The 8-limbs of Yoga
The ‘eight limbs’ or ‘eight parts’ refer to eight different aspects of the yoga practice defined by the great sage Patañjali as a method for reaching the “state” of yoga. This ‘state’ of yoga is interpreted as the leading of a meaningful and purposeful life. The eight limbs each offer guidance on how to live such a life. Ashtanga yoga is the yoga style that is based on these 8-limbs, where aṣṭāṅga refers to much more than just a series of postures and breathing. Aṣṭāṅga literally means ‘eight limbs’ or ‘eight parts’.
What are the 8 limbs of yoga?
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path leading to liberation, known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’ (the word ‘ashta’ means ‘eight’ and ‘anga’ means ‘limb’). These eight limbs are:
YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances
ASANA – Posture
PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques
PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
DHARANA – Focused concentration
DHYANA – Meditative absorption
SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment
These eight limbs could be seen as steps or rungs on a ladder, each step deepening the yogic practice. It’s important to understand that this particular yogic philosophy is just one of many philosophies, others including Buddhism and Tantra, both of which are equally as rich and fascinating.
Starting with morals and guidelines, and moving through various practices, techniques and states of meditation, the practitioner is said to eventually come to rest in the last limb of bliss, Samadhi.
Patanjali’s idea for Yoga
Patanjali was a writer and thinker from India and historically connected to the Yoga Soetra’s, one of the most important writings in the yoga literature.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which can be translated into “yoking” or “union.” When a yoga teacher in training learns the essence of this word, it is often taught that in yoga we are celebrating the union of our mind, body, soul, and spirit. What is often omitted is the reason why it’s in our interest to make this happen. To get this reason, we must go back even further.
According to Vedanta (from the Veda’s; most holy and oldest Hindoe writings), everything started with purusha, which is pure being. You can also refer to purusha as divine essence, state of perfection, or infinite love. Within purusha, there is no suffering because there is nothing material and thus, no dichotomy. When purusha creates, that creation becomes known as prakruti. Everything we know and understand is prakruti. However, being a part of prakruti, we then forget that our essence is purusha. The process of “remembering” is found through chitta, which is the evolution of consciousness. Therefore, if we gather all the pieces of ourselves—mind, body, soul, spirit, emotions—we are more inclined to remember that we come from pure awareness.
Because we are prakruti, we suffer. Our desires, needs, expectations, and forgetfulness all cause us to suffer. Yogis throughout time have pondered the question as to how we can transcend human suffering. Patanjali is no different. He created the Eight Limbs of Yoga as a template to help us transcend the confines of our ego and to reach self-realization.
The Sutras of Patanjali
The word sutra means “to thread or weave” just as the English word suture means: “to stitch together.” The Sutras (or writings) of Patanjali are divided into four sections. The practice of yoga comes from section two called the Sadhana Pada. Ashtanga means “eight” and refers to Patanjali’s eight limbs or branches of yoga. Each branch, when practiced, is designed to help the practitioner live a more disciplined life with the goal of alleviating suffering.
Patanjali’s goal for us is that through these practices, we can still the mind and merge into oneness with the divine. When we awaken to divine essence, we are able to live fully from a place of authenticity. We are able to discern who we really are and what our purpose is. We don’t have to look to the exterior to determine right from wrong, all the answers are found within.
The ‘eight limbs’ outlined in the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a required read on most Yoga teacher training programmes a especially in the Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Trainings we offer at TULA this book is discussed extensively.
If you want to learn more about the 8-limbs and how to incorporate these into your daily life you can join the workshop serie of Irene Lomer, starting in March 2019.
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