Get To Know Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga
The eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga are a comprehensive inner technology of liberation. Each limb acts as an entry point to living in higher states of awareness, elevating our consciousness through interpersonal relationships, self-discipline, postures, breath and sense control, and the progressive levels of meditation.
Learn about each one and how to incorporate them into your practice.
1. The first of the eight limbs of yoga, yama, describes our highest level of interpersonal relationships. At a level of consciousness, the Yamas are the spontaneous behavior of an awakened person. On the level of practitioners, they are small vows that we can take to live with integrity and kindness.
Below are the five yamas.
2. If the yamas are outward looking toward how we interrelate with the world around us, the second limb of niyamas are the personal disciplines we follow to help make the yamas possible. These are like the "non-negotiables" of a spiritual practice, by which we maintain an inner relationship to knowing who we are and what our purpose is in life
Below are the five niyamas.
3. Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third of the eight limbs. While this limb may seem to be the most familiar, asana has a very different meaning in its original context. While we now use this term to refer to any yoga poses, its original meaning was simply a steady, firm seat. Through asanas we develop the ability to remain calm within the ups and downs of life.
4. The fourth limb, pranayama, consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. Pranayama practices calm and rejuvenate the nervous system and bring us in contact with the present moment.
5. Pratyahara, the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga, is a result of pranayama. Our sense organs are powered by prana, or our vital energy. When our energy moves outward all the time we get lost in the world. When we focus our vital energy inwards the mind becomes focused and inwards. The inward movement of prana from the sense to the mind helps prepare us for the meditation practices of the final three limbs.
6. Dharana, the sixth limb means to focus our awareness. Dharana is the effort of continually bringing our awareness to rest on one object of meditation again and again, without any other thoughts intruding. It is the first stage in changing the underlying character traits of the mind.
7. The seventh limb is dhyana, or one-pointed attention. Where dharana is focused attention, dhyana is the state of being aware without the need of focus. In this stage, the practitioner meditates on a single object of their attention, becoming completely absorbed in it in a continuous stream of awareness, like oil being poured from one vessel into another.
8. The eighth and final limb of Patanjali's Yoga is samadhi, a state of pure absorption, bliss, connection to all things, and a true understanding of reality. There are eight levels of samadhi, so it is not the end of Yoga, but the entry point into deeper and increasingly refined levels of realization. These occur once the nature of the mind has changed from that of distraction to a state of pure reflection.