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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

by | Jan 17, 2021 | Philosophy, Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga. by LeahBosworth

When you take a yoga class in the western world, what you are typically doing is practicing asana (seat or posture). Yoga actually means “to yoke” or “to join”. You can’t actually “do join” or “do union” but you can do a posture. Most yoga classes focus on the physical aspect of yoga, which is a beautiful component of yoga. However, to enjoy a more complete experience of yoga, there are more limbs that you can integrate into your practice.

The true meaning of yoga is “the absence of pain and sorrow”. It is becoming aware of and connecting your finite everyday self with your infinite Self. We don’t actually have to find it anywhere, we simply do these practices consistently and your true self is revealed. It happens cumulatively and spontaneously.

Yoga is vast and there have been many evolutions over many millennia. One of the philosophies that have stuck with us in our modern yoga world are the 8 Limbs of Yoga. These aspects of yoga work together to help us learn how to direct our energies and control our restless mind.

The 8 limbs of yoga are a set of observances and practices that come from The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali . Patanjali identified eight interrelated aspects of Yoga practice some time between 200 and 600 A.D. They have been around for quite some time, however keep in mind this is simply one of many yogic philosophies. This system can help to create deeper meaning in our asana and yoga practice.

THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA

1. Yamas – (5 restraints) These are 5 observances on the way we treat others and primarily the world around us. While the physical practice (asana) of yoga will keep our body healthy, these other practices will help strengthen our relationship to our practice, ourselves and others.

Ahimsa (non-violence)
Satya (truth)
Asteya (non-stealing)
Brahmacharya (self-restraint)
Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

2. Niyamas (5 individual disciplines) These are the way we treat ourselves, our body and mind. Tools to cultivate individual happiness. These will strengthen the relationship to self.

Saucha (cleanliness)
Santosah (contentment)
Tapas (determination)
Svadhyaya (self study)
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion)

3. Asana – Postures for health and meditation.

4. Pranayama – Can be understood in two different ways. It can be prana yama
which means breath restraint or control or Prana-Ayama. Prana means life force and Ayama means direction, redirection, expansion or freedom. There are hundreds of different types of pranayama (breath techniques) that can create many different effects. You can choose a more calming practice like Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or Kapalabhati (skull shining breath). Ultimately each way of breathing will bring balance to your current energy.

5. Pratyahara – Synchronization of senses and thoughts. Or withdraw of the senses. Pratya means to “withdraw” or “take back” and ahara means anything we take in like sights, sounds, smells. During savasana or meditation, one might find themselves withdrawing. This brings our attention and awareness inward and gives us the opportunity to explore our own vast potential.

6. Dharana – One pointed concentration. Dhar means “holding” or “maintaining” and ana means other or something else. This is like training for meditation. You could be focusing on a sound, your breath or a word and the repetition of this can take you into the state of meditation.

7. Dhyana – Deep meditation – As we concentrate with or without effort we can begin to become absorbed in this state. The funny thing about this is, that when you are in it, you don’t know it and as soon as you know it, you are not “in it” anymore. This state is the result of some or all of the limbs before it and is the effect not something you do.

8. Samadhi – Awakening and absorption with spirit. Sama means “equal” and dhi means “to see”. This is when you go beyond meditation and feel a complete union with your infinite self, consciousness, bliss. It is not about leaving this world, but the realization that “to see” means that there is no separation between you and the universal creative force.

You may find many of these aspects in your yoga class or asana practice.

Beginning with an attitude or awareness, breathing a specific way, softening your senses, concentrating, meditation and then surrendering and feeling at one with your infinite self. They can also be studied and practiced independently of an asana practice.

Once you become aware of these aspects, your yoga practice and your life take on a whole new meaning.

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