The Traditional ‘Guidelines’ of Yoga: Exploring The ‘Eight Limbs’

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are seen a a guide, or framework, to practicing yoga. They were described in Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’, and resemble the Buddhist Eightfold path to enlightenment. The Eight Limbs describe yoga as a spiritual practice, encompassing body, mind and spirit, and detailing ethical and respectful living. They are sometime described as branches, stages, or steps, however they are not necessarily meant to be taken as progressive steps to be completed on after each other, but linked as equally essential elements in our movement towards unity with the Divine – ‘the energy of the universe’

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

Yama

Yama is ‘respectful and ethical living’ – towards other people and things. There are five components to Yama that are intended to guide behaviour and encourage restraint.

– Ahimsa: non-violence, “do no harm”, compassion – thoughts, words and actions towards others.
– Satya: truthfulness and honesty, “right speech”.
– Asteya: non-possessiveness, “do not steal”. Do not take what is not yours, including not taking more than you are entitled to.
– Bramacharya:  non-lust;. Traditionally meaning celibacy, but usually interpreted as sexual integrity. Using our sexuality and sexual energy responsibly and not using it in a way that harms ourselves or others.
– Aparigraha: non-possessiveness. Similar to Asteya, but this refers to ‘wanting’. Being grateful and appreciative, not greedy.

Niyama

Niyama is personal ethics and behaviours towards ourselves. There are five components to Niyama, which are intended as ‘self-training’ guides to our behaviour.

– Saucha: cleanliness, purity, ridding ourselves of ‘toxins’. This includes physical hygiene, eating wholesome food, using non-toxic products and ‘pure’, unharmful thoughts.
– Santosha: contentment, satisfaction. Being ‘in the moment’ and at peace with our present situation.
– Tapas: sustained practice. Discipline. Making choices that positively effect our mind, body and spirit.
– Svadhyaya: self-study, personal growth and development.
– Isvara pranidhana: surrender to, and celebration of, {the energy the is greater than ourselves}. The Universe, God, the Divine…

Asana

Asanas are what most people associate with yoga – the poses. The poses are intended to be practiced in conjunction with the other Eight Limbs, as they all build off one-another.  Asanas are used to bring balance and flexibility to the body, the mind and the spirit. Different poses allow us to focus and open up to new energy and ideas.

Pranayama

Pranayama is focused on the breath – awareness and control of prana – the breath; “breath control leads to mind control”.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is concenred with awareness and control of the senses. The aim is to meditate and move inward; to become aware of, but also withdraw/detach from, the external senses.

Dharana

Dharana is focused meditative practice. When the mind is emptied of the concerns of external sensory stimulation, concentration and single-pointed focus and awareness can be mastered.

Dhyana

Dharana is focused awareness; Dhyana is deep meditation and stillness. Being able to achieve stillness enables us to meditate and consider the concept of ‘reality’ and the Divine energy.

Samadhi

The final limb is Samadhi, which is likened to enlightenment in the Buddha’s Eightfold path. Samadhi is merging with, or union with, the Divine energy. This is the goal of yoga – working towards enlightenment and an knowing/understanding and awareness of  truth.

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