Ashtanga Yoga, and Delving into the Eight Limbs of Practice
In my classes over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at what are generally known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga as written by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras. I’s my understanding that Ashtanga Yoga is named such because Guruji, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois wanted his students to become and remain grounded in the practice of all of these Eight Limbs.
In Sanskrit, ashta=eight and anga=limb.
Many yoga lineages consider the Eight Limbs and the Yoga Sūtras an important part of the teachings and practice.
Here are four versions/translations of Verse 28 from the Sādhana Pāda, or Book II (2) of the Yoga Sūtras:
II-28 “By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates its glory.” from B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
II-28 “From the practice of the component exercises of Yoga, on the destruction of impurity, arises spiritual illumination which develops into awareness of Reality.” from I.K. Tamni’s The Science of Yoga: The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
II-28 “Through the practice of the different limbs of Yoga, when impurities are destroyed, there arises enlightenment culminating in discriminative enlightenment.” from Richard Freeman’s Teacher’s Intensive (Manual)
II-28 “By embracing Ashtanga Yoga, the Eight-Faceted Path, Intuitive Wisdom dawns and reveals our inner radiance.” from Nischala Joy Devi’s The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras.
II-29 Lists the Eight Limbs, which I’ve described in another post, here.
In the classes I teach, which are introductions and modified (short) versions of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series, any outside observer would notice we practice āsana and prānāyāma. For this discussion, we can think of āsanas as the postures. Our prānāyāma (liberating the breath/prāna) practice involves steadying our inhales and exhales, and ujjayi breathing. It can also be said that we practice various degrees of pratyāhāra (turning the senses inward), dhāraṇā (concentration), and dhyāna (meditation) during a class, or at home on the mat.
Over the next few weeks and months, we will explore these ideas, as well as the yamas (ethical restraints) and niyamas (observances). How do these concepts apply within our practice on the mat? How do they apply in our lives outside of a yoga class? Does this mean we are working towards practicing yoga 24/7? What parts of the practice are we consciously or unconsciously evading? In class and upcoming essays, I’ll refer to various translations of the Yoga Sūtras. Don’t just take my word for it. Get a copy for yourself. (There are links in the book titles above, and there are many more excellent translations.) Study the Sanskrit. Investigate different translations and commentaries. Notice the subtle differences in the language and how that affects meaning just in verse II-28 above.
Question, mull over, sit with these ideas, and discover what resonates for you (and what doesn’t). This yoga is an ever-unfolding practice of self-discovery.
I look forward to exploring with you, and do so with much gratitude to my own teachers. Please leave questions and comments to continue the conversation.
You may also enjoy this post on ahimsa: http://www.earthdancehealingarts.com/ahimsa-non-violence/