The 8 Limbs of Yoga

So I mentioned in the previous post about the 8 limbs of yoga. Today I'll briefly outline these practices, recorded originally in Patanjali's yoga sutras.

We practice yoga in many more ways than just asana (posture), it infiltrates every aspect of your life and is an all encompassing, life changing practice when observed. The main goal of practicing the 8 limbs is to reach samadhi (enlightenment/bliss), to achieve samadhi, we practice meditation-this is why we practice asana, to be able to sit comfortably in meditation for long periods of time. When the body is supple and strong, sitting cross-legged with an upright spine can be found with ease.

The 8 Limbs

1 - Yamas
Yamas are an ethical way to conduct yourself. There are 5 Yamas:
Ahimsa-the practice of non-violence. To both others and yourself. Taken literally, most dedicated yogis do not eat meat, nor to they belittle themselves for any shortcomings-instead, adopting an attitude of compassion to all living things.
Satya-truthfulness, being honest with yourself and others.
Brahmacharya-temperance: using your energy wisely.
Aparigraha-non-grasping: not holding onto things for ego-related satisfaction.

2 - Niyamas
Niyamas are actions which we undertake to remain on the path of yoga. They are driven by discipline. With these qualities we can cultivate a strong mind-a mind which is unwatered by mild discomfort, either on or off the mat. There are 5 Niyamas:

Shaucha: cleanliness or purification. With the practices in the yogic tradition-asana, pranayama and meditation, we cleanse and purify the body. This also extends to beyond the practices; how we treat our bodies, what we feed ourselves etc.
Santosha: contentment. This means, being grateful for all that you have, not wanting for material goods, but instead, feeling joy and contentment exactly the way things are.
Tapas: self-discipline. The discipline that comes from doing things that you sometimes don't want to do. This is what ignites fire in us, this is what literally builds strength in the body and mind.
Svadhyaya: self-study. Contemplating ourselves on a very deep level. Acknowledging our weaknesses and growing from them. Meditating on our true essence.
Isvarapranidaha: devotion. Dissolving the ego and trusting in a higher power, our own higher power, through the devotion of the practice of yoga.

3 - Asana (Posture)
Asana is what most people reading this will be most familiar with, the physical poses of yoga. In the western world-most people will relate the word yoga with the act of asana, however, as we are now learning, this is only 1/8 of the practice. We practice asana to strengthen the body, to move with comfort and ease in order to sit comfortably in mediation.

4 - Pranayama (Breathing Techniques)
Chances are if you've been to a yoga class, you have had some experience with pranayama. Prana-meaning energy or life force-is of course related to the one thing which keeps us alive from one moment to the next: our breath.There are many different types of breathing which we observe throughout the yoga tradition, for many different reasons; heating, cooling, focusing, restricting, stimulating breaths-among others-can alter, relax, enliven, liberate our states of consciousness.

5 - Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses)
This is the practice of sitting in meditation without distraction. It is not turning off the senses so to speak, instead, it is being so involved in the present moment, that any outside influences aren't obstructing the mind.

6 - Dharana (Concentration)
This is the act of focusing on something while meditating. In order to truly focus, we must first employ Pratyahara, then we can focus, whether it be on the breath, on a mantra, on a visual focal point or just going inward.

7 - Dhyana (Meditation)
Being completely engrossed in the meditation. The mind is still and focused. The senses aren't active and the gaze is inward.

8 - Samadhi (Enlightenment)
The essence of self realisation. Being completely present and detached from outside influences and our own egos. Liberation from the constraints of our minds. This is samadhi.

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