Yama focuses on abstinence. Niyama is based on purity, observation and contentment. Asanas are the meditative postures to keep body and mind agile. Pranayama is the regulation of breath. Dhyana is the meditative part of yoga. Dharana means a one-pointed focus. Pratyahara a conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses. Samadhi is contemplation and bliss.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga are at the heart of traditional yogic philosophy. These tenets have been around for well over 1,000 years. Yoga is so much more than the performance of physical postures and is most thoroughly described in the book, “The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali”. The word “sutra” translates as “thread” and is used to describe a thread of thought. Ashtanga Yoga is a term which means “The Eight Limbs of Yoga”. “Astha” means eight, “Anga” means limbs and Yoga means Union.
The eight limbs of yoga are not a description of yoga per se, but more of a moral and ethical conduct; self-discipline and spiritual development. If we follow the eight limb path, then we will achieve spiritual liberation through the union of the self and the divine.
The eight limbs are intended to direct attention towards our health while acknowledging the spiritual aspects of our own nature. The limbs are often regarded as stages, and completion of one is needed before progressing onto the next limb.
8 Limbs Of Yoga
Means ‘abstinence, regulation.’ There are 5 moral disciplines:
- Ahimsa – Non-violence
- Satya – Truthfulness
- Asteya – No stealing
- Brahmacarya – Moderation of the senses
- Aparigraha – Not greedy
Means ‘observances, training.’ There are 5 spiritual habits:
- Saucha – Purity, cleanliness
- Santosha – Contentment
- Tapas – Internal fire; accepting pain (heat) and not causing pain, to be purified by heat
- Svadhyaya – Study of spiritual books for Self understanding
- Ishvara Pranidhara – Surrender of the Self to the Divine
Means ‘meditative posture.’ This involves all of the postures practiced during a yoga session.
The asana practice is only a small component of the holistic yogic experience. We practice asanas regularly to keep our bodies and minds limber and flexible and strong.
Means ‘breath control; regulation or expansion of breath.’
The word literally means ‘life force extension,’ and the ancient yogis thought this breathing practice to help us activate our intuitive centers and awaken our kundalini energy. The practice also helps rejuvenate or calm the body and mind depending on which breathing exercise is performed.
Means ‘withdrawal of the outer senses; inward flow of senses.’
This limb teaches us that there is no way out but through; there is no way through but in. The answers to our most pressing questions are not found on the outside, they are already within us and it is our job to tap into them. It is here in the practice of Pratyahara, that we can access and connect with the Observer within us, the one who can rise above the triggers, illusions, addictions, and stories. This is a practice that requires consistency and major muscle development.
Means “concentration; one-pointed focus.”
Once we have drawn the senses within, it is much easier to shut the noise of the world and experience the internal world. The practice of Dharana can be achieved during asana practice, when focusing on a specific color or part of the body, when chanting a sound or mantra or meditating on a single word.
This limb extends the one-pointed focus over time. In this state, our thoughts calm down and the mind becomes a blank slate. This is a very difficult state to achieve – it takes a huge level of expertise to sustain. This is one to keep working towards, knowing that we’ll take one step forward and three steps back sometimes.
Means ‘contemplation, absorption, super-conscious state, and bliss.’
A moment of Samadhi is to be in pure love, true oneness. It means the veils have dropped and you see, know, and feel the truth. You feel your connect with the world. You can see yourself in another. You can see another in you. This is the highest state, achieved when you have reached enlightenment; when all your chakras are in sync. Not many of us experience this state consistently or in a long-term sustained manner. Each moment of true gratitude is a moment of Samadhi, however fleeting or short-lived. Each moment of true connection and intimacy, is a moment of Samadhi.
Regular practice of yoga by way of the eight limb path will improve your strength, endurance and flexibility. It will also help you to achieve a sense of balance and union between the mind and body. Ultimately, this will alter the way you look at life, you will become more self-aware and you will benefit from an improved sense of energy allowing you to live your life to the fullest.