The remaining limbs of yoga are more internal concepts. In a way, I like to think of the last four limbs as the final steps on the path of the inward journey of yoga and self-discovery. For me, they all sort of go together, so I thought I’d break them down one after another in a single post.
The fifth limb of yoga is Pratyahara which translates to the control of the senses. Basically, yogis are to practice gaining mastery over external influences. The purpose of this limb is to not be distracted from our journey inward by the material things around us. Instead, we should work toward withdrawing our energy from the senses. This does not mean that a yogi must physically withdraw from the world by hiding in a small white room to avoid all external influences. Pratyahara is the practice of being aware of the things happening around you (the sounds, the sights, the smells, the interactions with other people, etc.), but not reacting to them or allowing them to disturb you. We can still interact with the world around us, but pratyahara gives us the ability to let things sink in and allow for some time to choose how to respond or not respond rather than reacting instantly without thought or consideration of the repercussions. Not only is pratyahara helpful during meditation to keep you from reacting to everything happening around you, but it can also be used in asana. When you are in a particularly difficult pose and your mind starts racing: “Am I doing this pose correctly?” “What should I cook for dinner tonight?” “Is my belly hanging out of my shirt right now?” “Did I remember to DVR Girls?” You can use pratyahara to withdraw yourself and your energy from these external distractions, and focus on the pose and on your breath, bringing you back to the present moment.
(*Note: these last three limbs I’m about to cover are often discussed together and are often referred to as “the innermost quest.”)
The sixth limb of yoga is Dharana which translates to concentration, stillness of mind, and state of complete absorption. The seventh limb of yoga is Dhyana which translates to meditation or an uninterrupted flow of concentration. And the eighth and final limb of yoga is Samadhi which translates to enlightenment or super-consciousness, and it is the ultimate quest for a yogi to reach this state. When I first read about these three limbs, I felt super intimidated. As if these limbs were just something to read about and know about but not something that is ever attainable for me. I used to feel that way about meditation, too. That it wasn’t for me. That I’d never be able to do it. But it really doesn’t have to be intimidating at all. Like everything else, these are a practice. Something to keep coming back to. The more you learn and the more you practice, the more comfortable you will become.
For dharana, practice focusing on one activity or an object. Practice putting all of your attention on it, really focusing on it. If your mind starts to wander elsewhere, that’s okay. But when you notice it start to drift off, bring it back to your point of focus. That is the practice. This will get you prepared for dhyana, your meditation practice.
Dharana is about finding focus for a moment, and dhyana (meditation) is about discovering a constant flow of these focused moments. Again, this is a practice, and if you feel your mind start to drift off into thinking, recognize the thought, but don’t put any weight to it, and let it drift away. Come back to your focus. This, over and over again, is meditation. It’s unreasonable to believe that you can completely quiet the mind. But the more you practice not paying attention to your thoughts and coming back to your point of focus, maybe the amount of time between your thoughts becomes longer and more distinct. Maybe you begin to find more quiet moments and a glimmer of peace inside of yourself.
Finally, samadhi is the final destination for the yogi. Samadhi is the state of being completely present, completely aware of everything around you yet not paying attention to anything in particular. Just being. In the moment. Completely alive. Samadhi allows us to truly feel one with the universe. Some of us may spend an entire lifetime only experiencing one or two moments in this super-conscious state. But just knowing that it exists, and that it’s possible for you to feel that way is enough motivation to keep practicing.
Practicing yoga, in all of it’s forms, allows you to discover who you are at the deepest level, and it teaches you to be okay with it. It allows you to view the world as part of you and not an external place. It allows you to treat the people and the animals and the experiences in your life as part of yourself, because it allows you to understand that we are all one. Yoga is the union of all living creatures. Yoga is ethical disciplines, rules of conduct, physical postures, vital breath, control of the senses, concentration, meditation, and enlightenment. Yoga is life.
Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to leave you with a few tips for meditation. I would still consider myself a beginner at meditation, but here’s a little activity to get you started.
1. Find a quiet place with minimal distractions, and find a comfortable seat. Sit on a pillow or a blanket, and sit up tall, trying to keep your spine as straight as possible. Rest your hands on your lap.
2. Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply. Work to match the length of your exhales to the length of your inhales. In through the nose, out through the nose.
3. Begin counting your inhales. Try to focus only on the sound of your breath, and on your inhale, count to yourself.
4. On the exhales, repeat a chosen mantra in your head. For example, I am worthy.
5. Start by counting up to 10, then back down to 1.
Example: Inhale (one), Exhale (I am worthy.), Inhale (two), Exhale (I am worthy.) etc.
6. Visually, as I’m counting and repeating my mantra, I like to imagine the ocean tide coming in as I inhale, and going out as I exhale.
Another idea is to focus on the word “Inhale” as you inhale and the word “Exhale” as you exhale. Or you could try a mantra on your inhale as well as your exhale rather than counting. For example, Inhale (I change my thoughts.), Exhale (I change my world.), repeat. And your mantra can be whatever you’d like. Whatever it is you need to hear and focus on in your life. Try one or all of these techniques. See what works best for you. Or look up guided meditations on YouTube. Just promise you’ll give it a try. I know it sounds intimidating, but meditating on a regular basis can seriously change your life and your relationship with yourself. Like I mentioned before, this is a practice, so if your mind starts to wander, notice the thought, and allow it to float away like a cloud in a sky or a leaf floating down a river. Then, come back to your counting, your mantra, and your breath. Don’t get frustrated with yourself. Be gentle. At the very least, you are committing to spending time on yourself and your health. What could be more important than that?
As always, if you have ANY questions at all or just want to say hi, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!