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Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

Jessica Sunshine Klein
8.14.11 Sunday 7pm - Meditation based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
Saraswati Andrea Lee and Chitra Jessica Sunshine
Starseed Yoga and Wellness of Montclair, NJ

OM Shanti call and response opening chant.  Introductions - name and favorite activity.

Yoga Theory ~ Ashtanga Yoga
Today we'll begin class with a bit of yoga philosophy. As we've discussed, yoga is a holistic science that helps promote peace and freedom from suffering in very precise and practical ways. Last week we touched upon the eight-limbed philosophy of yoga which is known as Ashtanga yoga or Raja yoga. Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.29 is the first place where this path is described. The sutras that follow give specific guidance for any seeker on the yoga path. I like to use the imagery of a tree to help illustrate the way the eight yoga practices fit together to refine the ethical body, the physical body and the mental body.

We begin our journey at the roots with the ethical precepts that govern how we interact in the world with other beings along with precepts to keep in mind as we progress on our spiritual journey. In Sanskrit these ten principles are called the yamas and the niyamas . The five yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation (in body and mind) and non-greed. By practicing these ideals we bring yoga off the mat and into the lives. The yamas are relevant at work, school, home, even in the car when someone cuts you off. Keeping these principles in mind will teach you more than you could imagine and will also deepen your practice on the mat. The five niyamas help to nurture the self and promote longevity, zeal and courage on your spiritual path. The niyamas are purity of body and mind, contentment, discipline, self study and surrender to a higher source. Together these ten principles, which we will discuss in depth in the upcoming weeks, help to answer the question of how to integrate yoga into our daily lives even when we are not in class or on the cushion doing our seated meditation.

Moving up from the roots and into the trunk of this mystical tree we find the next three limbs -- asana, pranayama, and pratyahara. All three deal with the physical body; control over the movements of the body and the breath, and withdrawal of the senses. Asana and pranayama ensure that the body is fit for meditation. Pratyahara trains the body to avoid distractions of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The classic depiction of pratyahara is of a tortoise retreating into its shell. Pratyahara does not require you to move into a cave and live alone. The practice is a much more subtle process of drawing the senses within and redirecting our attention from external stimulation to internal contemplation.

The final three limbs are dharana, dhyana and samadhi , or the branches of our tree. These three practices are intimately linked and come fluidly one after another. Dharana is the act of binding the mind to one object, place or idea. Dharana is a way of preparing for meditation because it creates a one-pointed environment within the mind. Through dharana we develop the concentration we need to work through distracting thoughts and as we begin to direct our attention to pleasing and uplifting objects we move into dhyana or meditation. You could say that when we sit on our mats we practice both dharana and dhyana. We are still dealing with distracting thoughts but we've established a one-pointed flow of attention on something that is peaceful and clear. As our practice continues and the distracting thoughts wane, we begin to experience longer periods of dhyana where the flow is neither disturbed nor broken. When we begin to integrate with our object of meditation we get a glimpse of the eighth limb, samadhi.

What is your definition of meditation?  A mind in meditation is one that is peaceful, clear, and one-pointed.  Think about the activity you chose at the beginning of class as being your favorite.  During this activity, is your mind peaceful, clear, and one-pointed?  If so, then you are doing meditation in action.  For me, gardening is my meditation, because when my hands are in the soil, nothing except the plants best interest is on my mind.  My mind is peacful, clear, and one-pointed.  Just me and the plants.  Many of us are engaging in meditation without evening knowing it.  Mindfulness of what we are doing leads to concentration.  Extended periods of concentration lead to meditation.  Practice being fully present with all that you do, and you are practicing meditation.

Know the goal, live the journey. Samadhi
In short, samadhi is unity. There are several levels/stages of samadhi but the one we will be discussing tonight is the first stage which you might experience during meditation or spiritual service. Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.41 states, "Just as naturally pure crystal assumes shapes and colors of objects placed near it, so the yogi's mind, with its totally weakened modifications, becomes clear and balanced and attains the state devoid of differentiation between knower, knowable, and knowledge. This culmination of meditation is samadhi."

Let's break this down: the yogi obtains a clear mind by lessening the fluctuations of the mind through continuous meditation. In this state the mind becomes like a crystal with the ability to take on the form of the object of meditation and break down the borders between the object and the meditator. Up to this point we've been dealing with the object of meditation (the knowable) and ourselves (the knowers) as two separate entities. In samadhi we mentally merge with the object. This is pretty radical considering how much time we spend distinguishing ourselves from each other and from other animate and inanimate things. In yoga we begin to release those labels and distinctions and come together. If we can do so with an object like an image or mantra how powerful it would be to find that unity with other beings. It could be argued that part of what keeps us in bondage is all of the boxes that we stick ourselves into and that keep us from knowing our True Nature. Yoga seeks to unite and part of our journey is about tearing down the physical and mental barriers that separate us. When we meditate we begin to do this and we begin to merge either with the sounds of our mantra or perhaps the flickering light of a candle. With that unity comes fearlessness, freedom, peace and joy.

Distracting Thoughts
It is natural to have distracting thoughts, or else we wouldn't need to practice meditation.  Consider this example.  Let's say you are working in your office on the computer.  You are typing something very important and all of a sudden there is a knock at your closed door.  Do you a) ignore it, keep your focus and continue typing, or b) stop your work, lose your focus and get up to answer the door?  The mind is the same way in mediation.  If you have a distracting thought, first of all, accept it and know it is completely natural.  Also, know that you have a choice whether you ignore it or answer it.  If you give the distracting thought energy by acknowledging it, then it is strengthened.  But if you ignore it, you strengthen your mind.  It takes practice, but we all can achieve this eternal peace through the practice of meditation.

Kapaalabhaati Pranayama
Today's pranayama is called Kapaalabhaati . It is also known as the skull shining or skull cleansing pranayama. This method of pranayama is an energizing practice where the emphasis is on the exhale -- a sharp expulsion of oxygen from the nose. This practice ensures the expulsion of any stale oxygen that may be in the lungs as well as provides the internal organs around the abdomen with a cleansing massage. Kapaalabhati also sends additional oxygen to the blood cells in the brain having a major effect on the nervous system.  We can begin practice by bringing one hand in front of the nose. With each expulsion the abdomen contracts and a short burst of oxygen leaves the nose. You should be able to feel it against your hand as if you were fogging up a mirror with your breath. As you will notice, the inhale will naturally take care of itself. We will do three rounds of Kapaalabhati starting with 15 expulsions and then increasing the amount. If the practice becomes uncomfortable at any point just tune back into your natural breathing pattern.

Visualization Meditation
Tradak - Outer Visualization - Use of a candle flame, uplifting picture, or yantra.  For this practice we will be using a yantra which you will hold at eye level.  Below is the Integral Yoga All Faiths Yantra, a representation of the entire cosmos.  A yantra is a physical expression of a mantra (representing an aspect of the Divine through sound vibration).  The idea for this meditation is to keep the eyes open and the focus on the central dot (bindhu) until the eyes water, then close the eyes and try to retain the image in your mind's eye.  Once the image is lost within, open the eyes and refocus on the yantra.  The bindhu, or central dot represents the beginning of creation, the first physical expression of the cosmos.  Next are the three surrounding rings, which represent the three gunas or quality of nature:  tamas (inertia), rajas (activity), sattva (balance).  Then comes the hexagon around the three rings.  The six triangles can be seen as the five senses and the mind, or you can see two opposite triangles that represent the Shiva-Shakti or male-female energies.  Notice that the square is open on all four sides, this represents the infinity of creation.

Inner Visualization with students relaxing in Supta Baddha Konasana (supine bound angle pose) with bolsters and blankets.  Start by tuning into the breath.  Watch the exhalations and inhalations through the nose.  Begin to surrender the weight of your physical body to the earth.  With each exhalation, relax and let go a little more.  Keep the focus on the breath, inhale four counts, exhale four counts.  [pause] Now lengthen the exhalation, inhale four counts, exhale eight counts.  [pause]  Visualize the breath travel down the spine on the inahle, and back up the spine on the exhale.  [pause]  Inhale and the breath, the prana, the life force travels in the nose and down the spine.  Exhale and slowly release the breath up the spine and out the nose.  [pause]  Now add a golden light to the breath.  As you inhale the light travels down the spine, and as you exhale release the breath up the spine.  Feel this golden light of compassion and eternal unconditional love nurture and radiate in your whole body.  Keep breathing.  Inhale, light travels down, around the heart; exhale the light flows up the spine and returning the light to the universe.

Ending Peace Chants
Asaato Maa Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lead us from unreal to Real
Lead us from the darkness to the Light
Lead us from the fear of death to the knowledge of Immortality.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light


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