Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga
What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga according to Patanjali?
Patanjali’s eight-fold path offers guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life. The eight limbs of yoga form a sequence from the outer to the inner. It’s the source of inspiration and guidance on how to live a balanced and ethical life both on and off the mat. Get to know this prescription for moral and ethical conduct, and self-discipline.
1. Yamas: They are social behaviors, moral codes, or ways of right living (restraints / don’ts) that describe how one should treat others. There are five Yamas:
- Ahimsa (non-harming, non-violence) We’re talking about non-violence in all aspects of life. Abstaining from violent thoughts, violent words, and violent actions. Start with you. Be kind to yourself.
- Satya (truth-telling, non-lying) Practicing satya means being truthful with our feelings, thoughts, and words. It means being honest with ourselves and with others. The continuous practice of honesty, our life experiences become the result of this honesty and truth.
- Asteya (non-stealing) Not to steal nor have the intention to steal another’s property through action, speech, and thoughts. And much more, like Buddha said “Be where you are… otherwise you will miss your life”. When you’re not where you are, you steal from yourself the experience of being alive in that moment.
- Brahmacharya (correct use of energy, moderation, kindness) What brahmacharya asks us to do is to think about where we’re putting our energy (sexual) or otherwise. We must learn to conserve, use it with moderation, and not waste energy on things that do not serve our purpose.
- Aparigraha (non-attachment, non-possessiveness) Learning to let go. Take only what you need. Give away all things you do not use or need anymore. Now see how light you can be.
2. Niyamas: They are the responsibility and the inner discipline, and a way of the right living (observances / dos) that describes how one should treat himself / herself. There are five Niyamas:
- Saucha (cleanliness, physical and mental purity) Bad food is toxic for the body, bad thoughts are toxic for the mind, and bad emotions are toxic for our souls. Select wisely from the many choices of food, thoughts and emotions waiting to come into your body and mind as you become purified. Saucha keeps our bodies clean on the outside and inside.
- Santosha (contentment, gratitude) Be happy with where you are, be happy with what you have, and be happy with who you are. Contentment. Acceptance of life, of ourselves, and of whatever life has brought us. Keep in mind that “You are enough”.
- Tapas (self-discipline, acceptance of pain that leads to purification) Tapas means heat, to burn off of impurities through discipline. That inner fire that motivates us is called tapas. Think of self-discipline as keeping agreements that you have made with yourself, creating heat. The practice of asanas is a form of tapas in the body.
- Svadhyaya (self-study, repetition of prayers) The study of the self. This is the practice of truly understanding who we are, through inner reflection, by reading yoga texts, and by chanting mantras.
- Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to your higher power). Yoga is a spiritual practice, not a religion. We can connect with a power beyond ourselves just by spending time in nature.
3. Asanas: They are the postures that our body adopts in the physical practice of yoga and allow us to connect mind, body, and soul. It helps in balancing and harmonizing the basic structure of the human body. By linking breath to movement, asanas teaches us to turn within.
4. Pranayama: “Prana” is breath, and “Ayama” is control. So “Pranayama is Control of the Breath”. Breathing is a basic part of life. The basic movements of Pranayama are inhalation, retention of the breath, and exhalation. The practice of pranayama removes distractions from our minds making it easier to concentrate and meditate. We can train our minds to stay focused on tasks and calm the chatter in our heads.
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses. With the withdrawal of the senses, we no longer feel, hear, see, taste, and smell anything around us. Practicing pratyahara helps us to free the mind from countless distractions of day-to-day life, and to be able to move into meditation.
6. Dharana: Concentration, single focused attention. You can pick any object like a candle, a body part, a chakra, a person, or a beautiful flower you can focus on. When staring into your lover’s eyes, the rest of the world is forgotten. Strict concentration on one object or task.
7.Dhyana: Absorption, effortless meditation. In dhyana, we focus the mind on a particular object and practice becoming absorbed in it. When dharana becomes continuous, it automatically becomes dhyana.
8. Samadhi: Oneness with all living things, in which a person experiences oneness with the universe. Absorption / Bliss. Perfect union of the individualized soul of infinite spirit, samadhi is a state of oneness and complete absorption. It is the last of the eight steps leading to enlightenment.
1,2, & 3 limbs: External cleansing practices. Outer aspects of yoga. Bring your body to a state of balance and physical health.
4 & 5 limbs: Make the bridge between the inner and outer aspects of yoga.
6, 7, & 8: Internal cleansing practices. Inner aspects of yoga. Naturally go together, bring the knowledge of the true self.
1,2,3,4,5,& 6: Things you do.
7 & 8: Things that happen to you.
The practice of yoga is not linear, it’s circular and ongoing: our practice may change and evolve, but we are always practicing. I share with you these tools and techniques to enhance your health and wellbeing.