The philosophical study of the 8 Limbs system of yoga, as put forth by Patanjali, can be a dizzying undertaking for all its simplicity. The sutras are so skeletal that at first glance they may appear to contain little, if anything at all, of use and then once you delve into their meaning, the depth and complexity with which these ideas intertwine and play out in life is as overwhelming as it is eye-opening, which is why I always find it useful to ground the exploration of the sutras in the meaning behind the practices.
According to Patanjali, who, so to speak, wrote the book, the aim of yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind, yogas citta vrtti nirodha and this is practiced so that the seer abides in his own true nature, tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam, which is eventually revealed to be kaivalya, the aloneness of seeing, a.k.a, pure consciousness. According to the many writings on the practice of yoga the level of consciousness through which most of us experience the world is just the “visual tip” and that entry point that we see is distorted by the unchecked pushing and pulling that goes on in the mind. Just like waves fluctuating on the surface of a lake distort our ability to see the depth and fullness that lies below, the mental fluctuations of citta distort our ability to see the depth and fullness of the consciousness that lies within.
The Ashtanga (8 Limbed) system is designed to calm the mind and increase subtle perception in preparation for the samadhic experience. The first five stages (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara) are considered external practices, for they help fortify the body and mind for the internal practices by removing external distractions. The last three stages (dharana, dhyana, samadhi) eliminate internal distractions so that citta ceases to function and kaivalya is experienced. Overall, it is a gradual process of moving inward that prepares the aspirant for full consciousness absorption, samadhi.
Tune in on Thursday for a continuation of this entry which will address the Niyamas, the second limb of yoga and the October theme of the month at 8 Limbs.
Posted by: Jen Yaros
Jen Yaros teaches the Yoga Sutras within her asana classes at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill, Wedgwood, and West Seattle. She will offer her perspective on the 4th and 5th limbs of yoga in her workshop at 8 Limbs West Seattle on October 3rd: Pranayama & Pratyahara. Preregistration only: 206.933.9642.