The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Who is Patanjali?

Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras was left for us by the great sage Pantanjali around 400CE. This article discusses the eight limbs of yoga and are referred to as ashtanga. Ashta means eight and anga means limbs in Sanskrit hence the eight limbs of yoga.

What is yoga?

Yoga means union with the supreme and it was shared to us in the Bhagavadgita by Sri Krishna Bhagawana. Yoga can also be meditation, breathing, postures and concentration which can lead you to Samadhi which is the union with the divine. Yoga is for God realisation. See the diagram to the left which can be found in the Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

What are the eight limbs of yoga?

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are core principles and can be seen as steps on ladder that lead you towards enlightenment.

1. Yamas

Yamas are moral and ethical considerations to help guide you, these are the dont’s in life. There are five yamas:

  • Ahimsa – Nonviolence to all things – practice nonviolence in thought, word and deed; practice love for all including yourself.
  • Satya – Truthfulness – tell the truth always, such a simple principle but very hard for some to do.
  • Asteya – Non-stealing – do not steal even in non-material ways.
  • Brahmacharya – Chastity and fidelity, no unfaithfulness – use your energy properly and with the right intention; excessive or overindulgence is not advisable.
  • Aparigraha – Non-coveting, no greed – everything you have is enough, be happy with what you have as there is always someone with less than you.

Clearly these are the basic morals and ethnics one should have. All religions talk of this and we all deep down have these imbedded in us but from time to time we break these logical principles. It is for us to be strict with ourselves so this becomes as normal as breathing is for us, then only then can you move on to the next stage.

2. Niyamas

The Niyamas are what you should do and these practices create the right self-disciplines.

  • Saucha – cleanliness both in your surroundings but of more importantly in your mind. If you put rubbish in your mind (for example, watching horror movies, speaking foul words, listening to aggressive music) then your mind will be like a bin, full of things that need to be thrown out.
  • Santosha: Be content and accepting with what you have. You are have what you have for many reasons, be happy with it and learn to look at what is inside you as that is the true prize.
  • Tapas: Self discipline and perseverance. Spiritual meditation practices.
  • Svadhyaya: The study of the right kind, spiritual scriptures that teach you about your true self, the Upanishads, The Bhagavadgita, The Brahma Sutras etc
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: faith in the supreme and surrender to Brahman.
3. Asana

Asana refers to the physical postures and seating positions. In Sanskrit asana means seat. The term asana refers to the ancient yogic tradition of taking a seat close to your guru and also the offering of the seat to the guru. The purpose of this seat and correct posture is to align yourself properly for meditation however it is essential to be comfortable or you will struggle to keep focus for long, therefore it is better to seat your self comfortably. The body will become used to postures as time progresses – do not push yourself too soon.

4. Pranayama

Pranayama means all kinds of breathwork or more literally control of your breath. Breathing is the only bodily function that you perform consciously and unconsciously; it can be both voluntary or involuntary. By consciously controlling your breath by using different breathing techniques, you can influence your mental and physical state. Prana is your life force and controlling your breath is the control of your life energy. In China they use the word Chi instead of Prana, and pranayama is the control of this life energy.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing from your senses from the objects outside in the world. At this stage you must not want for the distraction of the world even when you have to be fully immersed in it for family or work etc. Therefore, you must withdraw the desire for worldly objects by controlling your senses. You can continue to do your job or be part of a family but by being in control of what the senses need and do not need you will find peace and calmness.

6. Dharana

Dharana is the practice of intense concentration and focus. Today the buzz word is mindfulness where you concentrate on one thing at a time. For example when you eat your meal, in Ayurveda it say’s to concentrate on your food whilst eating instead of being distracted by devices, TV etc and the nutrition will absorb much better – try it today and see the benefit in just a few weeks. This practice trains the mind in stillness and focus. Here it is also very important to have your focus on what you are trying to achieve with Yoga, and as mentioned above the purpose of yoga is unity with the supreme, therefore stay strong and keep that focus at all times.

7. Dhyana

Dhyana Yoga or Raja Yoga is meditation and meditation is required to quieten and control the mind thus becoming the master of the senses. For an untrained mind our senses becomes its master. These senses which are seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling are always moving outwards to the take pleasure in the objects of the senses. Dhyana is when you see the mind and all the distractions but the difference now is you are now in control of the distractions which will inevitably arise in the mind. With the help of the previous the six stages you will be able to sit still and observe your thoughts in a peaceful state.

Only once we have the control of the mind can we look to achieve the next stage which is the final objective, Samadhi.

8. Samadhi

Samadhi are states of a meditative consciousness which are above and beyond normal intellect and mind. There are three types and stages of Samadhi which are:

  • Savikalpa Samadhi is the lowest of the Samadhi’s where you will transcend all activities of the mind and you will for a short period of time lose all human consciousness .
  • Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a higher state of awareness and the next stage of Smadhi where you go beyond both the ego and mental impressions and only consciousness remains.
  • Dharmamegha Samadhi is the final stage of samadhi. At this stage you are beyond even the desire for enlightenment and is given to you or revealed to you by your true self.

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