Advanced Yoga Practices
Lesson 149 - The Eight Limbs of Yoga, and Samyama - Melting the Darkness
Date: Thu Mar 25, 2004 5:34pm
It is time to move on to samyama, which involves moving outward with our attention in pure bliss consciousness, resulting in the cultivation of so-called yogic powers as a side effect. Before we discuss samyama, let’s talk about the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which we have not done yet. Samyama is a combined application of the last three of these eight limbs, and ties in with the other five limbs as well, so this is a good time to cover them. All of yoga is connected, you know. It all connects through the human nervous system. In fact, all of yoga is a product of the human nervous system. Not the other way around, as we sometimes tend to think.
It took a while for people to believe that the world is round instead of flat, and that the sun is the center of the solar system instead of the earth. It took some proof. Then almost everyone believed, and the rush was on to find all the benefits in the new knowledge, the new paradigm.
Now it is time for us to come to grips with the fact that the human nervous system is the center of all spiritual experience and all divine bliss. That is your nervous system, the one you are sitting in right now. The sooner we get used to the idea that each of us is a direct gateway to the divine, the better it will be for everyone. As with the acceptance of any knowledge, it takes some proof. In this case, the proof is in you. Open a few doors here and there by doing some effective yoga practices and you will see what you are. Then the rush will be on to open it all up. A new paradigm is born!
Nothing is new, you know. Our ancient ancestors knew of these things. Much of it was written down. But communications were poor, and people lived so much in superstition. It is different now. We can find any information we want. There are so many doors of knowledge opening to everyone. The old wisdom is becoming new again. The human nervous system hasn’t changed over all this time. It has been waiting patiently, like a treasure chest longing to be opened. It is time.
Patanjali’s book of yoga sutras is one of the greatest scriptures of all time. Not only does it tell us what we are, but also it tells us how the doors of the nervous system can be opened. It lays out the relationships between the natural principles of opening that exist in us. This is done with the famous eight limbs of yoga.
We have been traveling through the eight limbs ever since we started the lessons of AdvancedYogaPractices. We have not gone in order, and some would call this non-conventional. We have gone in a way that is effective and makes sense, so there will be no apologies. We’ll talk about that some more, but first let’s review the eight limbs:
1. Yama – It means “restraint,” and includes ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (preservation of sexual energy and cultivation of it), and aparigraha (non-covetousness).
2. Niyama – It means “observance,” and includes saucha (purity and cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat/focus/austerity), svadhyaya (study of scriptures and self), and isvara pranidhana (surrender to the divine).
3. Asana – It means “posture,” and includes all those asanas we have come to know and love. In the lessons, asanas are used as a preparation for pranayama and meditation. Certain asanas stimulate the rise of kundalini.
4. Pranayama – It means “restraint of life force/breath,” and includes the pranayama methods we have discussed, plus some we are yet to discuss. Pranayama cultivates the soil of the nervous system, preparing it for deep meditation and divine experience. Particular kinds of pranayama raise kundalini.
5. Pratyahara – It means “introversion of senses.” In the lessons, pratyahara is both effect and cause, occurring as kundalini rises and ecstatic experiences draw our attention naturally inward. Then, through pratyahara, we come to know our sensory experience as a continuum spanning the full range of manifestation from the first inner vibrations of pure bliss consciousness (OM) all the way out into the physical world.
6. Dharana – It means “concentration or focus of attention,” and is the first step in taking the mind inward through meditation. In the lessons, we don’t hold the attention on anything for long. We just bring attention easily to an object (the mantra), and then let it go how it will. This brings attention almost immediately beyond the beginning perception for the object, which is what we want. The mind will take us inward if we give it the opportunity.
7. Dhyana – It means “meditation,” and is the flow of attention inward. It can also be described as the expansion of attention beyond any object. In the lessons, the mantra is used as the vehicle for this. We come easily to the mantra, and then the mantra changes and disappears. Our attention expands, arriving in its natural unattached state – stillness.
8. Samadhi – It means “absorption/transcendence,” and it is what we experience in daily meditation. It expands over time, eventually becoming our natural state of being in daily activity. It is pure bliss consciousness, the inner silent witness. Samadhi in its various stages of unfoldment is the experience of our immortal universal Self. That is what we are.
You may have noticed that after yama and niyama, which were presented pretty much with the classical definitions (except for brahmacharya), all the rest of the limbs were given a twist according to the way these lessons have been presenting the knowledge of advanced yoga practices. This is a normal thing. In fact, every yoga teaching has its own way of presenting the eight limbs of yoga.
The eight limbs of yoga are so logical and easy to understand that virtually every teacher of yoga claims to be teaching them, which is true to one degree or another, because the eight limbs cover everything one can do in yoga. In this sense, they represent a complete road map, a blueprint and spiritual checklist of the various ways to open the human nervous system to divine experience.
Taken together as an overall system, the eight limbs have been referred to as “ashtanga yoga” and “raja (royal) yoga.” But what is in a name? AdvancedYogaPractices are the eight limbs too. So is any approach to human spiritual transformation, in part or whole, including what we find in all the world’s mainstream religions. If it has to do with human spiritual transformation, it is going to be found somewhere in the eight limbs. That is the beauty of the eight limbs. When you look at any spiritual teaching or religious tradition using the eight limbs as a measuring rod, you will see right away what is there, and what is not. The more enlightened traditions will have more of the limbs covered, and the less enlightened ones will have fewer limbs covered.
Traditionally, the eight limbs have been taken in sequence. The rationale has been that people have to learn to behave themselves and prepare through strict codes of conduct before they can begin doing more direct spiritual practices. Once they know how to behave rightly, they can begin with the body (asanas), and, later, work their way in through the breath (pranayama), and, finally, be ready for concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and pure bliss consciousness (samadhi). With a traditional approach like this it can be a long road to hoe, especially if a guru (in the flesh) holds his disciples to the highest standards of performance each step along the way. Even Patanjali had this sequence of practice in mind when he wrote the yoga sutras.
That part of it (going through the eight limbs in sequence over a long period of time) doesn’t work very well. This has become widely recognized in the yoga community, and Patanjali must have known it too. Maybe in his time it wasn’t so easy to be jump-starting people with advanced yoga practices like deep meditation and spinal breathing the way we can do it today.
Over the years different teachers have jumped directly into the eight limbs in different places. Some start with asanas and others with pranayama. Some focus first on devotion and then jump to meditation, or something else. Some jump straight into meditation, and then work their way back through the limbs. As you know, these lessons are of the latter approach. We start with deep meditation, and then head into pranayama, physical techniques, and so on, keeping a good awareness of the role of bhakti/desire all the way through.
One thing everyone who does yoga has found is that the limbs of yoga are connected, meaning, if we start in one limb, the others will be affected, and, as we purify and open, we will eventually be drawn into all of the limbs. It is common for new meditators to become voracious spiritual readers (svadhyaya), lean toward a purer diet (saucha), and feel more sensitive about the wellbeing of others (ahimsa). In fact the best way to achieve progress in yama and niyama is by going straight to samadhi with deep meditation. Then harmonious behavior comes naturally from inside, rather than having to be enforced from outside. These things are indicators of the connectedness of yoga. It occurs on all levels of practice. Sometimes it is called “Grace,” because spiritual blessings seem to come out of nowhere. In truth, such blessing are being telegraphed through us via spiritual conductivity rising in our nervous system from something we did somewhere on the eight-limbed tree of yoga. Even the sincere thought, “Is there something more than this?” is a powerful yoga practice, and it is found in the niyama limb – it is surrender, bhakti. As you know from the lessons, this conductivity in the nervous system becomes “ecstatic” when kundalini begins to move. When that happens we are really getting connected through the limbs of yoga – here, there, and everywhere.
If we engage in effective practices in a coordinated way in multiple limbs from early on, then our nervous system will be purifying and opening most rapidly. This is an important principle that is recognized in the core strategy of these lessons – using an integrated system of practices, having the option of working through as many limbs as possible.
Samyama is a jumping off point from the eight limbs. It is something different from any one limb that can be used to purify and open the nervous system. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras it gets a whole chapter called, “supernormal powers.”
Samyama is defined as the combination of the last three limbs of yoga used with an object. So, using focused attention (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and deep inner silence (samadhi) with an object, or objects, in a particular way we are able to develop supernormal powers, also called siddhis. Patanjali tells us that samyama is a more intimate practice and that it leads to “the light of knowledge.” He also tells us to avoid getting distracted by the experiences that come up when doing samyama. We have been dealing with this in the lessons already. We see lights or have some ecstatic experiences, and we have to remind ourselves to easily go back to the practice we are doing. This is because experiences do not advance our spiritual progress. Only practices do. The same goes for siddhis when they manifest themselves. As was mentioned way back in lesson #76, we do samyama to expand pure bliss consciousness and ecstasy in the nervous system, and beyond.
If we come to samyama expecting to get some powers for our personal use, we will not get much. This is the beauty of samyama. Morally, it is a self-regulating practice. It depends on the presence of inner silence. No inner silence, no pure bliss consciousness – no samyama. It is not possible to do this practice without at least some inner silence in the nervous system. If we have some samadhi, then automatically we will also have some yama and niyama. The more samadhi we have, the more the yama and niyama, and also the more success there will be in samyama. If there is a lot of samadhi (first stage of enlightenment), there will be a lot of yama and niyama, and a lot of progress in samyama. The limbs of yoga are always hanging together like that.
Samyama is working on the deepest level of consciousness within us, and coaxing it into full manifestation by giving it a series of channels to move through in our nervous system. With samyama we are moving inner silence. We are moving the immovable, moving the rock of pure consciousness. Actually, we are expanding the rock. We are expanding it out through our nervous system. With most practices we are working from the outside inward. With samyama, we are going the other way. We are working from the inside outward. With most practices we begin with our limited ego-self and go in. With samyama, we begin with our universal divine-Self and come out. That is the difference between samyama and the other practices.
As consciousness moves outward with samyama, we experience more opening, and all of our practices move to a higher level. This is the advantage of integration of practices. Everything we do in yoga helps everything else we are doing in yoga. In this way yoga practices become like a spiral of ecstatic bliss going higher and higher.
So, as we continue to do the practices we have learned so far, we will also have the option to add samyama practice, which is opening our nervous system in yet another way. The prerequisites for doing samyama are not so many. It is a mental procedure, so there are no physical prerequisites. Unless, of course, you start flying willy-nilly through the air, and then the appropriate physical precautions should be taken.
Anyone who is meditating for a few months and is experiencing some inner silence can do samyama, with effects in proportion to the amount of inner silence established in the nervous system. Samyama expands and stabilizes our inner silence, so it is an excellent complement to meditation. In the next lesson, we will cover the particulars of samyama practice.
With the eight limbs of yoga, and samyama, we will be melting the darkness everywhere. Let’s do it.
The guru is in you.