By Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
This article by Sri Acharyaji was originally published in the April, 2002 issue of “Yoga Chicago” Magazine under the title “The Eight Limbs of Yoga.”
Despite its very ancient origins, yoga has experienced an explosion of popularity in America in the last few decades. Literally millions of people have tried yoga to different degrees. Famous celebrities like Madonna, Carlos Santana, Sting and even Chelsea Clinton are known to be avid yoga practitioners. Mothers and fathers, lawyers and college students are all doing yoga. Yoga's recent surge in popularity is due to the fact that it offers a very easy, rational and enjoyable way to achieve deep levels of relaxation and physical reinvigoration.
Despite its amazing growth in popularity, though, even many serious practitioners of this ancient art see yoga as nothing more than a series of powerful physical exercises designed to give one a perfect body. While yoga will certainly give us the physical health, energy, stamina and strength that we're all seeking, this is not the primary goal of yoga. Yoga is infinitely more than just the "aerobics of India."
First and foremost, yoga is a systematic process of spiritual unfoldment. Yoga is a 5000-year-old system of self-knowledge and God-realization, the aim of which is to unleash our full human potential--including our physical, ethical, emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. Yoga is an active philosophy and practical discipline that brings about a harmonization of all these various aspects of the human experience.
The Sanskrit word yoga means "to unite." Accordingly, the path of yoga teaches us how to integrate and heal our personal existence, as well as harmonize our individual consciousness with the greater Self that is God. The practice of yoga spirituality brings about a greater sense of harmony between self, God and the world around us. As a direct result of this harmony, we then experience the peace, fulfillment and joy that we have always craved. Moreover, yoga is a system that has the state of meditative awareness as both its means and its goal.
Above all else, the aim of yoga is active, focused and conscious meditation on the Absolute. Devotional meditation upon God is at the very heart of any good yoga practice. For this reason, yoga has often been called "meditation in motion." All the other aspects of yoga exist in order to ensure that the yogi can achieve a deep state of meditative communion with both her true self, as well as with the Absolute. Indeed, even if we were to do all the various physical poses of yoga perfectly, unless we are also doing these poses in a meditative frame of mind, then we are not really doing yoga at all. Meditation on God, with love and devotion, is the foundation and goal of all yoga practice.
While the physical component of yoga is certainly of importance, it is only one of the eight traditional limbs of yoga practice, all of which have meditation on God as their purpose. These are the eight limbs of the complete yoga system as they are found in the famous yoga textbook known as the Yoga Sutras, written by the sage Patanjali in approximately 200 B.C. Briefly, they are:
Yama: These are five positive ethical guidelines (restraints, or abstinences) that include non-violence, fidelity to the Absolute, non-stealing, truthfulness and non-attachment.
Niyama: These are five positive behaviors, including cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and devotion to God.
Asana: These are the actual physical exercises that people usually associate with yoga. These powerful poses are designed to give our bodies strength, flexibility and energy. They also contribute to the deep sense of relaxation that is necessary in order to lovingly meditate on the Absolute.
Pranayama: These are the energizing breathing exercises that produce vitality, overall health and inner calm.
Pratyahara: This is detachment from the ever-present fluctuations of life. Through this practice, we can transcend all the trials and sufferings that life often seems to throw our way and begin to see such challenges in a positive and healing light.
Dharana: This is the practice of powerful and focused concentration.
Dhyana: This is devotional meditation on God, designed to still the agitations of the mind and open the heart to God's healing love.
Samadhi: This is blissful absorption of one's individual consciousness in the essence of God. In this state, the yogi experiences the direct presence of God in his or her life at all times. The yogi does not "become" God, which is logically and existentially impossible, but rather comes to the point of having nothing but God as the very center of his consciousness. The result of samadhi is peace, bliss and happiness without end.
These eight limbs together constitute the complete system known as classical ashtanga yoga. When yoga is diligently practiced under the guidance of a well-trained spiritual teacher (guru), it can lead to liberation from all illusion and suffering. By sincerely and patiently following the path of yoga, you can achieve peace of mind, health of body, and the bliss of soul. If you've ever tried a yoga class, I encourage you to go that next crucial step and explore the spiritual dimensions of yoga. Come back to the wholeness that you naturally are. Come back to your true self.
About the Author
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.) is universally acclaimed as one of the world's most respected and qualified Dharma teachers and Hindu spiritual leaders alive today. He personifies what it means to be a true and authentic guru.
Dr. Deepak Chopra has exclaimed in 2002: "You've done truly phenomenal work teaching the pure essence of Yoga". In a similar manner, Dr. David Frawley has said about Sri Acharyaji, "Dr. Frank Morales represents the Sankalpa [the will] of the Hindu people and the cause of Sanatana Dharma. I urge all Hindus everywhere to give him your full support, assistance, and encouragement in his crucial work. He needs and deserves our help."
Sri Acharyaji began his personal spiritual journey over 35 years ago at the tender age of ten when he read the Bhagavad Gita for the very first time. He coupled his decades of intense spiritual practice and study with advanced academic achievements, earning a B.A. in philosophy/theology from Loyola University Chicago, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He has lectured on Dharma at dozens of top universities, such as Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, and Northwestern. He has also served as a consultant for such Fortune 500 companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology.
Explaining to his doctoral advisor that "I don't want to just study the history of religion…I want to make religious history", Sri Acharyaji eventually left academia to devote himself exclusively to spiritual teaching and to the preservation of the great tradition of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).
Today, Sri Acharyaji occupies his full time teaching Dharma spirituality to diverse audiences. In addition to leading classes, satsanghas, seminars and lecturing on Sanatana Dharma widely, Sri Acharyaji is a renowned author, as well as a personal spiritual guide (guru) to a rapidly increasing following of enthusiastic students from both the Indian and the non-Indian communities.
Sri Acharyaji was the Resident Acharya (Spiritual Preceptor) of the Hindu Temple of Nebraska (2007 - 2009), which represents the first time in American history that a Hindu temple has ever made such an esteemed appointment. He is the Founder-President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society, a global movement dedicated to teaching Dharma in its most authentic form.
Sri Acharyaji is the real thing: an enlightened guru with the ability to deliver the highest wisdom and spiritual liberation to his sincere students.
Sri Acharyaji's teachings stress the achievement of enlightenment through the practice of meditation, Yoga, and directly experiencing the presence of the Divine. Another overarching aspect of Sri Acharyaji's teachings focuses on the importance of love, compassion and service toward all living beings.
Whether speaking to an audience of thousands, or having a heart-felt discussion with only one person, Sri Acharyaji vividly conveys a deeply moving sense of compassion, peace, humility, and spiritual insight that has endeared him to thousands of students and admirers throughout the world.
Some of his books include:
"Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Natural Way"
"Living Dharma: The Teachings of Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya"
"Radical Universalism: Does Hinduism Teach that All Religions are the Same?"
"Taking Refuge in Dharma: The Initiation Guidebook"
"The Vedic Way of Knowing God"
"The Shakti Principle: Encountering the Feminine Power of God"
"The Art of Wisdom: Affirmations for Boundless Living"
His latest book Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Natural Way, is scheduled for publication in 2011.
For more information on following the life-transforming path of Sanatana Dharma, please visit his website:
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