by Michelle Thielen, Author of Stretching Your Faith
BRANCHES OF CLASSICAL YOGA
We will briefly explore the branches and system of Patanjali, an Indian teacher who gathered and systematized the teachings of yoga and meditation. It is important to note that he gathered and systematized, rather than invented or created. He is believed to have lived between 200 B.C. and 450 C.E. He is the author and teacher who composed the small Sanskrit volume of The Yoga Sutras, from which the modern practice of yoga is derived.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which means “eight limbs.” These eight steps act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Just as, for Christians, the Ten Commandments act as guidelines, these eight limbs serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline. They direct attention toward one’s health, the world around us, others, as well as help us acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
The Eight Limbs;
- Yama [ya-ma] observances of others
- Niyama [ni-ya-ma] self impose disciplines
- Asana [ah-sa-na] posture
- Pranayama [prah-nah-yah-ma] control of life force, breath
- Pratyahara [pra-tyah-hah-ra] withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana [d-hah-rah-na] concentration
- Dhyana [d-hee-ah-na] meditative absorption
- Samadhi [sam-ahd-hi] ecstasy
THE EIGHT LIMBS, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AND GOD
The first limb is known as yama. It breaks into another five characteristics that we will briefly touch on. Yama is associated with how we relate to the external world and others. It prepares us to be ethical and kind.
Ahimsa is the first characteristic focus of yama. It is defined as being non-violent, inflicting no injury or harm to others, or even to one’s own self. It also describes that there is to be an absence of violence in thought, word, and deed. It is about us doing every-
thing we do toward any living being with thoughtful consideration. It is a concept that all living beings have the spark of the divine in them. This is the yoga world attempting to describe what the Bible told us before there was a practice of yoga. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has [already] set eternity in our hearts. Yes, we have the Divine in us! It is the power of the Holy Spirit residing on the inside of each of us. We are one with Christ.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you. 2 Timothy 1:14 Jesus said these words; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-30
Ahimsa is thought to be the most important branch, as it relates to every part of our internal and external worlds. It is the essentials: how we treat other beings, how we treat our own bodies and minds, how we think and what we think about, how we talk, what we talk about, how we eat and what we eat.
Satya is the second characteristic of the first limb. It is associated with truth in word and thought. It is about honesty and healthy relationships. Satya is defined as speaking the truth. We want to act and speak honestly, but we do not want to hurt others.
Knowing when to be quiet and reserve the truth is just as important. Everything should be done in a way that we help others in some way. Ask yourself before making a decision, “Am I stealing from someone? Will my actions improve or benefit those around me? Does this thought, word, or deed harm or take away from others?” Read Hebrews 13.
…And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
It is not the truth that sets us free; the truth we know will set us free. There is a big difference! This is why it is important to spend time with God. Seek Him and what He wants to say to you, because this is always truth. Do you need truth or clarity? Read His
Word. This is His truth, love letter, and promises to His kids! That is you and me, friend! I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
This is one of the most important scriptures today. There is much spiritual advice that tells us that all paths lead to the same god. If you believe the Word of God, which I think you do, we can refute what the world and media tries to pour into our spirits. My
Bible says there is only one way to the One True God. It is through His son Jesus. The only way that we will spend eternity in Heaven is
to accept Jesus as our personal Savior.
Asteya is the third characteristic in the first limb. It is associated with not coveting, to the extent that one should not even desire something that is his own. It means to not steal, take, or use anything that has not been freely given to you. It also regards using
things and information properly, not abusing or mishandling items or words that someone has confided in us.
Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. Luke 12:15
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you. Ephesians 5:3
You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor. Leviticus 19:16
Brahmacharya is the fourth characteristic. It refers to abstinence, particularly in the case of sexual activity. It implies celibacy, but it asks that we use our sexual energy for a connection to our spiritual side, using this energy positively and productively. Also, it
calls for responsible behavior with respect to moving toward the highest truth in our relationships and ourselves. Abstinence creates the highest truth. Nothing is muddied or confused by sexual behaviors. Before a thought progresses to an action, ask if the action is betraying any of your relationships, values, principles, promises, or commitments.
And in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness… 2 Peter 1:6
Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. Acts 15:20
There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much a spiritual mystery as a physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us lonelier than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin, we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live any way you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. 1 Corinthians 6:16-20 The Message
The fifth characteristic is known as Aparigraha. It relates to freeing ourselves of possessions, hoarding stuff, or having an excess of things we do not need or no longer use. It also relates to things we have or keep what we received dishonestly, or things that we have through non-trusting or wrong methods. To sum it up: take only what is necessary. Do not exploit others, and don’t hang onto things you no longer need. It implies living simply. We live in an all-consuming culture. We have pressures daily to “get” and gather more. The characteristic of a yogi and a Christian is to live a minimalist and simple lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with “stuff;” just don’t let “stuff ” control you. To help with the process of becoming more simple, ask yourself if an item is truly necessary in your life. This world is in great need of what we take for granted every day. Beyond the necessities like water, food, and shelter, we have closets full of clothes and garages full of junk we don’t use. Do we need all those winter coats when others are cold on the streets? And why do we pack and move all of our stuff that we no longer use, taking it from garage to garage? Aparigraha is trusting God to provide for you every day.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Colossians 3:5
The second limb of the eight-fold is Niyama, or personal observances. They are more intimate and personal than the first limb. Practicing these disciplines is more about living from the soul. The five observances include how we relate to ourselves (inner world),
self-discipline, and spiritual observances.
First observance is Sauca, which means cleanliness of body and mind. Yoga postures cleanse and purify our physical bodies. Breathing techniques cleanse our lungs and bodily systems, and meditation on the Holy Spirit cleanses us inside and out. This discipline
is being free from junk, whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or in relationships. We must cleanse our bodies and minds daily. Our hearts have to be cleansed of hatred, unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, and any other negative emotions. It is always an “inside job.” God always begins within us.
First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. Matthew 23:26
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
The second observance is Santosa, defined as contentment, and being satisfied with what we have. This is about being happy with what we have and what we do not have. This discipline is about having joy, no matter what circumstances surround us. Yes, I’m
calling it a discipline because having joy amidst trials does not always come naturally. As Christians, we know that all things work together for the good for those that love Him, so we count everything towards His glory. He promises to give us double for our trouble! So we can rest at all times, knowing that He has it all figured out. Isn’t this wonderful news? All we [ever] have to “do” is rest and trust.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise You with songs of joy. Psalm 63:5
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:2-8
The next discipline is Tapas, which means to discipline the use of our energy. It relates to austerity and is associated with body and mind discipline. Tapas refers to keeping a sound mind as well as keeping our body fit with physical activity and proper nutrition.
This is a discipline of controlling our inner urges so the exterior shows our disciplined lifestyle and ultimately glorifies God.
No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening-it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. Hebrews 12:11
The fourth observance Svadhyaya, relates to any self-study or self-examination. Knowing God and the soul leads to a great awakening as to how God created us to live. Sometimes we simply need a check-up from the neck up! It is important to know what’s
going on internally. If we don’t check in and find resolution, we eventually explode, quite often toward the people near and dear to us. Daily renew your mind and “check in.” Make an appointment with yourself to get quiet and find solutions to anything that may be brewing or unresolved.
Wake up, my soul, wake up, lyre and harp! I will awaken at dawn. Psalm 57:8
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16
The last observance is Isvarapranidhana; the definition means to lay all your cares at the feet of God. It is an act of surrender to God, surrendering everything, all of it. Give all your cares to Him. I’m speaking in a human way because of the weakness of your corrupt nature. Clearly, you once offered all the parts of your body as slaves to sexual perversion and disobedience. This led you to live disobedient lives. Now, in the same way, offer all the parts of your body as slaves that do what God approves of. This leads you to live holy lives. Romans 6:19 God’s Word Translation
Give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. Proverbs 23:26
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed
with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23
The third limb, Asana, is defined as seat, and is used interchangeably with posture and pose. It refers to any of the postures used in yoga for the purpose of achieving balance, promoting physical and spiritual health, and attaining mental calmness.
FOR IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. Acts 17:28
Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16
Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19 The Message
The fourth limb is Pranayama, defined as breath, or life force. Many breathing techniques improve our overall health and well being. We can practice these for specific ailments to cleanse our bodily systems or calm our anxieties.
And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given. Genesis 1:30
This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:5-6
The fifth limb is called Pratyahara, defined as withdrawing or retreating. This is a withdrawal of the senses, or a control of the senses, and directs our attention internally. It implies that we should pull away from anything that does not nourish our senses.
We should withdraw from external distractions and attachments and in doing so, we conserve our focus and energy towards a higher calling. Without unnecessary distractions, our center, senses, and emotions become keenly sharpened. We become more aware, which allows us to properly discern things in our lives, and spend more time focused on the things, people, and circumstances that pertain to
The practice of Pratyahara allows us to observe our habits objectively. We become aware of the daily habits that serve us, and those that no longer serve us. We can then begin to prioritize our daily activities and habits. If they no longer align with our destiny,
then we do not make them a priority. We replace old, unhealthy habits with new habits that serve our purpose. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing drawing me closer or further away from my destiny? Why am I doing this? What is the purpose of this
activity?” Even if the thing you’re doing is good, it can distract you from your true destination and ultimately be a waste of precious time. When was the last time you withdrew?
Examine me, God, and know my mind, test me, and know my thoughts. Psalm 139:23 International Standard Version
Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where He could be alone in prayer. Mark 1:35
After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone. Matthew 14:23
The sixth limb is called Dharana, which is defined as an immovable concentration of the mind. It means to focus, dwell, meditate, and think upon a singular thing. This is meditation at its deepest level, being completely engrossed and focused on one thing,
not several fleeting thoughts at one time. B.K.S. Iyengar founder of Iyengar yoga, states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect, and ego are “all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service.” Here, there is no self, only self-less. The ego dissipates, and you allow space in the innermost parts for the Holy Spirit to consume you. Exhale you; inhale Him.
Whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,
think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]. Philippians 4:8
I do not consider myself to have embraced it yet, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. Philippians 3:13
It will take time to reach this level of meditation. It is difficult to set aside a few moments each day, let alone many, and focus on only one thing. The one thing is God and Him alone. Allow everything else to melt away as the Spirit consumes your cares. This
observance is when ultimate freedom and healing will take place so we can move from our past hurts and failures to the abundant and victorious life God has already predestined for us.
The seventh limb is Dhyana, which means worship or profound meditation. Simply put, it is perfect contemplation. Practice the previous observance of meditating on one thing. Here we will dive a little deeper into meditation. The seventh observance is the truth and knowledge of the One Christ we have been meditating on. We seek to understand His ways and truth. This is deep and pro- found meditation. It is an uninterrupted flow of concentration, or dwelling on the Lord. Here we can be keenly aware, without focus.
Our mind, with its anxious thoughts and our heart, with its many worries, become quiet. It is in this stillness, where few thoughts exist
and Christ can pierce our hearts, minds, and spirits; His Spirit speaks to our spirits.
But they delight in the law [the instructions] of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. Psalm 1:2
They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about Your mighty works. Psalm 77:12
The eighth and final stage of ashtanga is Samadhi, which means absorption, bringing together, or merging. It is described as a state of ecstasy as our minds stay aware and conscious, while our bodies and senses are mostly at rest. During this stage, we can truly
transcend “self ” and completely connect with God. Does this give you a new definition of ecstasy, or what?! Here, you will find peace with yourself, others, all living beings, and the [true] peace that passes all understanding.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
In YogaFaith, we set our hearts, minds, and spirits on the Lord. We never “empty” our minds. You may have heard of a yoga practice that attempts this; it is impossible to empty the mind. It can be difficult to still and quiet everything down to let go of intellect
and distractions. However, as we let go of “self ” and become enveloped in the Holy presence of our Father, we can experience truth, peace, and joy on the highest possible level.
No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us. 1 John 4:12
For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. John 3:34
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 2 Peter 1:4
You love Him even though you have never seen Him. Though you do not see Him now, you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 1 Peter 1:8