Updated: Apr 19
Have you ever heard of The 8 Limbs of Yoga, maybe you have if you've studied or read Yoga Philosophy. Of all my years practicing yoga I have never heard a yoga teacher talk about the 8 Limbs of Yoga but because I love reading, I have read many books about them.
Yoga is split into 8 different paths, also known as limbs. When people think of yoga they think of breathing and stretching, when in reality those are only a small part of it.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga were included in The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Which are a collection of 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga.
The Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 CE (or AD) by Sage Patanjali who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from older traditions. There are a wide variety of dates assigned to The Yoga Sutras, ranging from 500 BCE to 3rd century CE. More on that later.
Here is a list and explanation of the 8 Limbs of Yoga.
Yamas are the first limb, and they deal with the behavior that we should have when practicing yoga. They consist of 5 different practices that we promise to ourselves when we begin yoga. The idea behind the Yamas is that we treat others the way we would like to be treated:
Ahimsa: the promise of non-violence. This includes people, animals and the environment.
Asteya: the promise of non-stealing. This includes objects or the time of others.
Satya: the promise of truthfulness.
Aparigraha: the promise of non-greed or non-possessiveness.
Brahmacharya: the promise of self-control.
Similar to Yamas, Niyamas are the guidelines to our own ritualistic process. The way we nourish our mind, spirit, and body are the core standards for the Niyamas, which work in accordance with Yamas. They are:
Saucha: cleanliness of the inner and outer body. Proper nutrition, elimination of sugar, fats, drugs, and alcohol are part of keeping your body clean. Your mind must also be kept clean, removing feelings of anger or stress.
Santosha: contentment with oneself. Being mindful and appreciating the present moment, finding joy in the everyday instants of life.
Tapas: the fiery desire to improve your life with self-discipline. This relates to the motivation we have to live a better life.
Svadhyaya: to study your own body and mind. Using this you will know yourself inside and out, understand who you are, and accept yourself.
Ishvara Pranidhana: to surrender yourself to a higher purpose.
Asana is the practice that you will see in any studio. People stretching, doing poses and breathing. The benefits of this limb are that you get to exercise your body while enhancing your spirituality. Asana reduces stress and negative feelings. When you exercise through Asana you lose weight. This boosts self-confidence and provides a general feeling of self-satisfaction.
This limb focuses on the control of your breathing. It is an essential step in yoga, where different techniques can improve circulation, heart health, and mental health. Pranayama allows you to build that strength through breathing .
The fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, can be seen as the bridge between external and internal yoga. It moves the practitioner towards the more subtle art of concentration and meditation, and finally to samadhi (enlightenment). The word 'pratyahara' stems from the Sanskrit prati and ahara. Prati means "against or away," and ahara is anything we take into ourselves from the outside. Pratyahara is about withdrawing ourselves from any external information so we can hear the sounds from within .
Dharana is about fixing the mind to one specific point. This could be something internal, like part of the body or a chakra, or something external like a picture, statue or another object. It's not so important what this object is that we are focusing on; the purpose is to quiet the mind with this total concentration. When we focus the mind intensely into one point, the rest of the mind tends to quiet down. When we practice concentration like this, there is less room for other thoughts, memories, and planning that the mind tends to otherwise be busy with.
Dhyana is the 7th limb of yoga, building upon asana (physical posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (control of the senses, moving the focus to the inside), and dharana (concentration). The word dhyana comes from the Sanskrit word dhyai, which means "to think of." Dhyana involves concentration and meditation on a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. This deeper concentration of the mind is the instrument of self-knowledge where one can separate illusion from reality, and eventually, reach the ultimate goal of yoga: samadhi (bliss, or union with the source).
Yoga is a spiritual practice, and Samadhi is the 8th and final stage on the eightfold path of yoga. It is a state of consciousness where individual awareness dissolves into the great Whole.
There are different levels of Samadhi, or different stages of connection with the Divine, but when the word Samadhi is used alone, it usually refers to the state of enlightenment, which is the highest form of Samadhi.
Samadhi is not a permanent state, and like the stages before it (Dharana and Dhyana), Samadhi does not come upon anyone by accident. It takes dedication and effort, and a person must be willing to train the mind and go deep inside.
We are spiritual beings, or souls, who have a body. We have a spirit that is connected with the Source, with the whole Universe. This is a state where material possessions lose their meaning; where we can come to realize that we don't actually own anything, not even our bodies.
I plan on writing a lot more about the history of yoga and yoga philosophy. So let me know if there is anything specific you'd like to see here.
Love, Light and Namaste,
Keep Reading: Why Do We Turn To Our Right in Savasana?
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Keep Reading: The Seven Major Chakras
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