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Eight Limbs of Yoga

by | Jul 18, 2019 | Yoga + Meditation

It is thought that Patañjali was an ancient sage who wrote down the vedic knowledge of the time into sūtras, so they could be handed down orally from teacher to student.

These sūtras comprise of a series of experiments or practices that are designed to realise the teachings of Sāṅkhya, teachings that can be traced back to 2500 B.C.E. in lands that are now known as India and Iran. The Sāṅkhya dualistic philosophy states that the seer (Puruṣa) and the seen (Prakṛiti) are seperate constructs, and is the framework in which Advaita, Kashmir Shaivism and Buddhism later incorporated and built upon.

Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras are considered to be a practical guide to self understanding and enlightenment. As Bryant states in his in depth commentary on the Sūtras, ‘Patañjali’s text is not so much a philosophical treatise as a psychosomatic technique of meditative practice.’

The Yoga Sūtras outline eight limbs, or prescriptions for achieving the goal of yoga:

Yama-niyamāsana-prāṇāyāma-pratyāhāra-dhāraṇā-dhyāna-dhyāna-samādhayo ’ṣṭāv aṅgāni (II.29)

EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA

The eight limbs of yoga are:
1. Yamas (ahiṁsā, satya, asteya, brahmacarya and aparigraha)
2. Niyamas (śauca, saṃtoṣa, tapas, svādhyāya and īśvarapraṇidhānā)
3. Āsana
4. Prāṇāyāma
5. Pratyāhāra
6. Dhāraṇā
7. Dhyāna
8. Samādhi

The five yamas (ahiṁsā, satya, asteya, brahmacarya and aparigraha) are about our relationship with the world. They support us to live in the world in a way that cultivates sattva, or peacefulness in ourselves and others.

Ahiṁsā translates to mean non-violence, satya to mean truthfulness, asteya to mean honesty, brahmacarya to mean awareness of sexual energy and aparigraha to mean non-grasping.

The five niyamas (śauca, saṃtoṣa, tapas, svādhyāya and īśvarapraṇidhānā) are about self regulation, and they support us to cultivate sattva, or peacefulness within ourselves.

Śauca translates to mean to mean cleanliness, saṃtoṣa to mean contentment, tapas to mean austerity, svādhyāya to mean self study and īśvarapraṇidhānā to mean surrender or reverence of God.

It’s important to note that the yamas and niyamas are not commandments, but rather suggestions for cultivating peacefulness within.

Āsana translates to mean postures, and this is what is commonly considered to be the basis of yoga, and where many people start their yoga practice.

Prāṇāyāma is our vitality and life force energy, and consists of conscious breathing in order to influence this flow of prāṇā or energy.

Pratyāhāra is the withdrawal of the senses, taking our focus inwards.

The five limbs up until this point have been focussed on preparing the mind, and now dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi are the fruits of these five limbs.

Dhāraṇā means ‘to hold’ or ‘concentration’, and is the ability to focus the mind on a single object, despite many potential distractions, and dhyāna means meditation, and is the state in which the mind has an uninterrupted flow or connection only in relation to the object it is focused on.

Samādhi means ‘to bring together’ or ‘to merge’ and is is a result of the dhāraṇā and dhyāna, when the mind becomes so absorbed with an object that we become completely one with it, and our personal identity completely disappears.

TAKING YOGA OFF THE MAT

So often yoga is seen is to be moving the body into difficult shapes, but as you can see, there is SO much more to yoga.  In coming posts I’m going to be sharing more about these eight limbs of yoga and how you can bring them into your life, so you can practice yoga both on and off the mat.

I’d love to hear your experience about the full spectrum of yoga in your life.  Leave me a comment below how you’re bringing your yoga off your mat and into your life.

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