The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Step 1: Yama: non-violent, non-covetousness, non-theft, truth seeking, continence

Step 2: Niyama: cleanliness, contentment, austerities, surrender to God, scripture study

Step 3: Asana: poses and physical exercises

Step 4: Pranayama: extending our life force energy

Step 5: Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses

Step 6: Dharana: concentration of the mind on the Self

Step 7: Dhyana: concentration and subsequent energy on an object

Step 8: Samadhi: Superconcious state achieved via meditation

 

Introduction

The 8 Limbs of Yoga are split into 2 groups.Group 1 contains the first 5 steps and is referred to as the external group because it deals with mind and matter.Group 2 contains the last 3 steps and is referred to as the internal group because it deals with the mind and the soul.Steps 3, 4 and 5 allow the student to develop concentration through the practice of posture (asanas), breathing (pranayama) and the withdrawal of senses (Pratyahara).
Asanas and Pranayama are physical elements and thus allow our minds to maybe wander away from the true perspective of Yoga. Step 5, Pratyahara acts as a stepping stone to Dharana, first allowing a student to observe oneself before developing concentration in step 6.

Yama and Niyama

Steps 1 and 2, Yama and Niyama are considered to be moral training and practiced or inherent within us before the physical act of Yoga has even begun. If the student is absent of these first 2 steps, then no amount of Yoga will be beneficial.

The more Yoga that is practiced, the more benefits will be experienced by the student. A development of moral and core physical strength will enhance the student’s life in general. It is advised that if possible, physical and mental practice should be done every day to strengthen the mind and body and also the union between mind and body.

 Asana

It is important that the student should find a posture in which he/she can remain in for a long time in preparation for meditation. Again, through regular practice, the student will achieve whatever position they choose and also be suitably ready for the practice of meditation.

During meditation the neck, head and chest should stay in a straight line, thus opening the body and the body should be supported by the spine and the ribcage. If the body remains open and straight, the process of meditation will become easier allowing for greater focus and concentration and a better meditative experience.

One form of Yoga that concentrates on the many physical and mental exercises, breathing exercises (pranayama) and breath control is Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga prepares the body for meditation.

That type of Yoga that concentrates on chants and the repetition of mantras (japa) is called Mantra Yoga.

Yoga that focuses on the transfer and movement of energy is Laya Yoga. This is ancient method of meditation that’s focuses primarily on the chakras and the awakening of the Kundalini. The practice of Laya Yoga locates and works on the individual chakras.

The principles of Raja Yoga also referred to as Royal Yoga lay in the idea that the world that we see and feel are created from within our own minds (Self) and we see ourselves (Self) in every object.

 Pranayama

Many people consider the term ‘pranayama’ to mean breathing exercises, although this is partly true, the full meaning of the word is in its Sanskrit translation. ‘Prana’ translated is ‘life force’ or ‘vital energy’ and ‘Yama’ translated is ‘to extend’. From this translation, pranayama means to extend our life force or extend our vital energy.

 Pratyahara

Pratyahara translated means withdrawal of the senses. During practice a conscious effort is made to lessen the awareness of the external environment and any external distractions and concentrate on the internal. Pratyahara allows the student to step out of Self and observe specific elements of their lives that may hinder inner development. The practice of Pratyahara prepares the student for the next stage, Dharana.

 Dharana

Dharana translated means concentration. After completing Pratyahara and eradicating external distractions it is time to contemplate distractions occurring in the mind. During Dharana the student will concentrate on a specific item in the mind, japa or silent repetition of a mantra, or focusing the attention on a chakra.

 

 Dhyana

Dhyana translated means meditation. The meanings of Dhyana (meditation) and Dharana (concentration) seem to overlap in their meanings. The important difference being that Dharana is focused on a single object or mantra whereas Dhyana requires the student simply to be aware with no specific focus. During Dhyana there exists a stillness and clarity of mind. Because of our ‘monkey minds’, this stillness of mind, initially may be difficult to achieve but with regular practice of this and the other steps, Dhyana will be realised.

 Samadhi

The ultimate goal is to reach Samadhi, a level of meditation where the mind is completely still and concentrated. It is a state of intense concentration and is considered to be the final stage in Yoga where union with the divine is finally achieved.

The term Samadhi is used in many different Eastern traditions such as Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Jainism and variations of meaning exist

Savikalpa Samadhi

In the state of Savikalpa Samadhi the student is absent of human consciousness and there is a natural peace and tranquillity of the mind meaning there is no thought. All the materialistic desires, worries, etc. are non-existent and the student will experience a sense of fulfilment and last for several minutes to several hours.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi

In the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi there is no mind. It is said that there is an infinite consciousness of bliss and peace and that the student becomes at one with the divine.

There exists a state of nonduality (see below for explanation of nonduality) and no relationship or experience of any object either internal or external. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the student would not be able to function in the world.

“Nonduality is a philosophy, which states that there is only One Eternal Spirit in existence, and everything in the Universe was created by it and is an inseparable part of it. At the same time, nonduality also says that the world isn’t real, but is an illusion perceived by the mind.”

 http://meditation4all.co.uk/tag/non-duality

Sahaja Samadhi

In the state of Sahaja Samadhi, the student can retain the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi but also be able to function in the world and remain at one with the divine.

This is the highest form of Samadhi and very rare and experienced only by gurus of the highest order.

 

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There have been many scientific studies into the benefits of regular meditation practice to improve the mind, body and general well-being.  Some of the benefits include lower levels of stress and anxiety leading to improved health, clearer thinking and thought processes and greater creativity. When we meditate, our brains initially  function between 9-14 cycles per second, this is Alpha state. To achieve this state we must first transition from Beta state.

The frequency of beta waves is 15-30 waves/cycles per second and occur when you are alert and awake, thus our brains are in Beta most of the time. Increasing the brains beta waves may lead to higher levels of concentration, increase motivation, increased energy and increased focus but too many beta waves may result in stress, this type of brainwave is more prevalent in adults as opposed to children who generally function at Alpha level.

Some of the benefits of increased Beta waves include:

Increased Focus: A lack of focus leading to lack of clarity can be incredibly frustrating. Increasing your beta brainwaves will re-establish your focus and may subsequently increase your focus leading to more clarity and greater productivity.

Issue Resolution: Issues can be resolved rationally and logically. ‘Thinking’ processes are accelerated allowing quicker conclusions and resolutions.

Quicker Thinking: Increased beta wave activity will increase your concentration levels and focus which will lead to quicker thinking.

Increase in Energy Levels: People that have low beta activity generally have low energy levels. Increase your energy levels by listening to Beta music and thus increasing your Beta brainwaves.

Higher IQ: Studies have proved that people with increased levels of beta activity tend to have higher IQ. With increased focus, it is easier to  learn and retain information.

Extremely high levels of activity will manifest in high intense levels of energy and excitement. The brainwave activity of athletes will naturally be at a higher levels enabling increased performance, the competition leads to high levels of anxiety, increased adrenaline determination.

Modern technology has allowed us as practitioners to experience the different brainwaves and thus benefit from regular practice. One modern technique is brainwave entrainment and uses the stimulus of sound to entrain your brain. With regular practice you will be access the brainwaves at will.

 

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Alpha WaveBrainwave entrainment is an increasingly popular method that allows you to reach a particular brainwave state via the use of audio technology. The technology used in the practice of meditation for the purpose of brainwave entrainment is binaural beats. A different sound wave is played in each ear through one piece of music; your brain will recognize that there are differences and create a third wave. It is third wave that we try to achieve. For the purpose of this discussion, there are 4 brainwave states, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. In this article we discuss the Alpha Brainwave State.

The frequencies of the brain vary depending on what a person is doing at a specific time whether that is being creative, exercising, sleeping or general day to day activities.

Alpha waves frequency range from 7 to 14 hertz or cycles per second and typically occur when we are asleep but the transition from Beta waves starts when we are totally relaxed (typically 14 cycles per second), almost in a dreamlike phase. Meditation starts at this level ultimately creating a sense of inner calm and peace and opening up the ability to heal.  When we meditate for a period of time, the effects are similar to that of a good night’s sleep in that the body and mind feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

Have you ever been a situation whereby overthinking or over analysing leads to less or zero creativity and ends up creating a negative feel to the point where it is necessary to walk away and forget about it for a while, and coming back later on helps to think from a different perspective. Imagine the thought and creativity that could be achieved after a meditation session.

The benefits of the brain being in alpha state include improved concentration, clearer thought and mental processes, a release of tension, stress and anxiety which allows better decision making abilities, stimulation in imagination and creativity.

With regular practice and allowing the brain to reach deeper levels, the ability for your brain to reach Alpha state will become habitual and a lot easier, allowing you to fall asleep easier thus achieving consistently good nights of sleep which in itself has many health benefits such as an improvement in your immune system and a decrease in the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) produced ultimately slowing down the aging process.

Depending on the environment in which you meditate will determine the effectiveness of your meditation session. It is important to find a quiet environment in which distractions are minimal. Reaching Alpha state will become easier the more you practice.

  • Begin by taking deep, slow breaths until you are in a more relaxed state and your brain starts to feel clearer and less cluttered.
  • Whilst you are breathing deeply and slowly, focus on your breathing, all the time being aware of the Alpha music playing in the background.
  • Once relaxed, visualize the number 10 slowly and gradually being transformed into the number 9, then being transformed into the number 8 and so on until you reach the number 1. Visualizing these numbers will trigger the part of your mind responsible for the alpha frequency.
  • Reciprocate this exercise by starting from 1 and again transforming each number into the next until reaching the number 10.
  • At the end, open your eyes and become aware of your environment allowing your body and mind to readjust to reality.

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Meditation on Insomnia

Many people suffer from insomnia and the numbers continue to grow. Insomnia may be caused by different factors including work, family, generally the stresses and strains of everyday life. Insomnia is said to be a common cause of several different diseases and health issues such as heart attacks, strokes, hypertension and other vascular diseases.

If insomnia is not treated immediately, it may lead to one of the above mentioned health issues. People that suffer with insomnia try many different methods to combat this issue such as consultations with physicians, self medication (not advisable) but one of the best ways is through the practice of meditation, especially guided meditation. Regular meditation sessions will relieve the negative effects of insomnia, as well as reduce the unnecessary worries and anxieties of daily life.

 

Guided Meditation for Insomnia

 

A person will experience sleepless or unsettled nights when the brain continues to work even if they are in the ‘state’ of going to sleep (alpha brainwaves). Some people still have and active state of mind (beta brainwaves) even though they are in the course of going to sleep. Stress causes this scenario and thus meditation is one of the best ways to combat this. Meditation will help relax your mind and allow you to fall into a deeper sleep more quickly.

 

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The term meditation refers to a unified state where the body is consciously relaxed and the mind has become silent, calm and focused. Meditation is a very effective practice that helps the practitioner to relax our the body and mind at a very deep level, which ultimately has many physical, mental and emotional benefits.

Benefits of Meditation:

Some of the benefits of meditation include:-

relaxation and relief from tension and stress.
improvement in  health and a  boost to the immune system.
improvement in focus and concentration.
an increase in creativity ability and cognitive function.
development of  self-awareness and personal growth.

Meditation is a completely natural practice that has been passed down between the generations, over thousands of years by many different cultures.

Why Do People Meditate?

Many practitioners may have many different reasons as to why they practice meditation. Some of these include:-

They are aware of the benefits of meditation and would like to improve their own lives.
They are constantly tense, worried, sad, depressed or suffer from anxiety.
They wish to improve their physical health.
They want to be able to deal with  the stresses of daily life, family, work and money.
They have addiction issues.
They feel lonely or empty.
They are in need of guidance and direction.
They would like to increase spontaneity and creativity.
They want to experience more joy and happiness.
It is a part of their own spiritual practice.
They want to find inner peace and contentment.

Meditation is really a celebration of life.

More benefits of meditation

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