The 8 Limbs of Yoga
Patanjali who was the first to compile the essence of yoga in his yoga sutras propounds The Eight Limbs of Yoga as,
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ meaning union of the body, mind, and spirit to its fullest potential. It is believed that Lord Shiva the Adiyogi practised yoga and reached the state of enlightenment. Later Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining ‘Samadhi’ or enlightenment. Patanjali is considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sutras strongly influence most styles of modern yoga beautifully analysing the fully blossomed state of consciousness. It is an excellent technique found and practised from generations to build strength, awareness and harmony of the body, mind, emotion and energy, towards the goal of ultimate self-realization.
The Yamas are moral and ethical guidelines that govern our behaviour towards others. They include Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy or moderation), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Living by these ethical principles over time puts the aspirants constantly in touch with their highest thoughts, to the point that all engagement with the world is channelised through the highest values.
The Niyamas (Personal discipline) are personal observances that relate to self-discipline and self-care. They include Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher power). Observance of Niyamas provides the aspirant with the needed strength and self-control, which allows making choices beneficial to self-growth.
Asanas refer to the practice of physical postures in Yoga. These postures are designed to strengthen the body, improve flexibility, and promote overall well-being. The practice of asanas also prepares the body for meditation. The ancients understood that the strongest of wills are let down if the vehicle of expression, the body, is not up to meeting the challenges of life. Thus, the incorporation of Asanas strengthens the body through which all actions and creation of one’s life are undertaken. The practices of this part of Yoga are also referred to as “Hatha Yoga.”
Pranayama involves the regulation and control of breath. Through specific breathing techniques, pranayama aims to balance and direct the flow of life force energy (prana) within the body, leading to increased vitality and mental clarity. Realizing that life is breath and breath much more than inhalation and exhalation, the masters identified the unbreakable relationship between states of being and emotion with the state of the breath. Control over “prana” allows finer control over emotions and the states of being of human existence, thus ensuring that the aspirant is not a victim of emotions, but the master of them.
Withdrawal of Senses
Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing the senses from external distractions and turning the focus inward. It involves consciously detaching from sensory inputs and allowing the mind to become more focused and inwardly aware. The purpose of the senses is to allow us to perceive our world and choose our interactions with it. However, they also have the capability to draw us into indulgences and endless desires for gratification. Withdrawal of the senses within, at will, sets the stage for reducing external distractions. This is the precursor to developing the ability to concentrate and focus, further leading to freedom from cravings and indulgences and the distress and unhappiness they can cause.
Dharana is the practice of concentration, where the mind is trained to focus on a single point or object of meditation. Through sustained concentration, the mind becomes steady and more focused, preparing it for deeper states of meditation. Just as the sharp edge of a knife focuses the force applied, allowing it to cut effortlessly, so also achieving anything of value requires focus and concentration. So once the senses are withdrawn inwards and not distracted, the practices which enhance concentration come into play. Initially, this concentration may seem difficult to hold, but with practice, the duration for which it can be held gradually increases as distractions reduce.
Dhyana is the state of meditation, where the mind is calm, focused, and fully absorbed in the present moment. It is a state of heightened awareness and inner stillness, facilitating a deeper connection with the self and the divine. Dhyana, or meditation, is the logical progression of the ability to concentrate. Meditation is introduced as maintaining focus, initially through guided meditations. This progresses to a point where the process allows connecting to a universal consciousness by reducing the pursuit of emerging thoughts and just being a witness to them.
Samadhi is the ultimate goal of Yoga, the state of oneness and union with the object of meditation or the divine. It is a state of pure awareness and bliss, where the individual transcends the limitations of the ego and experiences the interconnectedness of all existence. The practice of meditation, over a period of time, reduces the tendency of the mind to fluctuate with the ups and downs of the external environment, to the point of freedom from the emotional roller coaster we all seem to be aboard. The continued practices of meditation over time, extend the state of bliss experienced gradually, till it becomes a continuous state of being.
- Patanjali’s Prayer Invocation
- What is Yoga
- History of Yoga
- The 8 Limbs of Yoga
- Three Margas(Paths) of Yoga
- Significance of Mudras
- Seven Chakras: An Ancient Guide to Modern Living
- Evolution & Lineages
- Yoga Masters
- Guru – Shishya Relationship
- Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
- The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita