The ancient yogi sage Patanjali laid down a system of steps to help people along the path of yoga. His steps are called Ashtanga Yoga, or ‘The 8 Limbed Path.’ These steps guide a spiritual seeker from the first, fundamental stages of yoga all the way to the final realization and liberation.
If you have studied Patanjali, you probably know the 8 Limbs: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. To begin with, Patanjali insists that we get our house in order with Yama and Niyama. These first 2 Limbs help us move towards right, healthy and balanced action in the world. Once Yama and Niyama are established, one starts the practice of asana, the cultivation of the physical yoga.
What most people envision when they think of yoga is just Limb 3: Asana. The physical practice is the most distinct and recognizable of the 8 Limbs and the most widely practiced. The other practice that people might think of as yoga is Dharana and Dhyana, meditation. This is an iconic yoga image: the yogi sitting in a cross legged posture with a straight spine, arms on the knees in meditation.
Astute readers will notice that there are 2 neglected Limbs between Asana and Dharana which are called Pranayama and Pratyahara. Pratyahara has actually made a comeback in recent years with the practice of Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra, which are practices which embody the ‘sense withdrawal’ aspects of the 4th Limb. The most overlooked of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs seems to be Pranayama, the cultivation of life force (prana) through breathing.
Of all the Limbs, it is hard to imagine why the direct cultivation of one’s life force would be neglected, but it is. Of course, in this modern age, much of yoga has devolved into fitness and the definition of modern fitness is much different than the yogi’s definition of fitness. Yogis realized that everything which happens within us and to us is due to prana, the force of life. This prana is within us and all around us. We are prana and the world is prana. Nothing more or less. Prana is the energy that animates all the world on very level: its colors, smells, actions and events and the like.
Prana is the source of all life, and Pranayama is the cultivation of that essential energy within a person. When we connect to, balance, and enhance our personal prana, the very fabric of our life changes because we are changing the source. By following the wisdom of the yogic system of pranic cultivation called Pranayama, a person can consciously start to shape their life into what they wish to be. This is that the yogis call being ‘fit’!
Yoga is about transformation and evolution; change cannot happen without energy and prana. With a limited store of prana, we cannot easily become the people we wish to be. Pranayama provides a complete system of powerful transformation, and helping to build up a greater reserve of life force so we can live long and be healthier and happier till the end of our days.
Don’t neglect this essential Limb of Patanjali! It can certainly be difficult to find teachers who can guide you through the intriguing practices of Pranayama. If you wish to learn Pranayama in depth for both practice and teaching, join us on a Teacher Training Course.
We have a powerful and dynamic system of Pranayama called Swara Yoga, that will enable you to work with your life force, prana and breath and help you become a more dynamic yogi and a more energized human being. We also offer Advanced Trainings for students to take their pranic practices further and study more about this ‘Lost Limb of Patanjali’.