The first limb of yoga covers five moral disciplines or obligations to the self and others! a. ahimsa (nonharming)
b. satya (truthfulness)
c. asteya (nonstealing)
d. brahmacharya (chastity)
e. aparigraha (greedlessness)
These directives help destroy negative human characteristics or conditions.
The first directive, ahimsa, is nonviolence in thought and action. Most of the world’s religions emphasize this idea. Violence seems to be an integral part of human nature. It does not always take the form of physical assault, but sometimes as ear, hostility, and disapproval.
Satya is translated as real, genuine, or honest, and this is usually taken to mean one should tell the truth. It is mentioned many times in yogic literature.
Nonstealing, or asteya, is closely related to ahimsa,since stealing violates the person from whom things are taken.
Chastity, or brahmacharya, is addressed by most spiritual traditions. Generally speaking, sexual stimulation is thought to interrupt the impulse toward enlightenment by indulging the desire for sensory experience and by draining energy.
Greedlessness, or aparigraha, is defined as the nonacceptance of gifts. We are encouraged to cultivate voluntary simplicity, since possessions lead to attachment and fear of loss.
As the yama are concerned with our outer actions, so the niyama are concerned with our inner life. The five practices are:
a. shauca (purity)
b. samtosha (contentment)
c. tapas (austerity)
d. svadhyaya (self-study)
e. ishvara-pranidhana (devotion to god)
The first two limbs, yama and niyama, concern the mind. Asana, or posture, expands this to involve the physical body. This is what many Westerners think of when they consider yoga practice. At first, posture was essentially immobilization of the body. Later in yoga’s history, it came to mean what we recognize today, the collection of poses for therapeutic purposes. The focus at this level is on making the physical body a stable platform for the deepening of the journey toward meditative unfolding.
When yogins have become aware of their inner climate and have gained control of their muscular tensions and physical state, they become more attuned to the life force as it circulates in the body. The next step is to support awareness of energy systems and emotional states through the practice of pranayama (literally “extension of prana,” or life force. The idea of this life force is familiar to man cultures: the Chinese call it chi, the Polynesians mana, the Native Americans orenda. Modern scientists refer to bioplasma.
Through regulation of the breath, along with concentration, prana can be stimulated and directed, usually toward the head. As prana rises, attention follows and leads to more and more subtle experiences. Finally, pranic energy reaches the crown, and consciousness may be changed radically, leading to ecstasy (samadhi).
The practice of posture and breath control leads to the shutting out of external stimuli. When consciousness is sealed off from the environment, this is the state of sensory internalization, or pratyahara. Sanskrit texts compare this process to “a tortoise contracting its limbs.” The mind grows very active when removed from sensory input. This allows for the deepest concentration.
Concentration is the focusing of attention to a given locus (desha) which may be a particular part of the body, such as a chakra or an external object such as the image of a deity. This is a highly intensified form of the concentration we experience every day. The difference is that dharana is “a whole-body experience free from muscular and other tension, and therefore with an extraordinary dimension of psychic depth, in which the creative inner work can unfold.” This is both difficult and sometimes dangerous work. Yogic concentration is a high-energy state, and it is easy to see how this psychic energy could go awry.Shauca, or purity, is different from cleanliness. It is inner or mental purity brought about by meditation and concentration. The goal is to “mirror the light of the transcendental self with out distortion.”
Contentment, or samtosha, means not coveting more than what is at hand. It is the voluntary sacrifice of what is transient anyway. Sages around the world speak of this virtue, as it equalizes pleasure and sorrow.Austerity, or tapas, includes such practices as fasting; prolonged immobilized standing or sitting; the bearing of hunger, thirst, cold, and heat; and formal silence. These practices raise energy that is then used to achieve higher awareness. Tapas is not self-torture, however. Svadhyaya, or self-study, is not intellectual learning, but rather “the meditative pondering of truths revealed by seers and sages who have traversed those remote regions where the mind cannot follow and only the heart receives and is changed.” It is one’s own exploration of the hidden meanings of the scriptures.The final part of niyama is devotion to god, or shvarapranidhana. The god referred to here is free of illusion,forever aware of truth.
Deep concentration leads naturally to a state of meditative contemplation, or dhayana. All thoughts regard the object of concentration and accompany a state of peaceful, calm disposition. Alertness is intensified rather than dulled, although there is little or no awareness of the external environment.
The final limb is elusive and difficult to define fully. Samadhi occurs when “all the fluctuations (vritti of ordinary waking consciousness are entirely stilled through meditation. Psychologists and practitioners have differently interpreted it.
While many texts and teachers refer to the hierarchy of the eight limbs, the vast number of Western students begin formally with the third limb of practice (asana). The first five techniques are often called the outer limbs of practice, while the remaining three more subtle aspects are called the inner limbs. The linear progression through these practices is only one way of conceptualizing them.Because each limb has as its ultimate goal the realization of “ultimate truth”, one could start from any lace and cultivate practice from that point. It is useful to consider the eight limbs a circular progression rather than a tree with higher and lower branches. One can also focus practice on only one limb while maintaining awareness of the underlying unity between all the limbs.
McAfee, John. The Secret of the Yamas: A Spiritual Guide to Yoga.
Woodland Publications, 2001. pp. 19-21. Feuerstein,
Georg. The Yoga Tradition. Hohm Press, AZ, 1998.
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