Yoga is a practice of transforming and benefitting every aspect of life, not just the 60 minutes spent on your mat; if we can learn to be kind, truthful and use our energy in a worthwhile way, we will not only benefit ourselves with our practice, but everything and everyone around us.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (one of the most well-known works in yoga philosophy) outlines the directives for living a meaningful life, including yoga’s philosophy of the eight limbs. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path leading to liberation, known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’.
Read on for an overview of the 8 Limbs – each of which offers guidance on how to live a conscious, meaningful and purposeful life.
1. Yama – Ethics
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Yamas are the guidelines for achieving inner peace. These guidelines come in five sets, and each of these five is a pillar in the foundation of yoga. They are:
- Ahimsa: Non-harming
- Satya: Speaking the truth and practising honesty
- Asteya: Abstaining from stealing
- Brahmacharya: Practice moderation in the needs of the body and spirit
- Aparigraha: Not accumulating materialism or excessive wealth, but living a life free from extreme desires
2. Niyama – Self-Discipline
These are the guidelines for self-purification of the mind and body. They come in five sets, and each of these five is a pillar in the foundation of yoga. They are:
- Saucha: Cleanliness and purity
- Santosa: Contentment
- Tapas: Moderate self-denial
- Svadhyaya: Self-study and self-reflection
- Ishvarapranidhana: Surrendering yourself to God
3. Asana – Poses
Asana is the physical aspect of yoga and is the most recognised aspect of the eight limbs. Asanas can be described as postures in which a person can hold themselves in any given position for an extended period. There are several postures to choose from, each with a different purpose and effect on the body.
4. Pranayama – Breathing
Pranayama is the control of the breath, which is the way we cleanse our bodies. It is often mistakenly interpreted as holding your breath.
In reality, this practice is more about breathing through the nose and filling the belly with air first, then only exhaling after the body has been filled.
5. Pratyahara – Awareness
Pratyahara is the process of withdrawing from the senses and controlling the senses. The senses are the only way for the world to touch you, but this process can become overwhelming for the mind and body. So, trying to withdraw from these senses means having more control over them, and this is the core of pratyahara.
6. Dharana – Focus
Dharana is the practice of focusing on one thing to achieve mastery of it. With the chaotic world we live in today, it can be hard to focus on one thing at a time. It’s common to see someone checking their phone constantly and being distracted by every small thing that goes on around them. But, with practice, you can focus on one thing for long periods.
7. Dhyana – Meditation
Dhyana is the practice of extending the focus period for a certain amount of time. The longer the duration of focus, the clearer the mind the person will have. Dhyana is described as meditation, where the ultimate goal is to have a clear mind and a clear body. Once a person achieves this, they have reached their full potential and live a life of balance.
8. Samadhi – Bliss
Samadhi is the ultimate goal of a yoga practitioner. It is the ability to achieve a complete state of being in a meditative state. This is the peace and tranquillity you envision when you think of yoga. Samadhi is a state of love, compassion, and oneness with your surroundings and all living entities.
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Yoga is a powerful practice that touches the body, mind, and soul. This practice has many facets, but it’s most important to remember that yoga has to be practised regularly and patiently. In addition to this, the goal of yoga is to find enlightenment and peace, which is not achieved overnight. It takes time, determination and dedication.
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