The 8 limbs of yoga explained
Updated: Jun 2
What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you hear the word “yoga”?
I’m almost certain it is the image of a young lady in a bent Asana, or a man sitting in a meditative pose with his eyes closed against the canvas of a sunset.
While most certainly, this is yoga, we often question if there is more to yoga than just Poses and Meditation? And if yes, what is it?
Maharshi Patanjali, the Indian sage penned down a scientific method, that he describes as the 8 limbs of yoga in his compilation of the “Yoga Sutras”.
The aim of these 8 steps is to gradually bring about a discipline by purifying the mind and body to achieve the Ekagra state of one pointedness, where you are entirely aware and conscious of your being.
Let’s get into the details of these 8 steps.
1 Yama (Restraints)
Yama focuses on our sense of integrity and ethical standards. The focus is on our behavior and conduct. Nonviolence, Speak the truth, refrain from the unlawful, refrain from indulgences and controlling our needs are the five key aspects of the Yama’s. These are easy to practice, yet we find ourselves slipping over the course the day. But natural, we are only human. However, ask yourself these questions; “How often have I raised our voice in anger or have had violent thoughts in my mind? Do I try to speak the truth every time? Do I have control over my needs?”
Conducting ourselves in the right manner is the first step of practicing yoga. Our attitudes fluctuate during the course of the day and Yama’s give us the direction we need, to make those changes in our everyday attitude.
2 Niyama (Observances)
We all need some assistance with developing a healthy and strong routine, to nurture the positivity within us. That’s why we have the Niyamas. The first Niyama stresses on keeping our mind and body clean to feel good and be good. Contentment follows as the second observance. Be satisfied, yet detached, with what we have. Tapas or simply translated as austerities is the third Niyama. We’ve all heard the saying “No pain no gain”. It’s the acceptance of pain that leads to purification. Understanding and studying ourselves is possibly the hardest to follow but Maharshi Patanjali describes this as the fourth Niyama that can be practiced through deep reflection, meditation and contemplation. Lastly, he concludes with the fifth Niyama; Surrendering ourselves to the higher spiritual power with devotion. We learn to redirect our energies away from selfish desires and direct them spiritually inwards.
3 Asana (Postures)
One of the most common practices of yoga, Asanas are poses that make us strong and sturdy. It is a state of being where we can remain physically and mentally steady, calm and comfortable. Though the practice of Asanas we develop the habit of disciple by being able to concentrate. Each asana has a method of taking the position in slow and controlled movements and releasing the position with steadiness, comfort and relaxation. This process helps us in a deeper understanding of ourselves, in a controlled environment.
4 Pranyama (Breath Regulation)
Literally translated, Prana is the vital energy of our body and Ayama means control.
Breathing is essential for survival and hence regulating our breath is an important aspect in yoga. Consciously breathing to maintain a higher state of awareness is an important practice in reaching Samadhi. Having control over our breath facilitates concentration while also calming the body. So, let’s take the time to concentrate on our breath and let the energy flow within us.
5 Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
Pratyahara is the withdrawal of senses. Instead of directing our senses to the external objects we need to abide within ourselves. Imagine having the ability to engage our minds in deeper thoughts that we do not notice the sensory distractions around; e.g. noise. Maharshi Patanjali explains that we have internal senses of knowledge, external senses of actions and the mind as the leader, that controls all these senses. Having mastered Pratyahara, we can never complain about the distractions of the mind.
6 Dharna (concentration)
The ability to have our mind focused on an object without being interrupted by thoughts or distractions is Concentration. We should be able to concentrate for a short period of time without being distracted by a passing thought. Before getting into meditation, we must master the art of concentration. With proper concentration and focus, we can get through a task with much ease. Dharna is important to get our daily chores or tasks done with ease.
7 Dhyana (Meditation)
Meditation is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Immersing ourselves into deep thought without being distracted; is meditation. We practice meditation to help us calm the mind and body of any turbulences. Meditation is like a still lake, undisturbed and calm. You can see your reflection clearly in the stillness of water; and tend to appreciate it even more. This is exactly what meditation aims to achieve, a deeper understanding of ourselves by calming the distractions.
8 Samadhi (Stillness)
Samadhi literally translates to “bring together or merge”. It’s the ultimate state of unification of the body and mind. It’s a state of mind that is in oneness with the object of meditation. As airy as it may sound, if we take a minute to ask ourselves, what is it we desire most from life? Wouldn’t Happiness, contentment and peace, be the answer? This ultimate state of yoga cannot truly be explained but only experienced.