The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Ashtanga:  Yoga’s Eight Limbs

When most people think of yoga, it is the asanas or physical poses/postures that come to mind first.  And yes, they are a big part of yoga, but what many people do not know is that the asanas are just one part of a very old and vast system called yoga.  First put into words by a great Indian saint, Patanjali in his yoga sutras (a sacred text), yoga had until then been selectively passed down through the centuries from the teacher by words to the eager mind and promising memory of the student.   Yoga means to bind, yoke or join together the body, mind and spirit, through the use of the breath.  The ultimate goal of yoga is to remove our contact with pain and sorrow, and to experience love and bliss.

It is said that in the beginning yoga was developed as a way to prepare for the body, mind and soul for meditation:   preparing the body by strengthening the spine and opening the hips and joints to allow the meditator to sit for many hours comfortably, quieting the mind and increasing awareness, therefore allowing the spirit or soul (perhaps previously hidden) to emerge – like a beautiful lotus flower from a pond of muddy water.

ASHTANGA refers to the eight limbs of yoga as explained by Patanjali in his sutras which are summarized below:

Yama = ethical disciplines of life, and is divided into five key points:

  • Ahimsa   (Non-violence)
  • Satya (Truth)
  • Asteya (Non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya  (Sense-control; discretion and control of sex)
  • Aparigraha (Non-coveting or hoarding excessive material possessions)

Niyama = rules of individual discipline are again divided into five areas:

  • Purity  (such as body, food, thoughts)
  • Contentment  (tranquil mind)
  • Conscious self-discipline
  • Study or education to achieve personal growth
  • Faith (in Higher-Power, Universe, etc.)

Asana:   physical postures which often occur as a series of poses, designed to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body.  Through which we remove toxins and negative emotions.  Therefore we remove disease and gain a healthy and strong body and mind.

Pranayama:   science of breath or respiration which involves various breathing practices designed to cleanse the body, strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and reduce cravings. Ultimately, it will also bring us to a higher awareness and closer to God or the Creator (whoever/whatever that is for you).

Pratyahara:   balancing and controlling the mind so to achieve equanimity where the mind is still, calm and aware. In fact this is a big step towards establishing real awareness.

Dharana:   concentration which can be done using various techniques that develop better focus.  This can be done through:  a mantra or sound such asom, aum “amen”, love; a light or flame; or even just focusing on one particular task, sport, activity.  All these things will help develop someone’s concentration.

Dhyarna:   meditation is the state that arises when the flow of concentration is uninterrupted for a period of time general for more than a more a minute or two (this sounds easy but once you try it you realize it is difficult).

Samadhi:   Otherwise known as Nirvana, Divinity or Enlightenment. This is a state which in fact cannot be explained.  It usually takes place after many years of meditation when one goes beyond consciousness into a completely blissful state, loses all sense of I or ego, and then beyond into one with the universe.