“What About the Other 7 Limbs?”

Tomorrow night I get on a plane to Hamburg, Germany to begin a 5 week tour in Europe.  To find out where I will be teaching check out the schedule on www.davidgarrigues.com/schedule.html

I hope to see some new faces in Europe!

With great pleasure I bring you this next article. This is a subject that is very dear to my heart.  Enjoy!

Sat Guru Natha Maharaji Ki Jai

Guruji Sri K Pattabhis Jois Ki Jai!


What about the other 7 limbs?

I do not exaggerate in saying that you can discover all of yoga through adhering to a life long devotion to your ashtanga practice which consists of the simple act of applying yourself daily to asana and pranayama techniques. I say this because I am hearing people say that an asana practice will not ultimately address the needs of a seasoned student, as though part of progressing in yoga is to come to value asana less and something else more. The ‘something more’ appears to be seated meditation, as though at some point you will have done enough asanas and then it will be time to graduate, to grow up, to care less about maintaining asana intensity, to learn to value a seated meditation.

The source of this idea that there is something else besides the daily practice did not come from within the lineage, because according to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the practice is IT, there is not another set of techniques that join or replace what you already do (other than the eventual addition of pranayama) And thus there ought not to be a need, among the circle of serious ashtanga students and teachers, to defend the central premise of the method that says the best means to Self knowledge is through performing your asana’s daily as your life long sadhana (discipline).

To remain focused on developing an ever more subtle relationship to your asana practice is to make best use of the skills that you develop in yoking yourself to the method. To come to think that your asana practice is not important is to lose track of the method and the skills that you have earned and worked hard to develop from day one.

I have an intense love of hatha yoga techniques, I pray the day I die is the day I give up my asana based hatha yoga practice. I aim to enjoy the benefits of a life long marriage between asana and intensity. In the years ahead I aim to be with my friends the sun salutations, standings, forward and back bends, and upside down praying in shoulder stand. For inspiration I call to mind the asana giant of the century- BKS Iyengar. He has thankfully shown the world that there is no age limit for undertaking tapas in the form of transforming asana and pranayama into prayers and attitudes of soul. I can rejoice in knowing that my body and mind posses an astounding capacity to be involved in a life long, creative study of asana as my primary means of bowing down to my essential nature as Seer.

Twenty years of practice has shown me that longevity in practice comes from emphasizing the relationship between asana and meditation, to me they are one and the same, and working according to this principle will be the best insurance that as I age I will be practicing the method with gusto. The lineage will make more sense and prove to be better suited to addressing your evolving needs if you widen your conception of what meditation and of what asana ought to be and to look like.

Occasionally I hear students of yoga attempt to devalue asana by saying that only three sutra’s out of one hundred and ninety six are devoted to the subject of asana- this thinking is not logical or fitting. The yoga sutra’s emphasize techniques for harnessing, controlling, and transcending the mind, and this is why it is possible to wrongly conclude that the sutra’s have more to do with meditation than with asana. But part of the reframing of asana is in recognizing that asana has everything to do with a study of the mind. The truth is that nearly every sutra pertains directly to asana practice and has a direct application to your practice. You must gradually shape your asana practice to address the workings of your mind. And the process of involving the mind more in practice requires that you sustain (rather than decrease) your vigorous dedication to applying yourself to the intensely physical techniques that make up your practice.

In order to use your asana practice to create overall maturity in your understanding of yoga it is necessary to reorient yourself mentally and physically within your body by the use of bandha’s, nadi’s, vayu’s, dristi, and other techniques found in the sacred texts. Fastening yourself onto these techniques during your practice and throughout the day helps you permanently shift the locus of your awareness within the body, and this is how your efforts in asana come to reveal the other seven limbs to you, this is the means to opening into the vastness and purity of Consciousness. With maturity, understanding and mastery asana awakens you to the meditative possibility that exists in literally any position.

No matter what shape I find myself in, I pretend that I am orienting myself in exactly the same way that I would if I were Shiva, the Great Meditator, suspended indefinitely in time, immovable, enjoying the single position. Performing each asana as though it were that essential, prototypical single position helps me go further into each asana like no other and to find new pranic channels from which to extract prana. And thus I aim:

-to be ever vigilant in using asana to enter into the inner limbs 6, 7, and 8

-to economize action,

-to stop even the more subtle, unconscious movements of my body,

-to eliminate extraneous thoughts,

-to keep track of my inward turned senses,

-to seek out similarities rather than differences between the seeming opposite qualities of movement and stillness, dance and asana.

From the perspective of meditation a careful study of asana needs to reveal that movement and stillness are one and the same and offer the same benefits.

The asana vs meditation question perfectly illustrates that there is a collective need among us to allow for a wider interpretation of what constitutes practice. The system ought to encourage you to decide for yourself what aspect or technique to emphasize. Exercising freedom and independence becomes increasingly important as you log in the years of practice and gather knowledge and maturity in the system. And thus it is one thing to decide that you want to allot a portion of your practice to a seated meditation practice from a different tradition. But it is another thing to decide that asana or the system is deficit in itself. To find fault or shortcoming in the technique of asana is simply to misunderstand the depth of technique and the creativity that is required to develop your asanas to full maturity.

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3 Responses to “What About the Other 7 Limbs?”

  1. Gayle says:

    I agree with you David. To me all 8 limbs interact with each other during an asana practice. You must use Pratyahara, Pranayama, Dhyana to practice the asanas fully and certainly for the more difficult asanas.

    The asanas are a meditation. And the effects of the asana practice can lead us more in the direction of the yamas and niyamas. I think samadhi happens for short periods of time and I am not convinced it is attainable on this earth.

    Why does there need to be a hierarchy among the limbs of yoga. Yoga is about union and balance.

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  3. sarah hathaway says:

    inversion as meditation – this is so beautiful david. what chant are singing?

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