“Yoga” is a Sanskrit word meaning the union of mind and body. The purpose is to teach the practitioner of yoga, called the yogi, how to achieve union or spiritual absorption into the supreme absolute or god. Yoga teaches us that our true self is the Soul and that our self identity is an illusion to be overcome.
In Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb).
The Eight Limbs Of Yoga
According to the great Indian sage, Patañjali, yoga is divided into eight interconnected limbs or aspects. Asanas, the yoga postures, are often the first conscious step on the path of yoga. From them, all the other limbs are integrated.
Each limb has numerous facets that can be experienced through practice and learned through study. They lead, progressively, to the highest states of awareness. With continued practice, year after year, the affects or the asanas, prananyama and meditation become so integrated into our being that they create a quality of life that at the beginning seemed unimaginable.
Yama (Self-Restraint Observances)
The essence of yama is not to harm any living creature in thought, word, or action. This principle of right living is universal. These are:
- Ahimsa: non-injury
- Satyam: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: chastity or celibacy
- Aparigraha: non-covetousness
Niyama (Religious Observances)
This limb is one of personal discipline in daily life. It consists of
- Saucha: internal and external purity, cleanliness of mind and body
- Santosha: contentment
- Tapas: austerity, study of the self
- Svadhyaya: study of yoga philosophy and repetitions of mantras
- Ishvarapranidhana: self-surrender to God, the divine, creator, spirit or higher intelligence (whichever you wish to call it) and his worship
This refers to the postures. Traditionally, there are said to be 840,000 asanas. These asanas correspond to the full potential of human movement. Body, breath, and mind move in harmony; all duality ceases.
Pranayama (Regulation Of Breath)
This is the art of yoga breathing; regulating the inhalation, exhalation, and the retention of breath. Breath consists of air and prana, the life force within each individual. Practising pranayama creates an introspective attitude, calming the mind and centering the body.
Pratyahara (Abstraction Of The Senses)
This limb consists of sense withdrawal from the external world. Outside stimulation is closed off from the inner world where spiritual sources reside.
This aspect is uninterrupted concentration with the mind focused steadily on a particular point or object (a candle flame, a picture of a great inspirational teacher, etc.) This limb requires practice to achieve steadiness of mind.
This is meditation. There are varied techniques to quiet the mind. The self becomes one with the rhythm of the universe.
Samadhi (Super-conscious State)
This limb represents the state of consciousness beyond meditation. It is a state of absolute truth and bliss. It is the highest level of spiritual evolution.