The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Focus: May/June – The Eight Limbs May 21, 2010

On July 13th, Past Tense Studio in Mt. Pleasant will celebrate its 1st year of operation!

For me, this year at Past Tense was a wondrous opportunity to practice weekly with groups of adults (vs. periodically with private clients, or, daily with young children).  Adults who are devoted to their yoga practice. I have felt honored to witness the growth of pure beginners into seasoned yogis.  I have watched the MtP yoga community blossom, thanks to newbies and seasoned students alike.  Fellow teachers have inspired and motivated each other.  I myself have transformed immensely from this energy.

Since July 2009, our Bi-Monthly Focus has bounced around the yoga universe, from Anatomy & Physiology (i.e. oiling the hip and shoulder joints), through Health & Wellness (i.e. immune-boosting Pranayama practice), to Philosophy & Ideology (i.e. heart-opening Chakra exploration).  In these final months of our 1st year together, we will discover where all of these concepts originate.

The May/June Bi-Monthly Focus is the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Book Two of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (discussed in the recent March/April Wrap Up post) lays out yoga’s Eight Limbs.  Probably the most widely known are Asana (Limb #3 – poses), Pranayama (Limb #4 – breathing exercises) and Dharana (Limb #6 – concentration as a form of “meditation”).  With yoga classes becoming more and more accessible, we can share these limbs in community and reinforce our practice.

But there are five additional limbs – and I believe they are in order for a reason.

The Eight Limbs represent a process of growth from heady self-examination to soulful universal connection. The first two limbs – Yama and Niyama – list the ethical premises of yoga.  After we’ve set our intentions for values and virtues, we move on to Asana, to address physical limitations such as aches and toxins.  Next, Pranayama continues detoxification, awakens our life force energy and balances our nervous system.  With the 5th limb, Pratyahara, the senses are softened to remove outer distractions.  During Dharana, we concentrate intently on one point of focus.  Deepening into the 7th limb, Dhyana, our concentration shifts into meditation, and there is no separation between the meditator that point of focus.  The 8th limb, Samadhi, is generally described as “enlightenment” – but to me, that harkens of apart-ness.  I like to think of Samadhi as one-ness (like the “oversoul” that Walt Whitman wrote about).  It occurs the moment when our practice of yoga’s previous seven limbs brings such peace and confidence that we are selfless.

For me, Samadhi would be a state of consistently being my best self and offering that self in service to the world.


Each Sunday at the 8:30am “Ahhh-some” class at Past Tense, we’ll launch our “limb of the week.” Together, we can deepen our practice by exploring each limb through special poses, breathing exercises, meditations and Sutras excerpts.

  • WKS 1 & 2 (MAY 9 – MAY 22) – YAMA/NIYAMA
  • WK 3 (MAY 23 – MAY 29) – ASANA
  • WK 4 (MAY 30 – JUNE 5) – PRANAYAMA
  • WK 5 (JUNE 6 – JUNE 12) – PRATYAHARA
  • WK 6 (JUNE 13 – JUNE 19) – DHARANA
  • WK 7 (JUNE 20 – JUNE 26) – DHYANA
  • WK 8 (JUNE 27 – JUNE 30) – SAMADHI

To review Weeks 1 & 2, Yama/Niyama:

How do we wish to behave in this world?  In Book Two, Sutra 2.29 spells out suggested “do’s” and “don’t”s for yogic living.  By earnestly setting our intentions on the Yama (abstinence) and Niyama (observance) – and remaining compassionate and patient with ourselves in this goal – we begin to still the mind as promised way back in Book One.  “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – “yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.”

There are five Yama and five Niyama – perhaps reminiscent of other spiritual traditions’ moral precepts. The Yama include: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence or chastity) and Aparigraha (non-greed.)  The Niyama are: Saucha (purity), Samtosha (contentment), Tapah (acceptance), Svadhyaya (study of spiritual texts), and Isvarapranidhanani (worship of God or self-surrender).

Most of these are self-explanatory.  Still, I’d like to add something about the “G-word.” I don’t think one has to believe in a mystical “god” in order to practice yoga authentically.  For Niyama #5, I focus on the “self-surrender” part.  I play a more ethical role in the world when I dissolve my isolating self-reliance and surrender to the guidance of some kind of “higher power” – whether that HP is my parent, my doctor, my Asana practice, a wise text or nature.  HP is any being or resource whose influence faithfully restores me to my essence.  And to that, I’d gladly surrender.

If these ethical suggestions seem overwhelming, keep it simple. I like to reflect on and set intentions to practice just one Yama or Niyama at a time.  Or, I might generally reflect on my own, personal, well-examined (and life-long reinforced) character qualities (or patterns) that I hope to decrease or increase, one day at a time.  One thing’s for sure – I feel the most peace of mind (aka my “chitta” is free of “vritti”) when I am useful and of service to others.  And the Yama and Niyama outline a design for living that will inevitably lead to that.

Next week…limb #3 – Asana.


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