8 Limbs of Yoga
• The eight limbs of yoga coined by Patanjali are Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Each of them play a valuable role in the life of a Yogi.
History of limbs:
Yoga Sutras, by Patanjali, outline the 8 limbs of yoga, or Ashtanga. Literally, “Ashta” = eight and “Anga” = limb. It is said that Lord Shiva shared yoga with seven sages (the Sapta Rishis), who then created seven different schools of yoga, which were passed down through history to create hundreds of different forms of yoga. Patanjali composed the Yoga Sutras as a composite of these various traditions.
Define each limb:
Yamas:Literally translated as “Restraint” addresses personal behavior.
Ahimsa (Non-Harming); Satya (Truthfulness); Asteya (Non-Stealing); Brahmacharya (Non-excess) and Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness)
Niyamas:Literally translated as “Observances” addresses self-perception.
Saucha (Purity); Santosha (Contentment); Tapas (Self Discipline); Svadhyaya (Self Study); and Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender)
Asana:Literally translated as “Take a Seat.” Physical postures including, but not limited to standing, seated, twists, inversions, lateral bends, backbends, and forward folds.
Pranayama: Literally, Prana = life force, breath. Yama = restraint. Though, one could also break the word into “Prana” and “Ayama” which translates “To extend or draw out.” So, control of breath or breath extension. The practice of consciously controlling the breath, which will lead to improved concentration, health, focus, clarity, creativity, and purpose.
Pratyahara:Literally, “Prati” meaning “away” or “against” and “Ahara” meaning “food” or anything we “take in from the outside to the inside.” Many translate it as “sense withdrawal,” “withdrawal of the senses,” “control of senses,” or the like. Pratyahara can be viewed as the bridge between the external practices of the first 4 limbs to the internal practices of the following 3 limbs. With this practice we draw our senses inward, bringing our attention to that which lies within, instead of the outside world.
Dharana:Literally translates to “concentration.” However, a deeper translation refers to "binding of the mind to one place, object or idea,” external (e.g. image/deity) or internal (e.g. a chakra). These last three limbs are referred to as Sanyam (control) and it is said they are to be practiced collectively – practicing Dharana will bring you to Dhyana, which will lead you to Samadhi. It is achieved when the yogi is able to focus solely on the object of concentration with pinpoint precision.
Dhyana:Literally translates to “meditation,” “appreciation,” and “attention.” However, while used interchangeably with “meditation,” Dhyana refers to the state of beingachieved through meditation. Where Dharana brings the minds to focus on a single point, Dhyana is achieved when the yogi is so immersed in the meditation that it ceases to attach itself to the act of meditating – where the action of concentration and focus has disintegrated and what is left is the state of Dhyana. It is the merging with the object of concentration.
Samadhi:Literally translates to “putting together,” “integration,” or “absorption.” It is also considered a state of bliss. It is the culmination of all the limbs that precede it. It is said that while in the state of Samadhi, you cannot see anything but the oneness between self and anything else – as though the subject and object are one.
Reflect on how the yamas and niyamas can affect your life experience:
Ahimsa (Non-Harming) – Avoiding harsh words, actions, and thoughts towards yourself and those around you.
Satya (Truthfulness) – Honesty is the best policy.
Asteya (Non-Stealing) – Obviously don’t steal material things, but also attention, time and energy.
Brahmacharya (Non-excess) – For me, NOT celibacy, rather being faithful and respectful in ALL relationships.
Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness) – Working towards generosity and love, avoiding greed and envy.
Saucha (Purity) – Maintain cleanliness, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Santosha (Contentment) – Practice gratitude, be content with yourself, what you have and where you are.
Tapas (Self Discipline) – Avoid shortcuts, enjoy the journey of life.
Svadhyaya (Self Study) – Know, accept, and love yourself.
Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender) – Devotion, to a God, or simply to your practice.
What roles do the asanas play in the 8 limbs of yoga?
Asana, the physical practice, prepares the body for meditation. It is the only outwardly physical, clearly actionable limb of yoga. In modern times, Asana, though the third of the eight limbs, is the first one that people are introduced to, one may say that it is the gateway through with modern yogis and yoginis discover the philosophical and spiritual heart of the practice of Yoga.