In Western culture, yoga is usually associated with many different postures that come with increased difficulty. This understanding of yoga only focuses on one aspect of yoga, the physical body at the detriment of the other aspects which help us to relate to more psychological and mystical aspects.
According to the Indian mystic Patanjali, there are eight limbs of yoga and each is as important as the other. Yoga comes from the sanskrit word yug, which means to connect, that is, to connect with divinity and in Gnosis, we work with all aspects of yoga in order achieve this goal.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are broken into two parts. The first two limbs of yoga relate to daily life.
These are exercises, behaviours and virtues that we must adhere to in order for our mind to be serene during the day. They are a very important preparation for meditation. It is very hard to meditate well when we have had been in the mind a lot, a strong emotional day or just plain tired from work. We have to understand that meditation does not just take place when we close our eyes but is a constant flow of life. We should see our daily life and meditation as natural complements to each other.
YAMA are ethical rules that one must abide in order to prepare themselves for meditation. They have levels and levels of meaning and comprehension.
- not stealing
NIYAMA are habits and observances that one must abide in order to prepare themselves for meditation. There are many levels of comprehension for these behaviours.
- contentment and patience
- reflection of the Divine
The final six limbs of Yoga relate to the practice of meditation itself.
ASANA is the process that relates to the physical body. It is the position of our body that we take during meditation. In Gnosis, we do not have any strict postures that need to be mastered in order to continue with the work.
We have two basic rules:
- to be comfortable and relaxed
- to keep the spine straight
We can sit in a chair, on the ground, against a wall, standing up or lying down, whatever is comfortable and will be best for your meditation. It is important to be conscious of our bodies and how we are feeling at the time that we start our meditation. We do not want our bodies to become an obstacle for our meditation. For example, if we are too tired, it is not wise to meditate lying down because we could fall asleep and therefore stop meditating.
PRANAYAMA is the process that relates to the breathing and energies of the body. We need energy in order to do everything including meditation. The more energy we have in our body, the more easier it is to meditate.
There are many benefits to using and being conscious of our breathing. We gain energy from the prana contained in the air in order to energise ourselves. We move the energy of the body to the mind and heart so the most important parts of the body for meditation have the most energy. And working with breathing, we begin to start the process of naturally calming the mind.
PRATYAHARA is the process of the withdrawal of the senses. In day to day life, our sense organs are used constantly as the majority of our attention is placed on the external world. During the day, we place very little attention on our internal states, the mind and our psychology.
In order to meditate and see the true nature of the mind, we need to isolate the mind from the external world so we can see the mind operating by itself, as it is. We do this by removing our attention from the surrounding space we occupy, withdrawing our attention from the sense and moving inwardly.
DHARANA is the process that relates to concentration. When we start to meditate, it becomes apparent that we are not in complete control of the mind and that there are many thoughts, memories and old songs that enter the mind without our permission.
Usually the rays of the mind are scattered but with dharana, we have reigned the mind to some degree, found some silence and then proceed to put the mind on one thought, that is, we put all the ray of light of the mind on one thing.
DYANA is the process that relates to true meditation. We begin to gain control of the mind and concentrate on one thing. With Dyana, we take the next step and are able to deeply reflect on one thing. We are able to gain true insight to anything we put our mind to.
SAMADHI is the process of enlightenment.
Each of the Eight Limbs of Yoga are continually perfected throughout the course of one’s life.