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8 Limbs of Yoga: Asana, Pranayama &

By Sydney and Kevin Light

Patanjali’s 2300-year-old Yoga Sutra contains a progressive series of
disciplines, which chart a roadmap to the highest possible state of
human potential, God-Realization. This article is the second installment
of a three part series discussing the Eight Limbs of Yoga (ashta-anga-
yoga). It will present the third, fourth, and fifth angas; asana (physical
postures), pranayama (breath control), and pratyahara (sense


Where does the body end and the mind begin? Where does the mind
end and the Spirit begin? They cannot be divided as they are all inter-
related and but different aspects of the same all-pervading Divine
consciousness.” B.K.S. Iyengar

In the practice of asana, the third limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path,
awareness of body and breath are melded to bring the mind under
control. Patanjali describes asana as the extension of the body through
relaxation, resulting in the expansion of consciousness. Asana provides
us with a training ground for meeting life’s challenges with composure.
Practicing asana also has profound health benefits, but that is just a
fortunate side effect of the spiritual journey.

A skin cell in our big toe knows how to become a skin cell in our big
toe. Our bodies have an instinctual intelligence, even at the cellular
level. Consciousness sees no boundary between body, mind or spirit.
Since they are just different levels on which we exist, we cannot affect
one without affecting all.

The practice of asana balances us both physically and energetically,
promotes muscle and joint flexibility and massages toxins out of our
internal organs. Each of the regions of our body where the seven
major energy centers, chakras, are found has an associated endocrine
gland. For example the ajna chakra corresponds with the pineal gland,
which produces melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating our
biorhythms. Asana regulates our endocrine (glandular) system by
enhancing the flow of prana (life-force) throughout our body.

The entire asana practice is built around our spine, keeping it flexible

This quality makes the body an invaluable tool. perfecting the body into its adamantine (light body) form in preparation for the increased flow of shakti. we have set the context for union. In the Tantric tradition the third limb is designed to burn away all impurities. With our mind in the present and our conscious breath and movement as one. the embodiment of spirit in the physical realm. Often it is simply the act of bringing our consciousness to bear on a line of energy that allows it to fortify and strengthen. mind and spirit. and allowing things to take their natural course. so that we can surrender into them. By coming deeper into our body we come deeper into the present moment where our perception is not clouded by an attachment to the past or an anticipation of the future.and strong so the sacred energy housed within can flow unimpeded. exhale through them. When practicing asana we utilize the other limbs of yoga to listen more deeply to the body intelligence. which accompanies the state of enlightenment. Taking control of the breath is the first step to having conscious . The human mind with its tendency to get caught in illusion often races forward and backward in time. and allow the contractions to melt away. Yoga. a gateway into the Now. we allow our consciousness to pervade uniformly into all aspects of our being. or union with the Divine. or yoga to occur. The same inward focused awareness can also be used to isolate places of resistance in our bodies and psyche where energy is ‘stuck’. integrating body. Pranayama is the main technique used by the hatha-yogin to draw the “serpent power” (kundalini-shakti) up the spine’s central energetic channel (sushumna-nadi) to the crown chakra. looking inside and feeling the internal lines of energy in a pose. is the link between our subtle (mind) and gross (body) levels of existence. is a key element in all paths of yoga. sahasrara. Surrendering our idea of how we think it should be. Our bodies by their very nature can only exist in the present. can only occur when our mind is brought into the present moment. Pranayama Our breath. By breathing and moving in synchronization with the utmost attentiveness. By employing the natural expansive quality of our inhale breath we can extend our body deeper into a posture while minimizing the use of external muscular effort. When we practice asana each movement is the furthest extension of our breath.

Goraksha-Paddhati. emotional and spiritual aspects. riding the breath with their awareness down inside the body to explore all the subtleties of the associated movements and sensations. The yogi uses the breath as a vehicle. Conscious breathing allows our perception to surpass where our five senses can take us so that we may have direct contact with the most eternal part of ourselves. However. our soul. Pranayama. is the action of withdrawing our senses from the outer world and focusing them inward. By slowing our breath we also slow both our mind and the rate at which we grow old. It is through the breath that the changes and healings. Most of the stress we experience in our daily lives comes from an overload of mind-noise (chitta vrtts). ‘As the tortoise retracts its limbs into the middle of the body. “The temple of God is . effectively reducing the level of background mind-noise.control over our mental and physical states. by slowing our breath we can slow the frequency with which our thoughts occur. which occur during the yoga practice. the fifth ‘limb’ of the eightfold path. but by how many breaths he or she takes. which we can experience through the science of yoga. similar to the way the ocean’s waves continually break on the shore. so the yogin should withdraw the senses into one’s self. Pratyahara Pratyahara. are able to penetrate beyond our most surface. Yogis control the breath in order to have peace of mind (chitta-shanti). is the discipline of consciously extending and controlling each breath so that we may retain more of the prana it holds.’ All of the spiritual masters who laid down footprints for us to follow directed us inward on our path to oneness. the fourth stage of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. They occur in a ‘rolling’ process. In the normal course of our everyday existence breathing is an involuntary act. The ancient hatha-yoga text. This helps to draw our senses inward (pratyahara) while calming the nervous system and clearing the mind in preparation for meditation (dhyana). into our energetic. The yogi’s life is not measured by how many years he or she lives. We retain very little of the life-force (prana) contained in our breath. Stress is a primary cause of aging and illness. uses the following analogy to describe pratyahara. physical being. Our thoughts are inseparably linked to our breath. We cannot completely stop our thoughts from coming. Breath is the key to the transformation.

as expounded in the Gnostic Gospels. freedom from being run by the mind.” -Sri Ramana Maharshi. is based on the tenet.” -Socrates. where we are surrounded by vast blue stillness (sama). By searching the silence and the stillness we set up the context for meditation (dhyana) to occur. When we observe from the perspective of our mind. To observe from here is to see from the perspective of what Buddhists call the ‘heart-mind. “Know thyself and all else will be known. “The mind makes a good servant.’ Pratyahara. .” -Rama Krishna. we are observing from the surface of the ocean. can also be our greatest obstacle if not brought under control. that magnificent tool which can lead us to liberation. allowing our senses to adapt and focus. beyond where our eyes can see. It is in this space of pure potentiality between our thoughts where union is achieved. and listen inwardly to the silence. There is freedom in this discipline. but a lousy master. When practicing pratyahara we pull our point of view way down beneath the surface. which exists in the space between our thoughts. From this serene depth we continue to see the waves as tiny ripples.” -Jesus of Nazareth. Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna how the mind can be brought under control through constant practice (abhyasa) and freedom from desire (vairagya).within you. Early Christianity. wrought with turbulence and waves caused by our senses and desires. Our mind. The process is not unlike stepping into a dark room out of a bright sunny day. This viewpoint is the second attention. and it is from this space that all creativity flows. is essential to gaining the knowledge of which the great ones speak. or witness state.’ In the Bhagavad-Gita. so that we may perceive at a more subtle level. Consider our physical embodiment as if it were an ocean. When practicing pratyahara we use our imagination and intuition to look inside. “Know Thyself. The entire yoga practice is a discipline whereby we shift and endeavor to maintain our perspective so that we are witnessing the present moment from the clarity of the heart-mind as opposed to observing through the distortion of our thoughts and senses. ‘To know oneself at the deepest level is to simultaneously know God. and then waiting for our eyes to adjust to the lower level of light so that we may see. the act of exclusively focusing our powers of perception inward. but from some distance away so that they have no power to sway us.

“The entire Universe is condensed in the All Rights Reserved.Withdrawing our powers of perception allows us to disengage the external. A precious gift has been preserved and passed down to us through the ages: the science of transformation we know as yoga.Sri Ramana Maharshi Sydney and Kevin Light are Santa Monica based yoga teachers and co- founders of BhaktiWare. Reach them at CoaleLightYoga. those same senses should then be actively brought to bear on our inner world. a methodology by which each of us can gain direct experiential knowledge of God. Thus the heart is the nucleus of the whole Universe. The Eight Limbs. The answer to our deepest questions and longings can be obtained through the art of listening at this most profound tuning ourselves to be receptive to ever more subtle levels of existence beyond the physical.” . however. Copyright © 2002-2006 LA Yoga Ayurveda & Health Magazine . when practiced together offer a system. and the entire body in the heart.