The Eight Limbs of Yoga
January 17th, 2011

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The concept of the eight limbs of yoga comes from the 29th Sutra of the 2nd book, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today. Patanjali teaches that the way to achieve union with the divine is by following a path with eight progressive limbs

  1. Yamas    (Five restrictions or abstentions)
  2. Niyama  (Five observances)
  3. Asana    (Postures; the sutras refer to the seated position used for meditation)
  4. Pranayama  (“Prana,” breath, and “ayama,” to restrain – control of the life force)
  5. Pratyahara  (Non-attachment; withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects)
  6. Dharana  (Concentration – fixing the attention on a single object)
  7. Dhyana   (Meditation – intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation)
  8. Samadhi  (Unity with the Divine)

This is what I have learned and understand about the eight limbs

1.     Yamas – Five ethical restraints or moral codes:

  • Non-violence in every part of your life - doing no harm to yourself or others
  • Truth, and living according to your truth
  • Not stealing.  This includes time and energy of others
  • Being in control of your sexual energy
  • Not coveting

2.     Niyamas – Five personal observances

  • Cleanliness – external and internal
  • Contentment
  • The energy and passion you bring to your activities
  • Study of spiritual texts to promote understanding
  • Surrender to a higher being

3.     Asanas – This is the word for the physical movements or poses of yoga practice in combination with breathing techniques. It is believed that mastering control of our bodies is the first step toward relieving the suffering that comes from attachment.  Learn more about Asanas here.

4.     Pranayama – an integral part of asana practice, used to develop mental, physical and spiritual strength.  In yoga, pranayama techniques are used to control the movement of prana through control of one’s breathing.  Prana is vital energy, not breath—its most subtle material form is the breath, but prana is also in blood and other bodily fluids. Prana is believed to flow through a network of channels in the body (nadis).  Read more about Pranayama here.

5.     Pratyahara - This means to draw one’s attention inward and away from the distractions of the outside world.  This will induce calm.  But before the mind can turn in on itself, all connections with the external world must be severed.  Only then is self-discovery possible.  This is not about controlling or enduring sensations, but being able to simply withdraw from them.

6. Dharana - This is to train the mind not to wander and to be able to concentrate so intently that one's mind can focus on a single point with the intent to know the truth about it.  It is an active process that requires significant effort and is important for the last two limbs. 

7. Dhyana - When we get to the point where Dharana just happens naturally, we have achieved the state of meditation.  It's not really a technique but a state of mind - an unbroken stream of concentration transcending our human experience, allowing us to enter the various stages of unified communion with God.  Practicing Dhyana enables a calm mind and brings about a heightened state of awareness and an ability to look at the world without distractions 

8. Samadhi - This is a Sanskrit term meaning the same as - or at one with - the Highest (Self).  It is a transcendental state where our concept of who we are - our thoughts, feelings, sense of awareness and our entire mental structure - unite with the Universal Consciousness.  This highest state of consciousness in yoga is also called super or cosmic consciousness, nirvana, and even enlightenment.   

About My Classes

I teach to others what I have found to work best for myself.  My teaching style consists primarily of movements linked to breath...

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