The Eight Limbs are like ‘guidelines’ for living; they set out the lifestlye of a Yogi. The Eight Limbs of Yoga details not only asana, pranayama and meditation practices, but also describes the intentions and behaviours that Yogi’s should enact when they are making choices. The Eight Limbs are not necessarily meant as a step-by-step sequence; none of the limbs are more important than any other, all elements should be practiced in order to achieve harmony and union with the divine. In recent times, focus has shifted to asana, or the physical poses, as ‘doing yoga’, however this is only one component of Yoga.
The other limbs are: Yama (‘respectful and ethical living’), Niyama (personal ethics and behaviours towards ourselves), Pranayama (awareness and control of the breath), Pratyahara (awareness and control of the senses), Dharana (focused meditative practice), Dharana (focused awareness; deep meditation and stillness), and Samadhi (merging with, or union with, the Divine energy). Samadhi is the ‘goal’ of yoga – working towards enlightenment and an knowing/understanding and awareness of truth, and can only be achieved when the Eight Limbs are practiced as a whole.
The Eight Limbs describe yoga as a lifestyle, and incorporating the Eight Limbs into daily life involves making chances to enact ethical, respectful, and mindful living. For example, Yama describes the behaviours and restraints that Yogi’s should practice in their interactions with themselves and the world around them: non-violence, non-possessiveness, non-lust, and truthfulness. To gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of each of the limbs, it is helpful to research and reflect and meditate on what you have learnt; this will help you incorporate them into your daily life as you develop a more meaningful understanding of what they are and how they relate to you.
The Eight Limbs were documented by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, and were developed in the Classical Period of Yoga, where students came to their teachers with a distracted mind. Student with a distracted mind need more direction than students with a single-pointed or suspended mind, and the Eight Limbs provide this – it breaks Yoga down into separate components and gives direction on how to practice. The aim of the Eight Limbs, is to describe how to practice Yoga in order to move from a distracted mind, to a single-pointed, and then suspended, mind.