The eight limbs of yoga are the fundamentals of yoga. They consist of helpful guidelines to incorporate into your own life. If you’re new to them, here is an introduction.
When you’re new to yoga, you may find yourself focusing mainly on getting the poses right. Deepen your practice by learning that there is more to it than asanas. Because knowing the philosophy behind yoga when you are starting on your yoga journey may help you live your life more intentionally.
Yoga and its philosophy
The word yoga, originated from the Sanskrit word yuj, is often interpreted as “union”. The philosophy behind yoga, in short, is that the mind, body, and spirit are all one. Hence, they cannot clearly be separated. By practicing a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices, you’ll explore the eight limbs of yoga.
Around 2,000 years ago, the Indian sage Patanjali collected 195 statements into the Yoga Sutra. This is a philosophical guidebook containing the guidelines of most yoga practices to this day. The Sutra contains an outline of the eight limbs of yoga. In Sanskrit, this is called Ashtanga Yoga.
Rather than focusing solely on the physical practice, we encourage you to learn about all eight limbs. By incorporating these into your practice, you’ll live life more present, mindful, and focused. It will however require a lot of self-discipline. So don’t let them scare you off as a rookie yogi. Because there are many different types of yoga. They all interpret and incorporate the eight limbs each in their own way.
The first four limbs focus on becoming aware of yourself and your body. These are all in preparation for the second half of the limbs. These focus on your senses, mind, and attaining a higher state of being.
The eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga Yoga)
1. Yamas – Strenghts
There are five different Yamas, that all together form the base of one’s integrity. The first principle is Ahimsa, meaning nonviolence. Up next is Satya, standing for truthfulness. The third is Asteya, which stands for nonstealing. The fourth principle is Brahmacharya, which refers to continence. The fifth and last Yama is Aparigraha, standing for non-covetousness.
2. Niyamas – Acceptance
The second limb has to do with one’s self-discipline and spiritual practices. Whether that’s saying grace before a meal, going to a place of worshipping or developing a regular meditation practice. All of these are examples of Niyamas in practice. The Niyamas also consists of five different practices, with the first one being Saucha, meaning cleanliness. Samtosa, the second Niyama, stands for contentment. It is followed by Tapas, meaning spiritual austerities. The fourth is Svadhyaya, which is both the study of sacred scriptures and of one’s true self. Lastly, Isvara Pranidhana means to surrender to God.
3. Asanas – Physical Forms
The most known limb in most Western cultures is Asanas. It stands for the physical forms of yoga. In the philosophy of yoga, caring for your body is an important stage of spiritual growth. That’s why there are various poses in yoga. Through practice, they all help develop discipline and concentration.
4. Pranayama – Controlled Breath
Also interpreted by many yogis as “life force extension”, the fourth limb is not only about controlling the respiratory process but recognizing its connection with the mind and our emotions at the same time. You can practice Pranayama on its own, read some techniques here. Additionally, you can incorporate it into your physical practice.
5. Pratyahara – Renunciation
Practicing Pratyahara means to take a step back and look at yourself. Turn your attention inward while ignoring the external stimuli. It is not about connecting to our senses and focusing on them, but rather acknowledging them without any judgment.
6. Dharana – Pure Focus
With each limb preparing you for the next, Dharana comes right after Pratyahara. When you succeeded in turning your attention inward, it’s time to focus. By focusing on a singular object, for example. You’ll then allow your mind to slow its thought, leading to meditation.
7. Dhyana – Meditation
With sequential practice of Pratyahara and Dharana, you’ll get into a stage of Dhyana. Dhyana means meditation. There is a fine line between the three of these stages. Dhyana is the stage in which you are able to be aware without focus. The mind is quiet. Next to no thoughts are produced. It takes a lot of strength and discipline to get into this state. But as with everything, regular practice will get you there.
8. Samadhi – Awakening
Patanjali describes the final stage of the eight limbs as a state of ecstasy. In this state, you’ll feel overall fulfillment. A deep feeling of peace may wash over you. It is said the meditator feels a connection to all living things in this state.
These eight stages combined equal the philosophy behind yoga. They provide the fundamentals. Most types of yoga practiced today incorporate the limbs one way or another. You cannot buy or possess these fundamentals. You can only experience them through regular practice. So, you’ve made a great step learning about the philosophy behind yoga. Incorporating them into your practice one way or another will help you find inner peace. Additionally, it may help you live a more fulfilled life. Because let’s be honest, isn’t that on all of our wish lists?
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