The first four limbs are by our effort-we must practice them. The first two limbs make a point of how we live yoga and are essential to any progress on the path of learning more.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali talks of the eight limbs of yoga and each offers guidance on how to live a mindful and purposeful life. Here I explain each one and how to incorporate them into your practice.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
- YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines how I live in the world and treat others, it is a bridge between you and others, self-governing interpersonal relationships
- NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances of how I treat myself a bridge between you and consciousness and self-discipline.
- ASANA – Posture making shapes
- PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques expansion and suspension of the breath
- PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal of the senses looking inwards
- DHARANA – Focused concentration single-pointed awareness
- DHYANA – Meditative absorption meditation of the present moment the now
- SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment the mind loses the spirit of its own identity
YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines, or ethical vows his first limb, Yama, refers to promises, regulations, or practices with the world around us and how we treat others, and our interaction with it. The yoga method can increase physical strength and flexibility and aid in calming the mind, but it becomes pointless if we don’t carry our yoga with us into our life off the mat?
The five Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness to self), Asteya (do not steal), Brahmacharya (correct use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed take more than needed). see more details on the Yamas and the niyamas
The Yamas are for all of us, no matter who we are.
- NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances
The second limb, Niyama, is how we treat ourselves and be with our actions towards the outside world. It is a bridge between you and consciousness self-discipline.
There are five Niyamas: saucha (cleanliness), santosha (peace content), tapas (discipline or burning desire or conversely, burning appetite), svadhyaya (self-study or self-reflection, and study of spiritual texts), and isvarapranidaha (surrender to higher guidance).
More detail about the first 2 Limbs here
- ASANA – Posture Making Shapes
The physical part of yoga is the third step on the path to disentanglement. If we’re honest, the word asana here doesn’t refer to performing splits or a perfect downward dog. It means ‘seat’ – the seat you would take for the practice of meditation basically bottom. Patanjali’s alignment instruction for this asana is “sthira sukham asanam” the posture should be steady and comfortable. We should not feel uncomfortable.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the traditional texts list many postures such as Padmasana (lotus pose) and Virasana (hero pose) suitable for meditation.
The most critical position is, in fact, sthirasukhasana – meaning, ‘a posture the practitioner can hold comfortably and motionlessness.’ again, we should never feel uncomfortable in poses.
We need to sit in comfort, so we’re not ‘pulled’ by aches and pains of the body, or restlessness due to awkward positions. Something to think about in your next practice: I could not keep in my mind when I was uncomfortable, so if you always tend to choose the ‘intermediate’ posture offered, rather than the one your body can attain, remind yourself of Svadhyaya, don’t let your ego dominate. Remember, it is your yoga practice, and you must do what is right for you and your body always.
- PRANAYAMA – Breath Work
The word Prana is ‘energy’ or ‘life source’ I often use this in my practice when referring to the breath. It can describe the very essence that keeps us alive and the energy in the universe around us. Prana also represents the breath, and by working with the way we breathe, we affect the mind and the nervous system.
Pranayama can be understood as ‘pranayama’ which mean ‘breath – control’ or ‘breath restraint,’ ultimately the smooth retention of the breath or it could be interpreted as ‘prana-Ayama’ which translate’s as ‘freedom of breath,’ ‘breath expansion’ or ‘breath liberation.’
More about Pranayama here
- PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
Pratya means to ‘withdraw,’ ‘draw in’ or ‘drawback,’ and the second part ahara, refers to anything we ‘take in’ by ourselves, such as the various sights, sounds, and smells senses take in continuously. When sitting for a formal meditation practice, this is likely to be the first thing we do when we think we’re meditating; we focus on ‘drawing in.’ The method of drawing inward may include focusing on the way we’re breathing, so this limb would relate directly to Pranayama’s practice.
- DHARANA – Focused Concentration
Dharana means ‘focused concentration.’ it is ‘holding or maintaining,’ and Ana means ‘other’ or ‘something else. Dharana and pratyahara, Focus, the senses must withdraw so that all attention is on that point of concentration. To draw our thoughts in, we must focus and concentrate on single-pointed awareness intently.
Tratak (candle gazing), visualization, and focusing on the breath are all Dharana practices. The stage we get to when we think we’re ‘meditating.’
7. DHYANA – Meditative Absorption
The seventh limb is ‘meditative absorption,’ the present moment– when we become entirely absorbed in our meditation’s Focus, and this is when we’re meditating and to help the helping, Focus, and concentration rate. The practice of meditation is not something we can actively ‘do.’ Instead, it describes the spontaneous action of something that happens as a result of everything else. Mostly, if you are meditating, you won’t have the thought, ‘oh, I’m pondering! Or umm, wander what Ill have for dinner or all the other 100 things we think about while not meditating.
- SAMADHI – Bliss or Enlightenment
We know the word Samadhi as meaning ‘bliss’ ‘enlightenment,’ loses the sense of its own identity, and this is the final step of the journey of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. After we’ve disentangled ourselves, we come to the state of bliss.
Looking at Samadhi’s word, we find out that ‘enlightenment’ or ”realization does not mean we are entirely at one and enlightened and floating
This final stage comprises two words; ‘same’ meaning ‘same’ or ‘equal,’ and ‘dhi’ saying ‘to see.’ There’s a reason it’s called realization. Reaching Samadhi is not about floating away with the fairies. It’s about the very life that lies in front of us now, the one we have, and our complete control.
The ability to ‘see clear’ and without disturbance from the mind, without our experience of being conditioned by likes, dislikes or habits, trauma, abuse, etc., without a need to judge or become attached to any particular thought that is bliss, no longer guided by our wounded selves.
It is not about attaching to happiness or a sensation of ‘bliss.’ it’s about seeing life for precisely what it is, without our thoughts, emotions, likes, dislikes, and letting go of control and governing it listening to it, just pure ‘I – am.’
There’s just one downside, though – Samadhi isn’t a permanent state as we have to work on ourselves continually, and that is why it is called practice. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras tells us that unless we are completely ready, without ‘impressions’ such as attachment, aversion, desires, and habits, painful pasts, etc. With a completely pure mind, our wounded self will not be able to maintain the state of Samadhi for long.
Once the mind is pure, and we sincerely do experience a state of Samadhi we can keep hold of, we attain moksha, also known as Mukti, meaning a permanent state of being liberated, released and free from entanglement
More about this and how to manage it see here and more about the wounded self