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Lesson 149 - The eight limbs of yoga, and samyama
- Melting the darkness
Date: Thu Mar 25, 2004 5:34pm
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
Note: For detailed discussion on practical application of the
limbs of yoga, see the AYP Eight Limbs of Yoga
For detailed instructions on samyama
practice, see the
AYP Samyama book.
Also see AYP Plus.
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