I have written a few blogs on the 8 limbs of Patanjali's Astanga Yoga, but I always find it helpful to review and refresh them in my mind, a reminder that yoga is more then the physical poses that most connect yoga to.
Yama and Niyama are the first limbs and B.K.S. Iyengar writes, "when the principles of yama and niyama are followed thoroughly and are well established in the heart of the practitioner, they transform the manas (mind) and citta (consciousness)."
The Yamas include non-violence, truthfulness, celibacy, non-stealing and the Niyamas cleanliness, contentment, penance, self-study and surrender to God.
In Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga, asana is described as "a presentation of body positions for gaining perfect stability in the body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit." With that perfection being realized when "the effort of perform it becomes effortless and the finite is brought in touch with the infinite seer within."
Pranayama is the "distribution of life force or energy in the human system. Prana is energy and ayama means expansion and extension. It is the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath as well as the cessation of the movement of breath with retention. It is a regulated, precise prolongation of the inflow, outflow and cessation of the breath. It is said that pranayama must be practiced only after perfection is attained in asana."
Pranayama has three basic movements:
Exhalation - recaka
Inhalation - puraka
Retention of the breath - kumbhaka
In that there is three types of kumbhaka:
Exhalation with retention
Inhalation with retention
Total suspension of the breath, unrestricted by exhalation or inhalation.
As we move to the fifth limb, pratyahara or "withdrawal of the senses and mind from the objects that triggers excitement. Here the moving inward helps the mind in its inner quest, making the mind ripe for its spiritual quest."
Dharana is concentration, "where attention is focused on a chosen point or area within or outside the body helping to quiet any fluctuating thought waves."
Dhyana is meditation.
Samadhi is absorption. "When the flow of attention gets absorbed in the object of mediation, the citta loses its identity and becomes one with the object."
Dharana helps lead to Dhyana and success of dhyana is Samadhi.