The Sage Patanjali compiled a text called the Yoga Sutras, through which we were given a blueprint for practicing yoga. In Section 2.29 of the text, Patanjali lists for us the 8 limbs of yoga:
- Yama: codes of restraint, abstinences (described in sec. 2.30, 2.31)
- Niyama: observances, self-training (2.32)
- Asana: meditation posture & now the plethora of postures in modern yoga (2.46-2.48)
- Pranayama: expansion of breath and prana (2.49-2.53)
- Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses (2.54-2.55)
- Dharana: concentration (3.1)
- Dhyana: meditation (3.2)
- Samadhi: deep absorption (3.3)
(A full discussion of the 8 limbs is beyond the scope of this article; for more information, take a Yoga Yoga workshop on the 8 limbs, or, better yet, take a teacher training!)
In the yoga tradition, there are two paths for the aspiring yogi; either become aSannyasi, a Brahmacharya (renunciate), acquire a monastic lifestyle, join an ashram, shave your head, wear saffron robes andcompletely devote your life to your yoga practice OR live the life of a householder. Sannyasi yogis dedicate days, weeks, even months to one limb at a time; a householder, on the other hand, is one who wants to have a devoted practice but also wants to have a life outside of yoga. A householder simply doesn’t have the resources or the time to devote his or her life to yoga, but still wants to receive the benefits of a yoga practice. Householder yoga eventually evolved into the yoga we have today in the West: asana heavy practices, possibly mixed with some pranayama and meditation; essentially, a compromise with the traditional yoga path.
(For an absolutely gorgeous explanation of the differences between Brahmacharya andhouseholder, see: http://shantiniketanashram.com/library/brahmacharya-yogic-path)
But is such a compromise really necessary? CAN a householder, i.e. you and I, have an 8 limb practice, AND have a home, a spouse, children, a job? Over the course of the next several weeks, I will share with you my personal practice that follows Patanjali’s 8 limb path. I have attempted to distill each of the limbs into a simple, easily approached way that will allow us to explore an 8 limb practice in 75 minutes or less.
We will begin with an assumption that you have already addressed the first two limbs, yama and niyama. Yama and niyama are essentially moral instruction that allows us to start the purification process. Svadhyaya, or self study, is one of the niyamas and is required to master the yamas and niyamas. (I lean more to the tantra understanding that says we do not need moral instruction, we all know right from wrong, the question is “what are you doing about it?”).
I do 45 minutes to an hour of asana practice every day, followed by limbs 4 through 8. 20 minutes should allow you enough time to work from pranayama to samadhi, once you have acquired a certain level of proficiency in each practice.
Each of the enlightenment traditions have their own definition of enlightenment: in Buddhism, enlightenment means freedom from suffering; in Jainism, it means spiritual purity, in Taoism, going with the flow of life. In yoga, enlightenment is self awareness, coming to know that we are Shiva, mahadeva, pure consciousness, the creator and the creation are one. The 8 limb path leads an aspirant here.
So we begin with an exploration of pranayama. Begin immediately after savasana.