Yoga Basics101: What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?
We think we all know what yoga is about or at least have an opinion about the percieved trendy fitness practice!! But, the poses are just one limb of the 8-limbs of yoga. Yoga involves many areas of focus and has ill-contrived notions about its roots. Is yoga a religious Buddhist ritual? What is the difference between concentration and meditation? Continue to read on..
Here’s a short Cliff’s notes designed to give you a renewed overview of the basis of yoga. About 300-500 B.C. Pantanjali, an Indian sage wanted to overhaul the yoga of the yester years and make it sustainable and process-oriented. So, he created the 8 limbs of yoga. The eight paths called ASHTANGA which literally means “eight limbs.” These 8-steps act as a guide on how to live a more meaningful and purposeful life rooted in the truth. It is a journey for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline. It directs you on a journey to focus more attention to one’s health and help to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature. Yoga has been scientifically proven to improve the health of patients worldwide according to Harvard studies. We will review the 8-limbs of yoga to better understand what awareness means in a non-monolithic way which leads us to happier and healthier lives.
Why did Pantanjali create the 8 Limbs of yoga?
- Add breath to the body
- Add structure to yoga
- Make the practice non-religious
Yama – 1st Limb acknowledges one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves. It connects us to the universal principle that “we should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
- Nonviolence translates to being kind.
- Truthfulness translates to being honest.
- Non-stealing translates to being happy with what you have.
- Non-covetousness translates to absence of idolatry, eg. non-attachment to people or possessions.
Niyama – 2nd Limb conveys our self-discipline and spiritual observances. It leads us to a life journey that takes us to temple or church service, saying grace before meals developing your won meditation practice and making a habit of taking reflective walks to think more clearly.
- Heat/Spiritual Austerities
- Study of sacred scriptures and of one’s self
- Surrender to God
Asana – 3rd Limb are the posture practices you might see all over Instagram but the poses are practices in yoga that are designed to promote spiritual growth. The body is the temple of the spirit. So, you practice yoga to take care of the spirit with discipline to improve your ability to concentrate.
Pranayama – 4th Limb is the breath control. Each breathing techniques is designed to give mastery over the respiratory system while recognizing the connection between breath, the mind and emotions. The Pranayama translation is “life force extension.” Yogis believe that the breath rejuvenates the body by actually extending life itself. Some yoga teachers even believe the yoga is the breath throughout the 8-limbs process. If you genuinely connect to the breath first, you can get through anything.
Pratyahara – 5th Limb means withdrawal of senses or transcendence. It is during this limb that we draw our awareness away from the outside world and alternatively, focus inwardly towards our inner most self. Detach from our senses and direct our attention internally. Objectively, observe our cravings. In this withdrawal, we become self-observant.
Dharana – 6th Limb is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. This allows us to slow down the thought process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energy center of the body, image of your universe or divine God, silent repetition of a sound or wick of a candle. Although you gain the power of concentration in the previous 3 stages of namely, the posture, breath control and withdrawal of the senses, our attention may travel from one thought to another. Our focus constantly changes as we adjust our poses and breathing. Here, we focus our attention exclusively on one point of focus.
Dhyana – 7th Limb is meditation. Even though concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) appear to be the same, the distinction between the two limbs is that concentration is one-pointed attention and meditation is state of being keenly aware without focus. For example, primordial sound meditation training at the Chopra Center may take word themes based on Sutra principles and assigned those words to energy centers. As the meditator, you can focus on the Sutra words in sequential order as a means of focused concentration with your meditation practice. The heart energy center (chakra) may have sutra principles words like peace, harmony, laughter and love as words on which to meditate.
The goal is to quiet the mind without judgement and reach this state of stillness. Don’t give up. While the yoga appears difficult, remember yoga is a journey or process, not a destination. Even every picture pose is intrinsically imperfect because it’s the attainment of the practice, not perfection, that is most important.
Samadhi – 8th Limb is a state of ecstasy. The person who is mediating integrates with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. Another reflective thought on this stage also called enlightenment is that the connection to the Divine cannot be bought, possessed but only experienced through the Self, by the Self and for your Self.
Click here to see article in first post on who first introduced yoga to Americas.
Author: Dena Dodd Perry, 500 CYT with emphasis on meditation, gentle flow and detox yoga.