The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The eight limbs of yoga

Whereas you all know yoga asana, the practice of positions and poses that you help to release tension and stress, become flexible and lean, etc. (old news); yoga as a whole has much more to it. The eight limbs of yoga are the pathway to fully immerse yourself in the yogic lifestyle, they include breath, meditation, (personal) healthcare, and even your actions and the way you deal with your relationships.

Sounds heavy already, get ready…

The eight limbs of yoga described in one sentence.

  1. Yamas
    The five “restraints” counting nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess, and non-possessiveness.
  2. Niyamas
    The five “observances,” incorporating purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender.
  3. Asana
    Positions, posture, movement, steadiness
  4. Pranayama
    The breath – control of the vital energy of the universe.
  5. Pratyahara
    Focus, withdrawal of the senses.
  6. Dharana 
    Concentration, single-pointed awareness.
  7. Dhyana 
    Contemplation, absorption, meditation.
  8. Samadhi
    Self-transcendence, complete integration with the object to be understood.

Holy moly. That sounds rather restricted, but I promise it is not at all that bad…

Let’s dive in a little deeper and see how yes, it is a litte serious, but the limbs are there for you to adapt to YOUR lifestyle. Your life. Your personality. Your rhythm. Your preferences. To your contentment.

The eight limbs of yoga described in a little more detail.

1. Yamas

Yama is your entrance, your presence, not so much the way you look from the outside, but who you are within and how you communicate this with the rest of the world.  Ask yourself how you come across? Are you kind and compassionate? Do you act and speak truthful? Do you practise non-stealing? Do you hoard? All of these, literally and figuratively. The Yamas say all about how you deal with your relationships.

2. Niyamas

You might have guessed already. The Niyamas deal with the relationship we have with ourselves. How do relate to yourself? Are you content within? Do you keep your mind, body and soul clean? Do you search for development? Do you question and study? Are you disciplined? Do you dare to devote time to something bigger, higher or unknown, like e.g. God? The Niyamas include your entire personal care-taking.

3. Asana
The one described at the start; the physical aspect of your yoga practise. The poses, stances and movement that trim your body. At least that might be the reason you started practising. Yes, that lean and flexible body are a great benefit, but really, why we practise asana is building a connection between your mind, heart, breath, soul and body. To show up for yourself (accountability) and be determined, to push your boundaries, find acceptance, patience and laugh at yourself when you fall.

4. Pranayama
Prana stands for energy, life force. Simply ‘the breath’. That what keeps you alive. Pranayama (breathing techniques) go hand-in-hand with asana.
Your breath tells you all about your current state and condition. If you are out-of-breath, you have gone beyond your limits. If it is irregular, you might want to question why exactly. Having an even, steady, and controlled cycle is the sign of healthy breathing (and is very necessary for an effective asana practise).

5. Pratyahara
Pratyahara is where it all gets a little more abstract. Pratyahara guides you to withdraw the senses from the outside world to let them shine within. This implies focus on the senses one-by-one, instead of being on the phone, while watching TV, eating dinner and checking your e-mail at the same time!
You do not have to shut out the world completely, just be mindful.  Benefit or disadvantage? When you see yourself clearly, you will see others clearly too.

6. Dharana
The first step towards meditation. To still your mind. To become steady. To focus on one entity. This can be the pose you are sitting in, a mantra, your breath, a body part of even a photo or a statue. In Dharana we pay attention to only that one object and is held in the mind, without consciousness wavering from it. The point of Dharana is the preparation for meditation, a tool to get deeper, to get closer to the ultimate.

7. Dhyana
Once you master the practise of Dharana, it is time for Dhyana (meditation), training of the mind. Withdrawing your senses from automatic responses, leading to equanimity, awareness and concentration. In Dhyana there is no specific object of focus, but total absorption that makes you forget to even think. Like as if you forgot the time while running through a forest, or reading a book. Letting go of focus, becoming immersed in the present.

8. Samadhi
The ultimate goal; union. Yes, you could put it on your bucket list, but this practise needs aaaaaa lot of exercise, and still I would not want to keep your hope up, as even the masters do not always reach Samadhi. It does however occur as a result of a consistent practise and can therefore happen spontaneously.
It defines a state of simply ‘being’, ‘eternal truth’ and ‘connection’. The complete understanding and a total immersion in presence, becoming one with the Universe.

Grab your journal and answer the following questions: 

  1. What limb is most important to you?
  2. What limb would you like to practise more?
  3. What limb do you think we need more of?
  4. What do you want to know next?

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