Ashtanga Yoga was originally introduced by a sage by the name of Patanjali, in the Second Century B.C., which is documented in a text called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Part of this text outlines the “Eight Limbs of Yoga.” The goal of following the Eight Limbs, according to EkhartYoga.com, is to achieve “moksha, meaning liberation or freedom.”
The thing that I find really interesting about Ashtanga Yoga and the Eight Limbs is that it isn’t just about Asanas. The Eight Limbs are meant to represent many aspects of life, not just what you’re doing with the 30 minutes to hour or so you may be spending on that mat a day or a few times a week. It describes Yoga as a lifestyle, not just something to be practiced for physical fitness, but for a happy and healthy mind, body, and spirit.
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Yamas refer to self discipline and self restraint, our external behaviors and actions. There are 5 yamas, which are:
- Ahimsa, or nonviolence
- Satya, or truthfulness and honesty
- Asteya, or non-stealing
- Brahmacharya, or continence. The ability to control one’s urges and impulses.
- Aparigraha, or noncovetousness, being non-possessive.
The Niyamas are defined as Moral Obligations or Observances. There are also five of them and I’ll list them here:
- Saucha, or cleanliness and purification
- Santosha, or contentment
- Tapas, or self discipline
- Svadhyaya, or study of the self
- Ishvara Pranidhana, or surrender of the self to a higher power
The third limb is Asana. As YogaJournal.com put is so well, “the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth.” Asana is not just there to help gain flexibility or strength, or to push our body’s limits. Rather, it was originally intended to help us focus and be comfortable in an asana. To paraphrase from the Yoga Sutra, we shouldn’t be focusing on the most impressive or difficult asanas, but the ones we feel good in.
Pranayama refers to breath control, or a more accurate translation would be “extension of the life force.” This refers to the inhale and exhale when transitioning between asanas, but should also be looked at as a practice in itself. Deep breathing and breathing exercises help lessen anxiety, relieve stress, and can help with a high heart rate and blood pressure. It can even help some cope with symptoms of PTSD. Overall, taking a few deep breaths regularly, especially if you make it a habit, can have great benefits.
Pratyahara is defined as being “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.” If you’re meditating, you’re already practicing Pratyahara. The purpose to is try to remove any focus from external stimuli, whether it’s noise, scent, any outside distractions; and turn our focus inward. If we’re able to turn all of our focus inward to ourselves without receiving any outside information and stimulation, we are able to connect with ourselves on a deeper level, to hear our own needs, and to have a chance to get a break from any negative things going on around us that we may have sensed otherwise.
The 6th limb of yoga, Dharana, is all about concentration. It is connected to Pratyahara in a way, but rather than withdrawing your senses, the goal is to hone your focus in on one object, sound, thought, etc. For me, I imagine that a good way to start practicing Dharana would be to set an intention of your meditation, or to envision a particular object. When your mind starts to wander (as it inevitably will), just gently come back to your focal point and try again. This will take a lot of practice and a lot of attempt, but with time and persistence, you will be able to achieve this.
In an article on Chopra.com, “Meditation is the pathway to the state of Dhyana,” which I found very interesting. Dhyana is a form of meditation, but what differs here is the end goal. The goal of practicing Dhyana is to reach a state of oneness with your meditation, forgetting all else and ego, you are a part of your meditation.
Samadhi is the goal of following and living by the Eight Limbs, Enlightenment. A great description of Samadhi I found on Yogapedia describes it as “the state at which one becomes purely aware of the sanctity of one’s self.”
If you’re interested in learning more about The Eight Limbs of Yoga, I’d highly recommend going directly to the source and reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It’s available on Amazon using the link below
While I’d go with the original first, there are also many other books available on the topic of the Eight Limbs.
When the Consciousness-Person’s mind settles down, being unconditioned/ unattached (stops moving in other directions)* – when this state is attained, the mind becomes aware of the Self.-Patanjali Yoga Sutras 4:21