III.7 त्रयमन्तरङ्‌गं पूर्वेभ्यः

trayam antar-aṅgam pūrvebhyaḥ
“The group of three is an inner limb compared to the previous ones.”

B.K.S. Iyengar expressed in various ways that yoga is a process of moving in and of moving out. He  talked of the evolution and involution of practice, and he spoke movingly about connecting out to our bodies as a way of coming to know who we are inwardly.

Here, Patañjali marks a difference between the last three limbs of yoga and the first five. The group of three, he says, are an inner part, or limb, of the practice. Some commentators describe pratyāhāra to be a bridge between the first four and the last three, and Chip Hartranft describes the limbs as progressively moving inward, that the limbs are a process of “interiorization.”

It is tempting to see external to inner as a hierarchical movement from crude to subtle, surface to depth, but this does not seem to be Patañjali’s intent. He does not describe the limbs as levels of achievement. And the universality, the ubiquitousness, of the yamas and niyamas suggest that these are equal in greatness to the more inner aspects.

The limbs, as Hartranft says, are interdependent and simultaneous. From our first mountain pose, we engage the consciousness in a way that is the last three limbs, that is saṁyama. We place our attention. We continue. We listen. We return. We empty. We experience ourselves in a different way. We may not have learned any more poses. We stood. We entered our bodies. Our two feet on the ground.

The conservationist and activist Terry Tempest Williams describes our society’s alienation from the natural world. She argues that, since 1964–when the Wilderness Act was passed and signed into law–we have begun to experience the landscape of our lives differently:

Our connection to the world is virtual, not real. An apple is not just a fruit but a computer. A mouse is not simply a rodent but a controlling mechanism for a cursor. We have moved ourselves from the outdoors to the indoors. Nature is no longer a force but a source of images for our screensavers. We sit. We stare …

Williams makes a case for our need of nature, and describes how experience of outdoors connects us in, brings us “home to our bodies”:

We remember what it means to be challenged physically and stretched emotionally. We watch the weather and wonder if danger is near. It thunders. Lightning strikes. It rains. We are cold. We keep going in the midst of adverse conditions. The rain stops. We dry as the land dries. A rainbow arches over the horizon. In wilderness, time is not measured in money but in miles, in the hours spent walking on a trail. The wealth of a day in wildness is measured in increments of awe.

The big, wide open spaces that Williams loves (she is from Utah) teach us, she says, our own nature; they free our own big inner spaces and the spirit that moves in those spaces. The living world around us calls out to us, helps us to know our place, as poet Mary Oliver says, “in the family of things.” Williams continues:

Wilderness is a place where we experience the quiet and sometimes violent unfolding of nature, where the natural processes of life are sustained and supported. It is where we feel the rightness of relationships, where we sense our true place, a part of , not apart from, the forces of life.

Today, dramatic outer action is needed to protect the natural world, to slow climate change and bring climate justice to those most afflicted by rising floods, flash droughts, hurricanes, ocean acidification (it is a long list, important to hold in our awareness). How does the “interiorization” that Chip Hartranft describes help us learn to be better actors? The interiority of yoga is meant to lead back, and be implicit in, the yamas and niyamas–how we activate in the world. Let us do our part.

If we destroy what is outside us, we will destroy what is inside us.  –Terry Tempest Williams, Erosion, Essays of Undoing, pp. 39-41


“Patañjali is describing a process of interiorization that begins with one’s relation to externals, then to self, body, breath, orientation of attention, focus, absorption…. Even though all eight limbs are interdependent and simultaneous, the thresholds to which they apply grow increasingly interiorized….When interiorization deepens, consciousness begins to reflect the fact that awareness is not actually regarding an object per se but rather conscious processes representing the object.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 41

“When you start yoga, you probably are living in your mind and emotions, a never-ending Internet chat room. You read books and articles on what best to eat and how to exercise, reading material that any wild animal would scorn. But you do not know how to live. … Instinct is dulled. With āsana and prāṇāyāma practice, first we move outward from mind and cleanse the body, senses, and organs. Instinct is revitalized. The newly awoken intelligence of the body moves in and tells you automatically what food is good for you when and how much to eat, when and how to exercise, and when to rest or sleep. People forget that in our quest for the soul, we first reclaim the joys of the animal kingdom, health and instinct, vibrant and alive.” B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 163

• Has practice helped you know your own appetite better, become more instinctive in terms of what your physical needs are?
• Do you experience āsana as a process of going out or going in? What parts of your yoga do you consider internal, which external?
• In what ways has practice changed you as an observer? Participant?
• How much do you engage with the political, environmental, justice issues of our time?


neuter noun, !st case singular

group of three, triad (from tri, “three”)


functions like an adjective in compound



neuter noun, 1st case singular

limb (from aṅg, “to walk, move about”)


masculine adjective, 5th case plural, “distinct from”

the previous [limbs]


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