The 8 Limbs of Yoga Explained

India 2011 162When I started to get into yoga it really was to give my body a good stretch, tone up and also to feel lovely and floaty by the end of the class. I’d often heard people say that yoga is a way of life, it’s a philosophy but I didn’t really know what they meant.

Five years later I get it now. I am not expert in it all, I am only still a novice, but I know it’s shaped who I am today, how I think and act. One of the main “guides” if you like to call it for yoga philosophy is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. A sutra is a verse full of words of wisdom.  In his sutra he describes yoga as having an  8 fold path which are guidelines to the way of living your life. These are the 8 limbs of yoga.

Astanga yoga is derived from this 8 fold path, ashtanga literally means 8 limbs.

So what are these 8 limbs of yoga?

1) Yamas

These are rules for social conduct;

  • Non violence – in action, thought and deed
  • Truthfulness
  • Non stealing – including taking credit for something you didn’t do!
  • Celebacy – or at least moderation of sensual pleasures
  • Non possessiveness – being aware of not accumulating unnesscessary things

2) Niyamas

These are more personal observances and self discipline;

  • Cleanliness of body and purity of mind
  • Contentment/ satisfaction
  • Austerities, the self disciplines we put upon ourselves for example giving up chocolate/ having a day in silence
  • Self study – of scriptures and Self
  • Total surrender to God

3) Asana

Asana is the physical practice that you experience in a yoga class. Asana literally means any posture that is stable and comfortable. The aim is to get in the pose and then be able to meditate comfortably in it.

4) Pranayama

Yogic breathing, prana is life force energy. Through pranayama practice you control the breath, the life force, it shows you how your breath impacts your mind and emotions.

5) Pratyahara

With drawl of your sense organs, this is where we go within. Shutting our the external world and taking your focus internally.

6) Dharana

Having gone with in then there comes mind fixed concentration. This is the practice of meditating on one object. Our minds are like monkeys jumping around all over the place so rather than trying to switch off thoughts altogether it can help to have one point of focus, like a mantra to repeat for example.

7) Dhyana

Once you have gone within, narrowed your focus to one point then you are meditating. This is Dhyana.

8) Samadhi

This is the final stage, the point where you have transcended your Self and are in a state of bliss. When you loose yourself completely in an object, and that object is revealing itself fully. Kind of like reading a great book, to begin with you focus on reading it but before long you become so immersed in it you are not even aware of the book or your Self just the story going into your mind.

That was a very basic run down of the 8 limbs. It’s so much more complex and to be able to follow it all requires a huge amount of discipline but it can be good to pick just one aspect and focus on that for a bit.