If you attend regular yoga classes, then it is likely you’ve heard a yogi reference the Yoga Sutra. If you are new to yoga, then know that Yoga Sutra is a book of classical or royal yoga. It was written by Patanjali, a Sage, about 1700 years ago. Within the guidebook, he frequently refers to the ‘Ashtanga’, which literally means eight limbs, or Eight-fold Path.
These eight steps, commonly known as the 8 limbs of yoga, basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.
While we will stay away from a micro-level exploration of the concepts herein, it is our want to share a broad overview of these eight limbs and which aspects of our lives’ each limb represents. The eight limbs define the practice of yoga, which can really help any practitioner understand the intricacies, beauty, and potential of this practice.
- Yama: Yoga’s first limb is Yama, which focuses on moral and ethical standards. It includes non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacharya), and non-greediness (aparigraha).If Yama is a light, it is the one you give off to others.
- Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.
- The third limb is Asana, which refers to physical postures. This is the limb that everyone already knows! It involves practicing yoga poses to strengthen and stretch the body and prepare it for meditation. Asana is about becoming embodied and uniting all aspects of yourself—body, mind, heart, breath, and soul.
- Pranayama, the fourth limb, refers to breath control. It involves various breathing exercises to help calm the mind, increase vitality, and balance the energy flow within the body. Yoga both increases our health and extends our lives. The literal meaning of ‘pranayama’ is life force extension.
- The fifth limb, Pratyahara, involves withdrawing the senses from the outside world and, instead, shining them inside yourself. It involves turning inward while detaching from external stimuli to quiet the mind and prepare for meditation.
- The sixth limb is Dharana. It refers to concentration. It involves focusing the mind on a single point, such as a sound, image, or object, to develop mental clarity and focus. The purpose now is to still the wandering mind and become steady. Choose one single point of focus and practice staying connected to it.
- Dhyana, Meditation or contemplation, is the seventh stage of ashtanga. It is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus.
- Samadhi is the eighth and final stage of ashtanga. Patanjali describes samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether.Samadhi is the braiding together of all the limbs. It is a complete understanding and a total immersion in presence.
Like any system, it is the cohesion of these limbs that allow for the resulting experience! This ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of those who aspire.