The 8 Limbs of Yoga stem from Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. In this text we learn to consider yoga as a way of life. It is a lifestyle, a guide to living, which helps individuals find harmony and health for a meaningful and peaceful life.
1. Yama - Restraints, moral disciplines or vows
Yama is the very first limb of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, and it refers to the guidelines, or vows, within which yogis live their daily outward lives. It outlines the way we should strive to interact with the people and the world around us.
Yama is in fact made up of five Yamas; Ahimsa meaning to act with 'non-violence', Satya meaning 'truthfulness', Asteya refers to 'nonstealing', Brahmacharya considers the 'right use of energy', and Aparigraha is 'nongreed' or 'nonhoarding'.
We will go into more detail on each of these Yamas in future blogs, so keep an eye out.
2. Niyama- Positive duties or observances
The prefix 'Ni' in Sanskrit is a verb meaning 'inwards' or 'within', so we can consider the Niyama as the actions we take internally for the betterment of our selves, to help us reach internal-understanding and acceptance. They can, however, also be taken into the physical realm too.
Like the first limb, the Niyama is made up of five sublayers, the Niyamas are; saucha referring cleanliness, santosha contentment although acceptance and appreciation are apt descriptions too, tapas is the discipline or burning desire, or conversely, burning of desire, svadhyaya refers to self-study or self-reflection, and study of spiritual texts, and isvarapranidaha is to surrender to a higher power.
3. Asana - Posture
Asana is derived from the Sanskrit word As which means 'seat', but today we use it to refer to the postures of yoga. Nevertheless, the Asana are tools to help prepare the body and mind for meditation.
In Patanjali's Sutra, the only directions he gives for achieving Asana is "sthira sukham asanam", meaning 'a posture the practitioner can hold comfortably and motionless', this is particularly interesting when we start to think about yoga as a moving meditation. Beyond the mat, Asana can be taken to mean an outlook on life, where challenges are an opportunity to learn.
4. Pranayama - Breathing techniques
Most simply, Prana means ‘energy’ or ‘life source’, it can refer to the breath as the very action that keeps us alive, as well as the energy in the universe around us.
However, you can read Pranayama in two different ways, the first being prana-yama which would translate to ‘breath – control’ or ‘breath restraint’. Or you could read it as prana-ayama which would mean ‘freedom of breath’, ‘breath expansion’ or ‘breath liberation’.
In yoga classes, we utilise breathing exercises because their effects on our mind and body are resounding. Our breath controls our energy flow and our minds, but whether we see these breathing techniques as an act of freedom or controlling is up to our perception.
5. Pratyahara - Sense withdrawal
Pratya means to 'withdraw' or 'draw in', while the second part Ahara refers to anything we as individuals take in, particularly our senses. Pratyahara is surmised as 'switching our senses off' which is misleading, instead consider it 'drawing focus inward' instead of losing your ability to smell or hear.
The practicing of Pratyahara is to change our state of mind, to draw our attention into what we want to focus on and not on outside distractions. As we develop our Pratyahara practice we learn to control our sensory intake and draw in our focus in a myriad of environments, allowing us greater concentrating in all areas of life.
6. Drahana - Focused concentration
Dha means ‘holding or maintaining’, while Ana means ‘other’ or ‘something else’. Tratak (candle gazing), visualisation, and focusing on the breath are all practices of Dharana. While these examples might seem so, practicing Drahana is not truly meditating.
Instead, think of the practice of Drahana as training the mind for complete stillness and focus. Start with a few minutes each day and extend your practice as you see fit. If thoughts or distractions flicker through your mind while practicing don't stop, simply recognise them and let them go.
7. Dyana - Meditative Absorption
The elusive act of meditating is best described as something we can not just 'do', rather it is something which 'just happens'. When one is meditating, they do not think 'Oh look, I'm meditating' its just a spontaneous reaction to the actions like Drahana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara.
The best way to describe Dyana is the feeling of being so absorbed in something you completely lose track of time, even of the need to eat. It is the act of being so keenly aware, yet without focus.
8. Samadi - Bliss or Enlightenment
Sama means ‘same’ or ‘equal’, while Dhi means ‘to see’. So while the final stage of the 8 Limbs might have you thinking you're going to float away, all-knowing, in a state of bliss, it really doesn't mean that at all...sorry.
Rather it refers to the realisation of life, or living wholeheartedly, without withdrawal. It is living by seeing 'what is', without judgments, habits, likes or dislikes, or attachments clouding your perceptions or reactions. That is bliss.
But Samadi is not permanent, it fluctuates as do our minds, our bodies, and the world around us, and so we must continue to practice all the 8 Limbs of Yoga before we can reach Moshka also known as Mukti, meaning a permanent state of being liberated, released and free.
If you are looking for a holistic approach to yoga, personal health and living a full and meaningful life, Salt Power Yoga is the studio for you. Offering classes seven days a week, workshops, retreats, and a holistic health approach with partner practitioners, Salt Power Yoga helps students to find their best self.