The Eight limbs of Patañjali and how they relate to Vajrasati Yoga - by Jo Shaw
The eight limbs of yoga outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are:
Yama self restraint, vows of abstention, control
Niyama fixed observance, fixed rules, precepts, established order, law
Asana sitting in various postures, seat in general, a posture
Pranayama regulation of breath, restraint of breath
Pratyahara retreat, withdrawal of the senses
Dharana the act of concentration, act of holding, keeping the mind collected
Dhyana meditation, contemplation, reflection, attention
Samadhayah putting together, collection, composition, profound meditation, absorption, superconsciousness
Many people find that asana is their main experience of yoga. Vajrasati yoga recognises that it is essential to incorporate all eight limbs of yoga into practice.
While there are no ‘rules’ applied to how a Vajrasati teacher should live their life, observation of the spirit of the yamas and niyamas is integral to developing personal practice and skills as a teacher. Discernment is developed as your awareness grows, fuelled by your practice and self discipline (tapas).
Vajrasati yoga teaches that only limited progress in asana will be achieved when practice is not set within the eight limbs. To practice rajistically – trying to master your body rather than listen to what it is telling you – will do little to help you progress down the astanga path. Forcing your body into postures will manifest itself in different ways - for example in the breath or tension elsewhere in the body.
Vajrasati highlights the need for recognition and to relax and release. Recognition (attention, dharana) and relaxation brings about meditation (dhyana), which is relaxed attention. It is through pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses) and dharana (concentration) that you establish a dialogue with the body.
Establishing a dialogue with the body leads you towards a satvic state, where the influence of the ego is reduced. If a dialogue with the body is maintained, you are likely to be practicing safely. Breath (pranayama) creates steps to a satvic state. By letting go in asana you are recognising tension and then taking breath to the parts of the body that are tense. It is important to be connected to and communicating with the nervous system. While teaching you can facilitate a satvic state through your tone of voice and energy.
Patanjali’s ‘sthira sukham asanam’ describes the ideal approach to asana. Sthira means attention and sukha (which comes from a word that refers to a well made axil of a chariot wheel) means easiness, smoothness and absence of friction. This is also described as ‘effortless effort’. Vajrasati yoga teaches that too much effort blankets receptivity. Receptivity is essential for creativity and to break down any barriers that appear solid (such as pain). With receptivity perceived barriers are surmountable.
The concept of ‘effortless effort’ is also relevant to how you view your own practice – it is important not to get caught up in your limitations and your own story. You need to remain unattached and not be too hard on yourself; to trust and ‘let go’. Relating your understanding to direct experience rather than abstract concepts reduces the likelihood of getting too caught up in your own thoughts/ego and your teaching is likely to be clearer.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
2.29 Moral injuctions (yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture (asana), regulation of breath (pranayama), internalisation of the senses towards their source (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption of consciousness in the self (Samadhi) are the eight constituents of yoga.
Yama & Niyama
2.30 Non-violence, truth, abstention from stealing, continence, and absence of greed for possessions beyond one’s need are the five pillars of yama.
2.31 Yamas are the great, mighty, universal vows, unconditioned by place, time and class.
2.32 Cleanliness, contentment, religious zeal, self-study and surrender of the self to the supreme Self or God are the niyamas.
2.33 Principles which run contrary to yama and niyama are to be countered by the knowledge of discrimination.
2.34 Uncertain knowledge giving rise to violence, whether done directly or indirectly, or condoned, is caused by greed, anger or delusion in mild, moderate or intense degree. It results in endless pain and ignorance. Though introspection comes the end of pain and ignorance.
2.35 When non-violence in speech, thought and action is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence.
2.36 When the sadhaka is firmly established in the practice of truth, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to realisation.
2.37 When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.
2.38 When the sadhaka is firmly established in continence, knowledge, vigour, valour and energy flow to him.
2.39 Knowledge of past and future lives unfolds when one is free from greed from possessions.
2.40 Cleanliness of body and mind develops disinterest in contact for others for self-gratification.
2.41 When the body is cleansed, the mind is purified and the senses controlled, joyful awareness needed to realise the inner self, also comes.
2.42 From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness.
2.43 Self discipline (tapas) burns away impurities and kindles the sparks of divinity.
2.44 Self-study leads towards the realisation of God or communion with one’s chosen deity.
2.45 Surrender to God brings perfection in Samadhi.
2.46 Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit. (sthira sukham asanam)
2.47 Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.
2.48 From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities.
2.49 Pranayama is the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention. It is to be practised only after perfection in asana is attained.
2.50 Pranayama has three movements: prolonged and fine inhalation, exhalation and retention; all regulated with precision according to duration and place.
2.51 The fourth type of pranayama transcends the external and internal pranayamas and appears effortless and non-deliberate.
2.52 Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom.
2.53 The mind also becomes fit for concentration.
2.54 Withdrawing the senses, mind and consciousness from contact with external objects, and then drawing them inwards towards the seer, is pratyahara.
2.55 Pratyahara results in the absolute control of the sense organs.
3.1 Fixing the consciousness on one point or region is concentration (dharana).
3.2 A steady, continuous flow of attention directed towards the same point or region is meditation.
3.3 When the object of meditation engulfs the meditator, appearing as the subject, self-awareness is lost. This is Samadhi.