What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

Here I am going to give a general overview of the 8 fold path set out by Patanjali in ‘The Yoga Sutras’ (Ashtanga – 8 limb…. not to be confused with Ashtanga Vinyasa which is the set of sequences devised in Mysore by Patabi Jois)

‘The Yoga Sutras’ aims to explain; what yoga is, the aim of yoga, how to achieve this, what might get in your way, how to overcome these obstacles and what the result could be. It is non-dogmatic and each sutra (thread) is open to interpretation. The 8 limbs are almost like an action plan!

  1. Yamas – Ethical considerations
  2. Niyamas – Self observations
  3. Asana – Physical postures
  4. Pranayama – Breath control
  5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of senses
  6. Dharana – Concentration
  7. Dhyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – Freedom/Enlightenment

Firstly we need to consider our ethics, through understanding the 5 Yamas:

  • Ahimsa – Non-Harming
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Moderation
  • Aparigraha – Non-hoarding or non-possessiveness

Secondly are the 5 Niyamas or self observations, which are:

  • Saucha – Cleanliness/Purification
  • Santosa – Contentment
  • Tapas – Dicipline/Fiery cleansing
  • Svadhyaya – Self-study
  • Ishvara Pranidhana – Devotion

I will be writing about ways to integrate Yamas and Niyamas in a future blog post šŸ™‚

Third comes Asana, the physical practice. The aim is to stretch and strengthen the body and mind, staying healthy in order to be able sit comfortably for long periods of time, able to notice any discomfort and let it go without the need to move. It prepares you for the next stages.

Next is breath control or pranayama, if you’ve been to class no doubt you will have experienced this. It is most effective when practiced seperately and in conjunction with Bandhas (energy locks) Some common forms of pranayama include:

  • Nadi Sodhana (Alternate nostril breathing)
  • Bhramari Pranayama (“bee breath” which involves humming on the exhale)
  • Ujjayi Pranayama (Victory breath)

More on Ujjayi breath – a lighter form of ujjayi breath is used throughout asana practice. It involves restricting the flow of air through the glottis causing it to circulate and warm. It creates an audible sound similar to the ocean, which is why it is sometimes referred to as ocean breath.

Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal. Once this is achieved the yogi can successfully block out any sensations from the 5 senses and remain internally focussed in meditation.

Dharana – Concentration, once pratyahara, dharana becomes possible, the mind is held in concentration on one focus. The battle is to stay focussed without the mind wandering. Each time the mind wanders it must be noticed, accepted without judgement and brought back to focus. This is very similar to mindfulness which may be more familiar to you.

Dhyana – meditation, is the next stage. Building on Dharana to the point that the mind is unwaveringly focussed on the one thing.

Samadhi – this is very difficult to describe but it is the last stage, where the mind becomes one with the focus of meditation. Ego is lost and all is one.

I hope this has helped to demystifiy the basics of this topic and not cause more confusion! It is a huge process which can take a lifetime (or many) to fully understand. I am just at the start of this journey and have a long way to go and I’d love to share this journey with you all.

Love and Light.

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