The Ninth Limb of Yoga
This article originally appeared in Third Wave Magazine, Spring 2018 edition.
If the yoga sage Patanjali had access to a float tank, I’m pretty certain there would be nine limbs of yoga.
Over 1700 years ago, Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutras, a text that is greatly revered in the yoga world for offering insight on the path to enlightenment. The sutras, or “threads”, offer words of wisdom to help us each living a meaningful life, particularly when it comes to what he identified as an eight-fold path for the practice of yoga. These paths are essentially different techniques within the umbrella of yoga, and while some believe one should practice them all in a set order, others believe it’s acceptable to begin in any one limb and ease your way to others, should you choose.
The 8 limbs are as follows:
Yama - restraints or moral vows about how we interact with the world around us
Niyama - personal practices for connecting to the inner self
Asana - the most commonly known limb in the western world, the physical movements or postures of the practice. (Its literal translation is “a comfortable seat”, so it’s really just a way to prepare your body for meditation.)
Pranayama - non-restraint of the life force through breathing techniques
Pratyahara - becoming aware of the senses but refraining from acting upon them
Dharana - concentrating on a single point of focus, i.e. breath or a candle flame
Dhyana - maintaining concentration and becoming absorbed in a meditation practice
Samadhi - bliss or enlightenment
As mentioned earlier, some people believe that you must practice these limbs in sequence in order to reach bliss or enlightenment. Perhaps they do build on each other, as several are ways that you can learn to transform the monkey mind into a peaceful mind. But most individuals today, at least in the western world, begin their yoga practices with the third limb, asana, and find themselves seeking a deeper purpose.
I’ve been practicing yoga and meditation for 13 years, and in that time, I’ve explored and began teaching each of these limbs. The time spent in my practice has taught me to be mindful, non-reactive, non-attached, and content. But there are still many moments whereby old wounds are brought to the surface, and as soon as I feel that pain, I turn to my yoga practice that brings me back to the present moment again. I can better cope and move on, but I can’t help but feel a bit of that heaviness lingering in my spirit.
Enter the float tank (or pod or cabin or room or tent or any magical device filled with the perfect amount of salty goodness). It’s in that quiet darkness that I can revisit attachments to those wounds - to the stories that my mind can project on the ceiling of the tank. I can watch them, outside myself, without distractions. I can see them as a separate entity beyond my current existence, and I can begin the process of detaching. It’s here, in the float, that I no longer feel like a woman trying to let go. I am a woman who HAS let go, who is literally floating in nothingness, feeling completely aware of the bliss that comes with that experience.
As I glide through the water, I find myself practicing the eight limbs simultaneously: I can be intentional about my behaviors that impact on the world around me, I can wholeheartedly turn inward to see where the self meets the Divine, I can find a comfortable position for my physical body, I can purposefully move the breath through my body, I can be aware of any sensations without needing to act upon them, I can focus completely on melding my body, breath, and mind into the water, I can become completely immersed in the experience, and through doing all of that, I get to experience samadhi - complete bliss.
It really is a shame that Patanjali didn’t get to meet Dr. John Lilly or Glenn and Lee Perry. Perhaps had their paths crossed, the 20 million Americans who practice yoga would be leaving those stretchy pants on the chair and stepping into the tank each week too. Or perhaps Patanjali’s reincarnation realized his omission of floating in The Yoga Sutras, and that’s why we’re here now...
- Kim Hannan, RYT and co-owner of Sukhino Float Center