At the outset of the undertaking of the practice of Yoga it is good to have an idea of the territory involved. Classically the texts define 8 limbs of yoga, what is called ashtanga yoga (8-limbed yoga).
One might upon looking at these 8 limbs of the yoga path think about these limbs in a linear way. 1st limb then 2nd limb and so on. This is only partially true. In some ways we do have to have the early stages before we get to the later stages of the path. However it is also simultaneously true that the 8 limbs are holographic, each containing the other limbs within it.
So much emphasis has been given to the 3rd limb of yoga - asana, that most beginners today only associate yoga with that limb. This is very unfortunate because it has led to the propogation of yoga as a form of intensive exercise. Not that it cannot fill this role, but the science of yoga has the capacity for so much more.
The first 2 limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, are the attitudes and observances that one undertakes during the practice of yoga. Without them, yoga falls short, and in fact utterly fails. Some texts list 5 yamas and 5 niyamas, while the classical hatha texts list 10 of each. We will explore these beginning in the next post.
Asana means "seat". There are some other interesting definitions we will explore in later posts as well. Traditionally the asana was what you sat on while practicing and this later came to be associated with the type of position one took while seated. As the years rolled on over the last 1000 years, many different positions came to be called asanas, even the non-seated positions.
Pranayama, the 4th limb of yoga is the control of the prana. This is listed before control of the mind because it implies that mind control is hopeless without first knowing how to control the energies of the body/mind system.
Pratyahara, the 5th limb of yoga is the control of the senses. There are other definitions as well which we will explore later. Mastery must be made of the peripheral sensory and action organs before one can undertake work with the central channel. Pratyahara takes a primary role in this process.
Both the 4th and 5th limbs involve work at the sensory or instrumental layer of awareness of which Nadi Yoga explores greatly. These two processes are thus very intimately intertwined.
The last 3 limbs of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are collectively called samyama. Samyama is a process of bringing the energy/prana and then the mind under one pointed focus or control and applying it in a particular direction. The movement required for this process is what Patanjali calls parinama or transformation of state. The first stages of this collective process involve moving attention through the objective, instrumental, and then the subjective levels of awareness. The last stage transcends the subjective. When all of the previous limbs have been satisfied, these 3 limbs start to fall automatically into place.
The hatha yoga texts list another process/practice that is not talked about explicitly in the Yoga Sutras. This is the practice of mudra. I have talked quite a bit about mudra in the previous blogs. Here I will explain how this practice relates to the 8 limbs. Mudra means gesture. This gesture can be external or internal or both. Mudra as an internal gesture actually incorporates the 4th through the 8th limbs simultaneously. As an external/internal gesture it incorporates the 3rd through 8th limbs. One could even say that the 1st and 2nd limbs are necessary to even engage mudra so in this way, the practice of mudra is a very comprehensive practice involving all of the limbs of yoga. This is the reason that the hatha texts like hatha pradipika only list the practice of mudra after asana. The other limbs are implied with the practice of mudra.
Seeing the importance of mudra within the overall scheme of the 8 limbs of Yoga, Nadi Yoga utilizes the mudra as its central process and practice. Various techniques exist within the framework of mudra but at their central essence, the practice of mudra is one. It is important when doing work of this nature to discover the inner meaning of this profound practice so that one can quickly access the entirety of the 8 fold path of yoga. This is not something that has to take years if one realizes this inner key of mudra. It is much simpler than many controlling gurus and obscure texts will tell you.
The next post will start to explore the yamas beginning with ahimsa, the first of the yamas.