8 Limbs of Yoga

You will often hear yoga teachers talking about the 8 limbs of Yoga. The 8 Limbs of Yoga is part of the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali. Not that Patanjali, India’s ancient Yogi, calls them limbs and not steps as in limbs of a tree. Each limb exists simultaneously; they co-exist and are dependent on each other. Asana practice, yoga postures, is the third limb and pranayama is the fourth limb.

Patanjali explains the concept of “yoga Chitta vritti nirodha”, learning to control the fluctuations of the mind. The 8 limbs then are the ways in which you learn to control these fluctuations. All of the contents that the mind produces, good or bad, are called a ‘vritti’. With yoga, we can control this vrittis through increased awareness and practice. We can learn to restrain our stubborn nature through consciousness and energy and lead us to live more meaningful lives.

Through practicing postures, you can also practice these 8 limbs. You can train yourself over time in a safe place, yoga practice. Therefore knowing the 8 limbs of yoga enriches your asana practice as well as your life.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga are:

1. Yamas: The Yamas refer to universal morality and self-restraint. Patanjali tells us to cultivate these basic ethical behaviors in order to experience true yoga. The Yamas consist of 5 sub-elements. They are:

  • Ahimsa: compassion and nonviolence towards others. This is to be gentle with your body and not to use your body to practice yoga postures that will harm the body.
  • Satya: truthfulness and to honor the truth. Speak your truth to live a more fulfilling life.
  • Asteya: non-stealing. Be happy with what you have.
  • Brahmacharya: sense control and bringing awareness to your desires to see if they are truly beneficial or not.
  • Aparigraha: non-attachment, freedom from desiring more than you need

2. Niyamas: The Niyamas are 5 personal observances or self-guidelines.

  • Saucha: cleanliness. How we treat our outer world is a reflection of how we treat our inner self. Start with yourself and take care of the body and your space.
  • Santosa: contentment. This actively choosing to be content even when the outside factors may not be going well. We learn to accept life as it is and to accept what life brings to you. This also has to do with remaining undisturbed by others.
  • Tapas: this translates as austerity. In other words, think of fierce discipline, which cultivates will power. Tapas helps dissolve obstacles in our life and move towards freedom.
  • Svadhyaya: the study of one’s own self including body, mind, intellect, and ego. In yoga, this refers also to studying yoga sutras and always self-reflecting. In addition, by studying one’s self this helps you realize your interconnectedness with everything around you.
  • Isvara Pranidhana: This translates to devotion and surrendering to God. This concept inspires us to work hard but not be attached to the outcome. By letting go of your desires for the future, you can be in the present moment. 

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3. Asanas:  Body postures, “yoga poses”

4. Pranayama:  Breathing exercises, and control of prana

5. Pratyahara:  Control of the senses. This helps overcome desire and over-attachment in the material world.

6. Dharana:  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness

7. Dhyana:   Meditation

8. Samadhi:  This is ultimate liberation and enlightenment. When you reach Samadhi it’s important to understand that you still need to practice the other steps as well. In Samadhi we are in union with the Divine. This is the last component in the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

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