Many people in the modern world only know yoga to be a 60-minute, sweaty movement class. However, there are 8 limbs of yoga, and physical practice is only one of them. Each branch fosters divine connection through a different approach.
“Through the practice of the limbs of Yoga, whereby impurities are eliminated, there arises enlightenment…” – Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (2:28)
In the second century B.C.E., an Indian sage named Patanjali was the first to create a systematic, step-by-step approach for everyone to attain enlightenment through yoga. His book, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, contains the Eight Limbed Path from which most modern-day yoga stems. Patanjali is nicknamed “the father of yoga”. His book contains 196 concise teachings, referred to as Sutras. Out of these 196, only 3 are about asana (the physical practice)!
The word sutra means “thread”, implying that these texts make up the most foundational and necessary truths that thread the life journey together. The Sutras (or writings) of Patanjali are divided into four sections or Padas.
The practice of Kriya yoga, or action, comes from the second section called the Sadhana Pada. Sadhana translates to “daily spiritual practice”. This is where the Eight Limbs are described in the Sutras.
Each limb, when practiced, is designed to help the practitioner live a more disciplined life with the goal of alleviating suffering. They lead to a path of enlightenment, by honing in and teaching how to unfold the spiritual capabilities that reside within, the limbs lead to alleviating suffering. It is said that one must master the first branch before moving to the next.
1 – YAMAS
The Yamas are rules of moral code and self-discipline for how we carry ourselves in life. You can think of them as universal moral commandments. There are five Yamas, which are:
AHIMSA – nonviolence, kindness
SATYA – truthfulness
ASTEYA – non-stealing
BRAHMACHARYA – dedication, moderation
APARIGRAHA – non-hoarding, non-envy, self-reliance, generosity
AHIMSA is the practice of non-violence in everything we do. From the foods we eat, the clothes we wear to the words we speak, we aim to show kindness and love toward all of creation.
SATYA is the practice of telling the truth. Ultimately, rooting ourselves into this Yama means rooting ourselves into reality. If we can recognize that love is the ultimate truth, the more we spread it, the more we can live our lives in tune with Satya.
ASTEYA means non-stealing. This can go further than stealing other people’s personal belongings. Are you stealing people’s energy? People’s time? There is so much happiness found in being content and appreciative of what you have.
BRAHMACHARYA is the practice of dedication and moderation in different aspects of our lives. It is about recognizing your own energy and boundary needs and abiding by them. Do not expect of others what takes them out of balance.
APARIGRAHA is another facet of Asteya; it is the practice of non-hoarding, non-envy, self-reliance, and generosity. Always have faith that you will be provided for.
2 – NIYAMAS
The Niyamas are rules of personal behavior and self-purification by discipline which prepare the self for the path toward enlightenment.
The five Niyamas are:
SAUCHA – purity, cleanliness
SANTOSHA – contentment, gratitude
TAPAS – heat, zeal, rigor, self-discipline
SVADHYAYA – self-study, the study of texts
ISVARA PRANIDHANA – devotion, surrender
SAUCHA refers to purity in the body. This is accomplished through good eating and bathing practices, as well as asana and pranayama that cleanse the body internally.
SANTOSHA means, “contentment”. This is something that must be cultivated. Your reason will be established only in your purpose.
TAPAS is based on discipline, dedication, and focus. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.
SVADHYAYA is the study of yourself. By getting to know your own heart on a deep level, you will bring out the best of yourself.
ISVARA PRANIDHANA is a dedication to the divine, whatever shape or form that may take for you.
*Reference: History of Yoga and Background on the Yamas and Niyamas is adapted from Iyengar, BKS. Light on Yoga. Allen and Unwin, 1966.
3 – ASANA
Asana translates to “seat” and refers to yoga postures. In Patanjali’s initial practice it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation without discomfort.
4 – PRANAYAMA
In Sanskrit, Prana means “breath” and Yama means “control”, thus pranayama are yogic breathing techniques designed to control prana, our breath and vital life force. This practice improves metabolism and respiration; it has a direct effect on emotional health and physiological functions, both voluntary and involuntary.
According to Patanjali, pranayama is practiced directly after asana and before meditation. It can heat or cool the body, stoke or relax the nervous system. It is the next transformational step toward Samadhi.
5 – PRATYAHARA
Pratyahara translates to “withdrawal of the senses”. When you are in this state, you do not give in to anything simply for the pleasure of sight, taste or touch. Aim to turn inwards, reconnect with yourself and grow the awareness of the mind.
6 – DHARANA
Dharana is the practice of concentration. This is when you are completely focused and wholly engrossed in a single task. In this state, you will have superior mental intellect, complete presence and awareness, and you will know exactly how to achieve mastery of whatever you are working at.
7 – DHYANA
Dhyana is where the real work begins – as well as the awakening. Through the limb of Dhyana, a meditative state where you reflect, observe, steady and quiet your mind’s voice, you bring yourself deeper into the universal.
Self and toward the final limb – Samadhi.
TYPES OF MEDITATION
Meditation is one of the most valuable foundational tools for overall wellness and there are many different types.
- GUIDED MEDITATION
- DYNAMIC MEDITATION
- TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION
- MANTRA MEDITATION
- KUNDALINI MEDITATION
- MINDFULNESS EXERCISES
8 – SAMADHI
Samadhi is the final limb and the end to our quest. It is that which we all aim to achieve – a state of super consciousness where we become one with God or Universal Spirit; it is a merging with the divine. It brings about a feeling of union with yourself and total absorption in tranquility, fulfillment, and happiness. Our goal is to experience it as much as possible in our lives. If you experience Samadhi, your body and senses will feel at rest as if you are asleep, yet your mind will be alert as if you are awake. You will no longer have a sense of “I” or “me” or “mine” because you will have merged with the eternal.