The First 2 Limbs of Yoga

The First 2 limbs of Yoga

 

I have chosen to write my blog about the first 2 limbs of yoga because these 2 concepts and each compartment within them really interest me and they are ideas that I have been trying to apply into my life in the last couple years. Together these 2 limbs form high moral character and allow for purity of the mind, body and soul.

 

Patanjali compiled up 8 compartments to describe the sadhana way to samadhi, through raja/ashtanga yoga. These 8 limbs are aimed at releasing the mind and guiding a person into full consciousness. 

 

  • The first limb is called Yama, which means universal moral/ethical commandments and includes the disappearance of all suppressions. Yama controls and individuals passions and emotions and keeps them in harmony with others around them. If these commandments are not obeyed then this brings violence, chaos, untruth, stealing, dissipation, and an envious need to possess something, extreme greed. These characteristics derive from the emotions of greed, attachment and desire, which according to patanjali can only bring ignorance and pain. 
    • The first principle of Yama is called ahimsa which means non-violence. According to this principle, violence arises out of fear, restlessness, ignorance or weakness and in order to stop this from occurring we need to reach freedom from fear (abhaya) and freedom from anger (akrodha), coming from a change in the perspective of life. Every creature is equal and has every right to live as they do. A yogi believes that every creation should be looked upon with love and knows that their life is connected to others, finding happiness in making other creatures happy. A wrong done by a yogi should be resolved with justice and a wrong done by another should be forgiven. Ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah means that a person who practices nonviolence will receive non violence in return and love. When a person who practices ahimsa surrenders all hostilities, other people will also surrender their hostilities when they come into contact with this person, and love arises from the dissipation of violence.
    • The second principle is called satya, which means truthfulness. This is based on the motion that if one lives and speaks in truth then they are fit to unify with the infinite and reach samadhi. According to patanjali, reality is based on love and truth and can be lived through these aspects. There are 4 sins of speech and they include falsehoods, abuse and obscenity, telling tales, and ridiculing what others have said. It is said that when an individual learns to control their tongue they have gained self-control and they will be heard with respect, they will be well remembered for their truth. Satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam means that a person who acts and speaks from truth will live in truth, all of their actions will show truth, they need not have truth be a separate factor to who they are, it will come as part of them.
    • The third principle is called Asteya which means not stealing. Whilst a person who does not live by asteya may be driven to perform acts of theft in things that they desire, whether this is by taking the possessions of others without permission, using something for a different purpose than intended, or extending the time allowed to borrow the belonging, the yogi knows that they do not need anything more in life and reduces their physical needs to the minimum. If they gather things that they don’t really need, they see themselves as a thief. Freedom from craving allows a person to resist temptations. Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam means that a person living in the principle of asteya will find that treasures will appear to themselves. As they realise that possessions belonging to others are not more attractive than what they already have then this will attract treasures of a material and non-material nature to them.
    • The fourth principle is Brahmacharya which means celibacy and self-restraint. A brahmachari is one who practices brahmacharya and is able to see divinity is all. This does not mean that yoga is only for people who want to remain celibate, infact many yogis and sages of the old india were married with families. Brahmacharis do not see sex as a necessity to penetrate others. Brahmacharya pratisthayam virya labhah means that when a bramachari lives like Brahma (god), celibacy comes naturally, it is not created and practiced, as this leads to suppression. According to this principle, sex can exist in the forms of anger, violence, theft and jealousy and a brahmachari finds strength and courage.
    • The last principle of Yama is called aparigraha, which means non-possession, or to be free from hoarding. This includes non-possessiveness and absence of greed. This means that one person should not keep things that they do not need. A yogi trains his mind to not feel the loss or lack of anything, once this is achieved the things that the individual really needs will appear to them at the right time. Aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah means that possessing has no meaning, the energy that appears when one is established with aparigraha will allow them to know the past and future, knowing hidden things. When one knows that nothing can be owned, their energy moves inward, and you are immersed in the present
  • The second limb is called Niyama and means self purification by discipline including freedom from all observances. Niyama also controls a person’s passions and emotions.
    • The first principle within Niyama is Saucha, which means that the purity of blood is essential for wellbeing. There are practices of asanas which cleanse our body physically and practices like pranayama which cleans our bodies internally. It is essential for our bodies to be cleansed of the mind for disturbing emotions such as hatred, passio, lust, greed, anger, delusion and pride, which are considered impure thoughts. This cleansing can be done in the practice of bhakti, meaning adoration and svadhyaya, the study of the self. These practices help to vanish mental pain, sorrow, despair and dejection and help to nourish radiance, love and joy. When one practices saucha they see their real selves and know that their body is a temple. Sauchat sva-anga jugupsa paraih asamsargah means that a saucha includes disillusion about the body. When one is very much concerned about the appearance of their body they search for another body to feel self gratification, which can be mistaken for love but it is not love. Love is not about the body, the soul feels comfortable when not in a crowd, but the body yearns for other bodies. When one realises that mental purity has power, the control of the senses, joyfulness and concentration occur. 
    • The next principle is Santoshha, which means contentment, finding joy in every moment. A mind that is not content cannot concentrate. When differences arise, conflict occurs and the mind cannot reach a point of one (ekagra), and peace is unachievable. In everyday life we get pleasure out of external objects created internally, never appreciating what we already have. Due to this we are never content, because we are always seeking for something else, which we cannot get. The mind does not have the capacity to be content, that would mean destruction of the mind, and the mind simply cannot allow that. By achieving a point of santosha, the mind does not have its function anymore and samadhi can occur. 
    • The third principal is tapa which means a burning effort to achieve a definite goal, including self-discipline, austerity and purification. Tapas is the effort to achieve union with the divine and burning out all desired which may stand in the way of achieving this goal. This aim makes life worthy, pure and divine. It can come in 3 parts including the body, speech and mind. Ahimsa and brahmacharya are tapas from the body. Satya is a tapa of speech, speaking the truth and retaining self control is a tapa of the mind. Fasting, yoga, deep breathing, natural eating are examples of austerities which transform impurities within the body. It is not torturing the body but purifying it. These austerities will create new energies and new possibilities for an individual performing in them.
    • The fourth principle is Swadhyaya, meaning self study. When one performs in swadhyaya he is essentially studying and educating themselves about themself. Through doing this the individual will realise that all of life and creation is made for bhakti (adoration) rather than bhoga (enjoyment), that everything that is, is divine. Divinity lies within oneself and within everything else, that the energy that lies within oneself is the same energy that lies within everything that exists within the universe. Self study includes how we view ourselves, how we think others view ourselves, our view of the world, how we relate to people, how we change around others, how we react to things, whether or not we show jealousy, possessiveness. All this study makes us become self aware and alert, allowing us to notice what goes on in our lives and eventually disattach from the identity and emotions towards those actions and thoughts. All the emotions and moods that appear will be witnessed, not letting anything be missed, and when they are witnessed, they disappear.
    • The last principle of Niyama is Ishwara-pranidha, which means that the worship of the lord and seeing him within us allows us to surrender the ego. One who knows that he lies within all of creation cannot have pride or ego. Total surrender of the go is required and must be surrendered without negativity inside, only purity is able to surrender. By knowing oneself, only then can surrender happen. When the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ disappears then the soul has reached full growth

Yoga: A Therapy for Kyphosis

Everyday life can have major impacts on our muscular and skeletal systems. From the way we stand and sit to the pressure that we put on our bodies doing daily activities can have lasting impacts throughout the years. One major result of poor prolonged sitting posture is kyphosis, which is when the thoracic vertebrae are rounded exaggeratedly. It is normal for the spine to have a slight curve in the thoracic area, however a kypho spine can resemble the letter ‘C’ in extreme cases. It affects posture, flexibility and can lead to pain in the upper back. Many practitioners recommend yoga to individuals who experience the rounding of the spine as it can help to properly align the spine. One of the poses that helps alleviate kyphosis is mountain pose. Standing up straight, properly aligning the spine and shifting the shoulders back so that the shoulders are aligned will help to push the curve back to a normal amount. Marjaryasana, or cat pose, is also another posture that aids in kyphosis. It is done by going to table top position and slowly arching the back and then pressing it up (cow) repeatedly. This helps to stretch the spine, in a way that it may not experience during daily activities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) is one of the most popular poses for realignment of the spine as it also builds strength within the erector spinae muscles. Matsyasana is another posture which helps to correct the curve of the spine. Due to the movement of the shoulder blades drawn together, this helps to open up the chest, and relieve any tightness within the pectorals major and minor which could be causing the need to round the shoulders. This fish pose targets the erector spinae muscles as well, helping to build strength within the back to create the proper strength to keep the spine straight. Bhujangasana or Cobra pose is another very therapeutic posture for rounded shoulders and curved spines as it involves the opening of the chest and curving on the spine towards the back, counteracting the forward facing curve of kyphosis. Chest opening and erector spinae strengthening postures are very important for aiding kyphosis as the shoulder muscles, including the pectoralis major and minor, and the subclavius are stretched and therefore the tension built from kyphosis decreases. The shoulders are then free to externally rotate back to the proper alignment. Kyphosis also causes the rotator cuff muscles to be weakened and therefore poses that require the conscious external rotation of the shoulder blades to squeeze them together, such as warrior 1, utthita/parivritta trikonasana, Prasarita padottanasana series, dandasana, purvottanasana and many more are very therapeutic to properly align the spine.

Meditative Processes to Increase Well-Being

Meditation is an ancient technique that has been around for thousands of years. It includes the focus of your attention into your senses, such as hearing, vision, physical feelings, taste, and smells to calm the mind of jumbled thoughts. This practice is meant to eliminate stress and enhance emotional well being by immersing yourself in the present moment. Meditation teaches us to ‘notice’ sensational information around us including any information given by the senses, plus noticing thoughts. by just noticing thoughts, we stop any emotions attachment to them. By considering them appearances in consciousness, rather than our true emotions. Meditation can also teach us to feel our emotions physically rather than mentally, this also helps us to detach from any mental emotional feeling related to the thought. The benefits of meditation are amazing! Physically what happens in your brain when you’ve been meditating for a while is that the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for fear and emotional processing actually shrinks in volume, whereas the parts of the brain that are responsible for happiness, increase in volume. These effects can occur with just 8 weeks of daily meditation. Meditation also allows us to see stressful daily situations in a new perspective so as to be able to deal with them better and more efficiently. With the negative emotional feelings out of the way, this leaves space for more imagination, patience, creativity, tolerance and love. There has been some new research found in meditation that suggests that the body actually create antibodies whilst meditating. The impacts that these antibodies may have has not yet fully been discovered, however this could suggest that meditation may be useful in curing diseases and illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders, headaches, chronic pain, asmtha and depression. During meditation, the focus of your mind to one specific body part actually makes the body send more blood to that area, therefore allowing it to heal faster. 

Pranayama is a practice of breath work. It translates to life energy control and includes inhaling and exhaling and holding your breath in specific ways. There are countless techniques within pranayama including controlling the timing, duration and the frequency of each breath. The goal of pranayama is to supply the body with oxygen and remove any negative toxins out from the body. Its benefits include the deduction of stress as it calms down the nervous system and increases oxygen flow to the vital organs including the brain and nerves. One interesting thing we learned in class was that the left nadi is responsible for melatonin, which calms and cooled the body down. The right nadi is responsible for serotonin which energies the body. Pranayama can both calm the body down as well as prepare the body for the day, energise and refresh. Through its stress relieving properties it also improves sleep quality through reaching a state of mindfulness and slowing the heart rate. It has also been found to reduce high blood pressure and hypertension by calming the nervous system. As pranayama includes many techniques that expand and strengthen the lungs, this can aid in lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and helps recovery from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Pranayama has also been found to improve executive function, which are cognitive process that includes everyday skills such as memory, flexible thinking and self control. With these functions working properly in the brain it allows for a more focused mind that is able to handle emotions and daily activities more efficiently.

Mudras are gestures done using the hands which balance the energy within the body. They are usually used in the time of meditation and different kinds of mudras have different effects. They can change the mood, and perception of a person performing them. One type of Mudra is the Gyan mudra which is performed by touring the thumb and index finger of the left hand together. This mudra helps to relax the body and stimulate the brain. The thumb represent the fire element, whereas the index finger represents the air element. together they evoke wisdom, improve concentration and relieve stress. The varun mudra is performed by connecting the pink finger and thumb. The pinky finger represents the water element and through this connection, this mudra helps to promote beauty and health. It can help with dehydration, as it includes the water element, balancing the water within the body. It helps alleviate cramps in the muscles, dryness of skin, mouth, throat and eyes.

The Power of the Chakras

Yoga Philosophy

Kundalini is the kinaesthetic energy that is created when prana circles around the body. It moves through the 7 chakras. The sahasrara chakra is the crown chakra and it is located at the crown of the head. It corresponds biologically with the pineal gland, which is located in the hypothalamus at the base of the brain. This chakra is associated with cosmic consciousness, enlightenment and understanding. The hypothalamus in the brain is responsible for many activities such as energy maintenance, memorising, stress control, body temperature and it is directly connected to the pituitary gland which corresponds to Ajna Chakra, the third eye. I have been meditating for about a year now and in the last few months I had noticed that I started to feel pressure in between my eyebrows when I was meditating. From learning and researching more about the chakras and their correspondents to the glands in our body, I realised that this was the Ajna chakra, pituitary gland that I was feeling. I learned that this may be because my third eye was starting to open, that I was possibly starting to ‘see’. After learning this, I started to focus my attention on my third eye and noticed that the feeling of pressure expanded. Learning about the other chakras, like the sahasrara and its connection to the pineal gland, I was then able to focus my meditation on more than one chakra at a time. As we learned in class if you focus your meditation on a chakra then it will become stronger. It may sound completely crazy but I was able to focus my attention on both my Ajna and Sahasrara chakra, and even felt the connection between them within my own head. Something miraculous happened after a while and I believe I entered a very brief period of deep trance. Trance experiences happen when I meditate, however this brief moment was a much deeper state of trance than I had ever felt before. 

Within the time in the classroom, I also learned which of my chakras was possibly at a lower frequency, and this was the Vishuddha chakra, throat chakra. When I had learned this, I knew it to be true, I do sometimes experience difficulty in communicating my truth to others. During my mediation practice, I therefore tried to focus my attention on this chakra so as to hopefully increase its power. Sirsasana is known as the king of all yoga poses as the hypothalamus sends information to the pituitary gland which sends information to the other glands. The headstand activates the pituitary gland and through practicing the headstand repeatedly, I have noticed a difference within my confidence to speak within the class and to express my own personality. Hopefully this means my chakras are balancing! Knowing that teaching requires a good amount of self confidence I also focused my mediation on the Manipura chakra, solar plexus, to increase my self confidence and will. Whenever I have meditated in the past and now, I have always noticed a great, powerful energetic feeling within my chest and heart region, suggesting that my Anahata, heart, chakra is quite strong. Learning about chakras has been one of the most interesting topics I have learned because in a way they are not scientifically proven but from experience, I can feel their energetic vibrations within me and their correspondence to the endocrine system, and how they make me feel. Another theory that I had, which I am not completely sure is correct, is that I have always had flexible or open hip joints and used to do ballet for many years of my life, which includes a lot of hip opening postures. I feel as though my Muladhara chakra is open, or at a reasonable frequency, as I feel like I have always known my path or have always felt a strong magnetic pull towards the topic of psychology in my life. Whether I have deviated my interest from the grounded topic of psychology into for example music or meditations, it has always come from a place of interest within psychology. 

On another topic, learning about the foods of the 3 gunas and pranic and apranic foods have made me more conscious about what I eat. A bit more than a year ago I stopped eating meat, however I have recently started eating meat again as I have come back to Singapore on holiday and really enjoy singaporean dishes, and I find them so hard to resist! However, since eating tamasic food again, I have noticed my body transform into states of tiredness very easily, as this type of food creates inertia and therefore is considered lethargic. The negative pranic foods include garlic, onion, chilli peppers, eggplant, vinegar, cacao, cocoa, coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco. When I first started this class, I would come back home and roast some vegetables including eggplant, onion, and garlic. However since learning of these negative impacts to prana (life force) within the body, I attempted to stop eating them to see if there would be a change in my state of consciousness. Negative pranic food leads to a duller and less refined state of consciousness, aka its harmful to the mind and body. It can cause stress to any physical organs. So far I have cut out all of the apranic foods on that list, except for coffee (my guilty pleasure!). Since cutting these foods out about a week ago, I have noticed a very big difference in my overall mental state. Although I am not 100% sure if this has been due to my increasing amount of mediation, or because I feel very comfortable being in the class with all of the people in it, I feel very positive everyday about each session, and notice that I am able to apply deeper states of consciousness when practicing the postures.