just doing yoga, at a studio, to meet people.
LIMBS 1–6 ARE THINGS WE DO
These are things that we in this body do, that we consciously decide.
LIMBS 7–8 HAPPEN TO US
These are things that occur to us, so by getting into the first six limbs, the seventh and eight limb come into fruition on their own.
So remembering that we’ll get into the first limb, known as YAMAS.
1. YAMAS — Strengths
Yamas are the strengths of the body in our actions and with the mind.
If we don’t set parameters for our practice, for what we do, for deciding the right and wrong, or what is pure and impure, following these practices will mean nothing.
We can’t do our stretches and then go murder somebody. We can’t do a breathing exercise and then gossip about somebody else.
It’s important setting our parameters for thoughts and actions because it keeps us focused on our path, and make sure we don’t stray too far away.
This is what prevents us from becoming lost.
These are values which great people showed as being important trough their own historical actions. Things like non-violence, don’t lie,
don’t steal, non-greed, save energy, and so forth.
So after these self-restraints start identifying within, getting into the second limb, which is called Niyamas.
2. NIYAMAS — Acceptance
This is coming into the understanding of the self, it’s the acceptance of our way of being.
Another way to see this is our observances. By watching what we do and what we think we are being active in the process.
This reminds me that mindfulness in a sense is the second limb.
How we get into this spiritual zone in our daily lives comes to the tools that we use. In a deeper level, these structures and methods are describing our own personal mindset.
Like being clean, content, educating ourselves, doing our own intellectual work, cultivating change and surrendering to it.
Surrender is the eradication of the ego. Is giving yourself to the eight limbs and not trying to control or manipulate them in some way.
“Only the unselfish man is fit to see god” — Sri Ramakrishna
This is what leads to the third limb of yoga, which is the most common form of yoga, but the most misunderstood, the asanas.
3. ASANAS — Physical Forms
These are the psychical forms the body can take a pose in, and move into to represent and come into a union with itself and the external.
Through this positions, we start gaining clarity over concepts never grasped before. When struggling to put our hand on the floor with our feet in the air while twisting our hips at a 90º angle, one recognizes and awake itself.
It’s by doing these positions that we start gaining an understanding of the body as a temporal vessel. That we are not the body but the conscious observer sitting behind the body and mind. Everlasting and eternal.
The body houses the Atman, all of reality playing the game called consciousness.
This is not about being proud of making it, but rather, recognizing the muscles and tools that we are using to move and stay in a specific position.
4. PRANAYAMA— Controlled Breathing
The fourth Limb is one that you might be familiar with. This is the essence of flowing and filling the body with life energy, and oxygen, and everything else there is in the air.
Just like the Asanas is learning and understanding of the body, the Pranayama is learning and understanding of the breath.
Use it to fill us with this pure energy that allows to see the true self within. Recognizing more and more that the body is a tool and not who we permanently are.
This is a beautiful tool because it helps refresh our nervous system, it is said to extend our lifespan, and it really helps us get into this mindless space by just focusing in this one point on the breath.
There are practices for every taste and needs, the one I like most is the Breath of Fire, which gives me this instant feel of power and high energy.
If you’d like to know more about Pranayama all you have to do is research and you will be met with copious amounts of wisdom on Pranayama.
This leads us to the fifth limb of the yoga sutras according to Patanjali,
which is PRATYAHARA.
5. PRATYAHARA — Renunciation
This is one of the hardest ones to do because it means reverting back from what we used to take so much of love with, and pleasures with.
You see, we want external things. We want to have copious amounts of sex, to enjoy drugs, to drink, to smoke, to play video games… This is understandable.
It’s not saying to not do that at all, it’s just saying that if you want to start really making progress in life, we have to cut back on doing things that no longer serve us.
Progress requires seeking within, not without.
We have to learn to cultivate that bliss, awareness, and joy within our heart space. This is done by letting go of what harms us, and this means, physical pleasures most of the times.
If we can start to accept it from within that our nature is love and detachment, we stop suffering because we are no longer attached to need. Letting things be as they are is the puppeteer of our own practice.
Let it be.
This means to reevaluate how much you rely on your happiness on being external, and see if you can start to cultivate it through the next practice:
6. DHARANA — Pure Focus
In this space, the mind sweeps itself from focusing on multiple things to only one. This is the state of flow, the Japanese mushin, or just conscious presence.
This has the power to clean our attention from the mud-ish identity and you are left with nothing but pure awareness as truth.
It calms us, it empowers us, it is liberating. We stop multitasking to then focus on only one task. This is when change happens.
The last 2 Steps are the fruit of all the prior steps
They are ultimately, the most important.
This is why we must achieve all the previous ones,
because we are training ourselves.
7. DHYANA — Meditation
When we practice Dhyana, this focus, this isolation of the mind into a single point of focus, it occurs to us.
Is a space of pure meditation, of thoughtlessness, is a simple way of being. Is the same space where we are asleep.
There is an observer behind, but we are not controlling the sleep. We are not thinking of sleep. It is just happening.
Dhyana is just the same, but we are sitting, and we are awake during the process. This is why it can’t be explained what can occur.
But when we hold this space we come to the eight limb, which is merging with reality.
8. SAMADHI — Awakening
This is the experience worth of all the effort. It is becoming one with the reality, transcending the dual aspects of it and realizing that no “I” exists.
There is just oneness, and quantum physics proved what ancient Brahmas already knew long before.
This is realized through experiential observation, and it’s the part where it cannot be explained. Just like trying to explain how good a chocolate cake is, it cannot happen using words. You have to eat the cake to taste for yourself.
That powerful and transcendental feeling you once had when an insight clicked, is now present for your own access. We cannot force Dhyana and Samadhi upon us, it happens through practice and time.
But this is the closest of source we can get.
If you pursue what you seek, you will get it.