Last week, we talk about the first 4 limbs of yoga: yamas, niyamas, asana and pranayama. These could be said to form the external or physical practices of yoga. Today, we are going to talk about the next 4 limbs, which are the internal or mind-based practices of yoga. There is no one limb that is more important than the other, rather it is the implementation of all of the limbs in a way that is relevant to the individual. For example, we might focus our efforts more on asanas when we are in our twenties, however this might transform to a practice that is more heavy on meditation or pranayama when we are in our forties. Let’s take a look at the other four limbs of yoga.
Limb 5: Pratyahara. Withholding of senses.
Pratyahara is the state whereby our senses follow the nature of our mind. Senses in this context are not limited to our five senses, they also include the cognitive and physiological activities. It is the bridge that joins the physical practices to the inner practices of yoga. Pratyahara is like the action of the queen bee. If you try to move a queen bee from the original hive to another location, the worker bees will soon follow suit. Using this analogy, the queen bee is your mind and the worker bees are your sense. Whatever you think of, your senses will follow suit.
There are various types of pratyahara. Being specific to yoga, we aim to regulate the fluctuations of the mind such that the senses will stop theirs. In our modern world, our senses are constantly stimulated by advertisements, internet, food and material objects. This could lead to an endless cycle of desires to pacify our senses. In satisfying these desires, we will momentarily quiet our mind. However through such methods of quieting our mind, we are creating a reward system for our mind to become attached to the pleasure of the senses and desire more. For example, our mind is thinking of a new bag, so we go out to purchase one. We are satisfied with our current purchase, but often such happiness is fleeting. After a while, our mind will start desiring for another new bag. And the cycle goes on.
In yoga, we practice pratyhara to master our senses. This does not mean the practice of pratyahara will lead us to a cessation of all activities, but instead, it increases the awareness of the safe haven that we have deep within us. Within us, we hold the key to regulate our mind and change our behaviours. By becoming aware of how our mind causes us to make bad decisions, we could then take action to stop our mind from influencing our actions that will results in bad habits and addictions.
Limb 6: Dharana. Fixity.
This limb is described as having our mind fix on a particular object (external) or feeling (internal). In a less fanciful way of speaking, it means concentration on a particular object/feeling.
I like to see this limb as a flow from pratyahara. Once we stop ourselves from being pulled around by our senses, we could channel our concentration into this one particular thing of our choice. How often do we get to sit still and focus on one object? A lot of people like to pride themselves to be efficient multi-tasker. (Take home trivial: Neuroscience studies have shown that multi-tasking is actually making us less efficient.) How many browser tabs do you have right now? Is your email software notifying you of new mail every hour? Do you feel compel to switch from whatever you are doing to check this way too important, must-reply-in-5-minutes, email?
The dharana that we practice on our meditation chair or yoga mat could be applied to your daily life so as to improve the quality of our lives and efficiency.
Limb 7: Dhyana. Meditation.
In yoga, we actually have a clear definition for meditation. It means that you can achieve dharana in a continuous flow, like the flow of oil or honey.
I’m not trying to confuse you with the various definitions but these are the different stages of the internal practices of yoga. The main difference between fixity and meditation is their duration. In fixity, the concentration is intermittent while in meditation, it is continuous.
Limb 8: Samadhi. Perfect concentration.
If you have been practicing yoga for a while, you probably have heard of this, Samadhi. Some called it enlightenment; some called it the highest limb of yoga. In the yoga sutras, this is defined as meditation to a state whereby only the object of meditation shines forth and the knowledge of self (the meditator) dissolves.
In contrary to popular belief, yoga does not have any teachings with regards to emptying your mind. How do you empty your mind with a mind intent on emptying your mind? Who is the mind that minds the mind? The notion of emptying your mind is a cryptic hieroglyph that nobody will be able to solve.
Personally I like to see Samadhi as being parallel to being in the state of flow, whereby you and your object of concentration becomes one and that you become fully immerse in the object so much that you stop being self-conscious.
Psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, puts this beautifully:
Yoga is more than asanas. The study and practice of all the 8 limbs of yoga helps us to live in a balance way and navigate through difficult times in our lives. We have finished our mini series of guide to integrating the 8 limbs into our life. Hopefully, you could apply a few points that we discuss into your life. If you do, let me know how it goes in the comment section below. 😀