The Eight Limbs of Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga explain in detail the significance of 8 Limbs of Yoga, wherein every limb offers a direction to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Let us learn about 8 Limbed paths of Yoga and ways to incorporate them into your daily life.
What is Yoga?
What exactly is yoga? Yoga or ‘yoke’ means to unite or to join. And the one to whom we can connect through yoga is our inner soul, which we call ‘the soul’ in simple language. Yoga is a word that is considered very important in today’s world. It plays a significant role in physical, mental, and spiritual development.
What are the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga?
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali refer to the eight limbs of yoga. It consists of a set of recommendations for a morally disciplined and purposeful life with detailed explanations on how to incorporate these 8 yoga limbs into your life.
8 Limbs of Yoga Explained:-
The first limb, known as Yamas, are the principles that guide and set ethical or moral values and abstinences that a person should follow. It serves as a code of conduct for ethical and moral self-discipline. These principles direct us to do what is best for ourselves and for dealing with others in the world around us.
The five Yamas listed in Eight Limbs of Yoga are:
a-) Ahimsa / Ahinsa : Non-Violence, Not Harming Others
Ahimsa means being rooted in non-violence, which establishes your aura in the high positive energy and influences the people around you for non-violence. Practicing non-violence places you in a win-win situation, where you become calm from within and advocate non-violence to create a peaceful environment.
Also, consciously choosing to follow the path of non-violence helps to discard negative thoughts of destruction and fills you with positivity.
Consciously following the path of non-violence in all aspects of life is significant, which means not physically harming yourself, other organisms, and even nature. It also means cultivating positive thoughts about yourself and others rather than negative thoughts and ensuring that everything is done in harmony rather than harm.
It also implies that those who do not hold vibrations to harm radiate harmonious vibrations, encouraging others to live in peace.
b-) Satya: Truthfulness, Being Honest
The practice of Satya or truth is about bringing greater awareness to our speech by carefully filtering the words we choose to speak so that they correspond to the first Yama, Ahimsa. All of the world’s great spiritual teachings acknowledge that what we say has a profound power to influence our consciousness, has the power to arouse virtue in others, and contribute to the well-being of the whole world through clarity and connection that creates harmony.
There is an unchanging quality within us, and this Yama refers to that. It isn’t simply in words that we should be honest.. It should also be our actions, our hearts and mind, and our intention that counts. The depth of our core should tend towards the unchanging; that is Satya.
All aspects of our life can benefit from applying the teachings of Satya, and as we’ll learn – it means a lot more than just ‘not telling lies.’ Sanskrit is a vibrational language, so each word is so much more than a label – it holds the very essence of the word. Because of this, ‘sat’ also holds the meanings; ‘unchangeable,’ ‘that which has no distortion,’ ‘that which is beyond distinctions of time, space, and person, and ‘reality.’ It’s unchanged and pure.
c-) Asteya : Non-Stealing
In this Yama, Patanjali has said that do not steal what is not yours. In the 8 limbs of Patanjali Yoga Sutras, stealing is considered to be taking advantage of someone, not keeping one’s promises, not trying hard, etc. Theft can be not only in the form of money and wealth but also thoughts, ideas, joy, and even one’s peace. And in addition to theft, if you accumulate material possessions unnecessarily, you take things away from those who need them more.
When we start giving up on things we don’t need, we make room in life for what the universe really offers, whether it’s material possessions, experiences, or just a sense of well-being. Establishing oneself as Asteya anything from anyone reveals all the truth and goodness in life.
d-) Brahmacharya : Complete Abstinence
Brahmacharya is a Sanskrit word derived from “Brahman,” meaning the divine creator or the absolute consciousness, and “charya,” meaning to follow the mode of behaviour. So Brahmacharya is when a person completely controls his body and mind through complete abstinence and follows those deeds which lead him to the ‘divine’ or the ‘higher power.’
In the Yogic context, practicing Brahmacharya creates a lifestyle where you can harness the energy properly to pursue sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation. Broadly speaking, it generally includes cleanliness, non-violence, simple living, meditation, and voluntary restrictions on Rajasik and Tamasik foods (eating only Sattvic food) and all kinds of intoxicants. At the same time, abstaining from sexual thoughts and desires in mind, body, and speech is made in favor of using that energy to move forward on the yogic path
e-) Aparigraha : Non-Avarice, Non-Possessiveness, Non-Covetousness
Aparigraha is the quality of abstaining from the desire to possess unnecessary things and keeping only the essential things. Essentials and assets may vary depending on one’s standard of living and context.
Practicing aparigraha means taking and possessing what is truly necessary and nothing more. It can also be stated as abstaining from accepting gifts from any person. The concept includes non-greed and non possessiveness in its scope. This Yama limb of Yoga teaches that one should take and possess only what one needs, let go of the unnecessary, and not accumulate or hoard them.
The second limb of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga is the Niyamas, or rules that specify “dos.” The Niyamas are subdivided into:
a-) Shaucha : Purity, Clearness of Mind, Speech, and body
The first niyama as per the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is Saucha. This Sanskrit word Shaucha refers to cleanliness and covers the primary personal observances of purity of body from both outside and inside, mind and speech. It is said that observing cleanliness all around helps stay focused and improve awareness in yoga practice.
This Niyama encourages living a happy and healthy life by keeping the purity of thoughts and overall body wellness. It also includes personal hygiene like showering habits and wearing clean clothes, self-care practices like clearing the clutter from surroundings, eating a healthy diet, and focusing on positive thoughts.
b-) Santosha : Contentment, State of Complete Satisfaction, Appreciation of true-self
Santosha is the second niyama explained in the eight limbs of Yoga. The word Santosha has been derived by combining “san” which means completely or altogether and “tosha” which means contentment or satisfaction, so Santosha means “completely satisfied with.”
Santosha can be termed as a state of inner peace, where the mind is so contented and joyful that any success or failure, whether financial, physical, emotional, or social, doesn’t make any difference. It focuses only on doing the best in every situation and accepting the results of the efforts invested. Also, it is the habit of accepting self, others, and all the situations without getting upset.
c-) Tapas : Austerity, Self-Discipline, Persistent Meditation, Perseverance
Tapa is a Sanskrit word that means ‘to burn’; hence Tapas means to awaken the spirit of passion and ‘strict discipline.’ Tapas, in this sense, means developing strict discipline, enthusiasm, and courage to burn out all the physical, mental, and emotional impurities and pave the way for true greatness.
The element of Tapasya suggests that the path to mastery is often painful, but the pain in due course is usually helpful to foster the practice that helps us to move forward and learn from it.
d-) Svadhyaya : Study the Self and the Scriptures
The word svadhyaya is a compound word made up of ‘sva‘, which means self or own soul, and ‘adhyaya,’ meaning ‘to study’ or ‘think.’ So, svadhyaya means “study of the self” and “self-reflection,” the virtue of “introspection or observation of the self” to realize who I am and break the bubble of what I am not.
In addition, it refers to studying various yoga texts and scriptures, which can help deepen your knowledge about yoga and get you closer to the inner self.
e-) Ishvarapranidhana : Surrendering to the Higher Power
Īśvara praṇidhāna is an amalgamation of the two words Ishvara and Pranidhana, where Ishvara refers to the “supreme being,” or the “God” and Pranidhana means “meditation,” surrender” or “devote.” In this context, the word ‘God’ refers to the “higher energy” or “state of collective consciousness” that we all have.
So in this Niyama of eight limbed path of Yoga, we are advised to dedicate our actions and surrender everything to the higher power we believe in.
(3)- Asana – Yoga Pose or Posture
The third limb out of the eight limbs of Patanjali Yoga Sutras is the “asana.” The eight limbs of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define asana as a steady and comfortable posture. It is the position where the Yogi or the practitioner can sit for extended periods without any discomfort. The Asanas are usually called yoga poses or yoga postures in yoga texts.
The asanas state that the Yogi should practice each yoga posture by giving proper time to each asana so that every movement can be performed smoothly and in a balanced manner. At the same time, mindful breathing with every move, each asana gives maximum benefits and pleasure.
Various studies have proved the physical and spiritual benefits of practicing asanas regularly. Some benefits are improved flexibility and strength, reduced stress and anxiety, improved immunity, and improved mindfulness. The yoga practitioner can master the control of the body and free himself from dualities such as heat and cold, joy and sorrow, or hunger and satiation.
(4)- Pranayama – Breathing Techniques
Pranayama constitutes the fourth limb out of eight limbs of Yoga. The unification of two Sanskrit words, “prana” meaning breath, and “ayama” meaning restraint or expansion, forms the complete word Pranayama. So pranayama is the practice of consciously controlling the inhalation and exhalation of the breath and deliberately changing the timing and length of the breath to energize our ‘source of life.’ The Prana rejuvenates the body and is the essence that keeps the energy in the universe around us.
Patanjali suggests following breathing techniques in a particular way while paying attention to the rhythm of inhalation, retention, and exhalation of breath. It helps to integrate the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. Also, the life force extension rejuvenates all body parts and clears impurities from the mind.
(5)- Pratyahara–Withdrawal of all Senses
This is the fifth stage among the eight stages of Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga. Pratyahara is derived from two Sanskrit words ‘prati’, meaning towards ahara, meaning gathering.
Pratyahara refers to the withdrawal of the five senses coming from taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell from all external objects and driving all these senses toward consciousness. Withdrawal of the senses from external stimuli helps to concentrate without being distracted and thus prepares the practitioner for the next stage in the eight limbed path of yoga which is Dharana.
(6)- Dharana- Concentration, Introspection Focus
The Sanskrit meaning of Dharana is the mind’s collection or concentration. After liberation from the outside world’s distractions through the practice of pratyahara, we need to look inwards and manage the distractions of the mind. Though concentrating on the mind that constantly roams around is not an easy task yet, it can be practiced and mastered with Dharana i.e., focused concentration.
The mind is directed to single-pointedness focus and holding it steady and known as “ekagra chitta”. It is the preliminary step of deep meditation in which the object being focused upon is kept in mind without consciousness wavering from it.
The practitioner or yogi could practice Dharana by gazing at candle flame (Tratak), focusing on the image of their deity, on the rhythm of breath, listening to a mantra/chant, or by fixing the mind on a specific point in the body or anything of the choice of yogi. It’s crucial to practice Dharana to become mindful and live every moment mindfully and to the fullest.
(7)- Dhyana: Profound Meditation
Dhyana is the seventh limb out of the eight limbs of Yoga and reflects a profound state of meditation or contemplation. Dhyana is contemplating the object that is focused on in the previous stage of Dharana. It is unwavering contemplation on the chosen point of concentration.
In Dhyana, the yogi trains his mind to sustain its attention at a certain point so that it can flow in an unbroken stream toward that point.
In Dhyana, the meditator is so deeply immersed in the act of meditation that he is not conscious of the front of his meditation but remains only aware of his existence, his mind, and the object of meditation. Regular practice of Dhyana awakens self-awareness, leading to a blissful state of freedom and liberation called moksha.
(8)- Samadhi: Realization of Self, Bliss or Enlightenment
The eighth and final stage of Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga is Samadhi, a state of pure bliss or ecstasy. It is the state of pure bliss that gives the meditator or the yogi, the ultimate pleasure, the point where he transcends the Self completely into the higher power.
At the same time, the seeker establishes such a deep connection with the Supreme Consciousness that he merges with it and realizes the interconnection with all living beings. This realization gives the joy of being at one with the universe and the experience of peace beyond comprehension.
Overall, the Eight limbs of Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga lead the yogi towards the ultimate goal that all human beings aspire to and are always searching for: peace and supreme bliss. Additionally, combining the practice of the eight limbs of Yoga with Internationally Certified Meditation Teacher Training Program proves incredible for the practicing yogi. This integration provides the practitioner with a holistic approach that promotes physical well-being, mental serenity and spiritual growth while also allowing him to apply the acquired knowledge to benefit the society.