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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga
The 8 Limbs of Yoga

We all know what Yoga is, right? It’s a great exercise routine to keep fit and become more flexible. If you agreed with the previous statement, take a deep breath and read on because Yoga is so much more.

Yoga actually translates to “union” (referring to the unity between the individual soul with the universal soul) and is an ancient system of 8 different practices. The sage Patanjali is credited with organizing the pre-existing knowledge and compiling it into the Yoga Sutras (threads), providing a systematic approach to creating a divine connection between the conscious and the subconscious. Let us review these eight limbs.

The first two limbs, called Yama (self-restraints) and Niyama (observances), detail how we should be treating ourselves and others through internal and external purification.

The practice of self-restraint is, often times, the most difficult to master since it requires a great amount of discipline when interacting with others. One cannot attain true inner bliss and serenity without overcoming the most basic material desires that we are so quick to succumb to in Maya, or the illusions of this world.

The five components of Yama highlight the external dimension of reaching spiritual enlightenment. On the other hand, thefive elements of Niyama reflect a more inner struggle on that same path. Deep inward reflection allows for the mental discipline needed to overcome distracting or negative thoughts.

Yama (self-restraints) and Niyama (observances)The next limb is Asana which are the physical postures, or poses, of yoga. The literal translation of asana is ‘seat’. In Swami Vivekananda’s translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “sthirasukham aasanam” is defined as a posture which is “firm and pleasant”.

If your body is in an uncomfortable position, it will be difficult to sit motionless because after some time, aches can occur in the body. Swami Vivekananda said,”When you are disturbed by the body, your nerves become disturbed, and you cannot concentrate the mind,” (Patanjali Yoga Sutras).

If performed correctly, asana also provides physical benefits by opening up the airways so that we can increase our oxygen intake without obstructing the flow. Asana’s effect on one’s oxygen flow is essential to the next limb of yoga, Pranayama.

Pranayama is frequently misinterpreted as the”breath”, but it is actually the force, or energy, behind the breath, which can be depicted by the movement of the lungs. By controlling the force behind the breath, we are able to clear the mind and get a step closer to achieving a state of concentration.

Pratyahara, the fifth limb,is the withdrawal of senses. By eliminating outward stimuli and our attachments to the material/external world, we are able to practice drawing inwards.

These first five preparatory steps enable one to clear the mind and body and facilitate one’s path to reaching ultimate concentration without distractions or disruptions.

The sixth limb, Dharana, concentration, is a fixated attention. This requires one to concentrate on a single object or point.

The seventh limb is Dhyana, which is single-pointed concentration held continuously for a length of time.

These finals steps, which ultimately lead to samadhi, bliss, are defined by Swami Jnaneshvara as “stages of attention” for “deep absorption,” (SwamiJ.com). Samadhi is the ultimate goal one must strive for through the practice of Yoga.

The eight limbs of yoga are a complete breakdown of how to start and fulfill a meditation practice. Each limb is a necessary precursor for moving forward towards a state of bliss. Even though a natural succession has been provided by Patanjali, it is still possible for a person to modify or adapt the steps and work at one’s own pace.

Today, yoga is practiced with the majority of the concentration being on the asana practice. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Just by opening up the mind to performing the postures may help a person begin their journey of self-reflection and transformation.

I hope that with a deeper understanding of Yoga, you can appreciate that more than anything, it is a way of life.

So, have you “graduated” from your Asana practice at your local yoga studio yet? Perhaps it is time to explore Pranayama or Meditation, with which you can move beyond physical benefits. If so, it is time to connect with someone who can connect you to yourself.

Chahna TailorAbout the Author

Chahna Tailor is a certified yoga instructor with backgrounds in occupational therapy and health science. Occupational therapy opened up the doors of knowledge when it came to taking care of the Self first and leading a healthier life. This led her to the physical practice of yoga. Chahna deepened her practice by training in Rishikesh, India, where she studied the science behind yoga, the breath, and meditation. Chahna also practices personal training, Reiki, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, pranichealing, and sound healing.