This week in class we are considering the first steps on the path of Yoga.
Beginnings are important, as they set the tone for what will follow. Thus beginners on the yogic path would do well to understand correctly what Yoga is about and then to approach it accordingly. There is a humorous saying in Yoga circles that Yoga has been reduced to the practice of postures, and that postures has been reduced to stretching, and that stretching has been reduced to lengthening the hamstrings. Authentic Yoga is always a spiritual discipline.
Every single technique or practice of the highly diversified approach of Yoga has the same purpose: to set us free, to take us beyond the conditioning of our ego-personality, into the spacious realm of the Spirit, or higher self (called Atman or Purusha).
As we set foot on the yogic path, we must right away acknowledge that we have work to do on ourselves. This sense should stay with us until we are actually Self-realized, or liberated.
The best protection against going astray on the spiritual path is humility and integrity. That is why the yogic path begins not with the postures or meditation, as so widely believed, but with moral disciplines: nonharming; truthfulness; nonstealing; continence and moderation; and greedlessness.
I know that no ecstatic state (Samadhi), however lofty, amounts to very much without firm grounding in the moral disciplines. For the ultimate goal of liberation depends on our psychological and moral integrity. The entire yogic process can be viewed as one of progressive self-realization. There are no shortcuts to self-realization. Our inner purity (or integrity) is the only doorway to freedom.
Yoga Gems: A Treasury of Practical and Spiritual Wisdom from Ancient and Modern Masters – Edited by Georg Feuerstein
The homework is to evaluate your reasons for practicing yoga. Study and understand the “moral disciplines” and work to implement (or re-implement) this first step in the yogic process – practicing the Yamas. Then learn about the other seven limbs of Yoga and see how they can be applied to your life (see below).
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Eight Limbs of Yoga
Described in the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are set fourth as the means, or the path towards the “quest of the soul.” The eight limbs are as follows:
Yama – commitment to universal moral commandments
Niyama – self-purification through discipline
Asana – posture
Pranayama – rhythmic control of the breath
Pratyahara – withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects
Dharana – concentration
Dhyana – meditation
Samadhi – a state of super-consciousness
Yama and Niyama control the yogini’s passions and emotions and keep her in harmony with others. Asanas keep the body healthy and strong and in harmony with nature. Finally, the yogini becomes free of body consciousness. She
conquers the body and renders it a fit vehicle for the soul. These three limbs represent bahiranga sadhana, the outward quests. These limbs are also considered the physical pursuits.
The next two stages, Pranayama and Pratyahara, teach the aspirant to regulate the breathing, and thereby control the mind. This helps to free the senses from the thralldom of the objects of desire. These two limbs represent the antaranga sadhana, the inner quests. These limbs are also considered the mental pursuits.
Dharana , Dhyana, and Samadhi take the yogini into the innermost recesses of her soul. The yogini does not look
heavenward to find God. She knows that God is within, being known as the Antaratma, the Inner Self. The last three stages keep the yogini in harmony with herself and her maker. These three limbs are called antaratma sadhana, the quest of the soul. These limbs are also considered the spiritual pursuits.
The five Yamas are as follows:
-Satya, honesty and truthfulness
-Brahmacharya, continence (responsibility), moderation and dedication to the understanding of Divinity
The five Niyamas are as follows:
-Saucha, purity internally and externally
-Santosa, contentment, reducing desires, becoming cheerful and creating balance of mind
-Tapas, discipline in the mind and body and directing the mind towards the self within
-Svadhyaya, study the source of our actions, learn and search for truth and self-realization
-Isvara Pranidhana, dedication to humanity and surrendering to God and the powers that be and abiding to the greater will
References: Light on Yoga, Light on the Yoga Sutras, and The Tree of Yoga all by BKS Iyengar (paraphrased)