Introducing the 8 Limbs of Yoga

Introducing the 8 Limbs of Yoga

Like a trusted navigation system taking you on a road-trip of a lifetime, Patanjali’s ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ can help us to navigate through our lives with purpose and ease … and they may well be the best set of directions we will ever receive!

This months blog introduces the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ and their importance in our practice of yoga, both on and off the mat.   

Created by great sage Patanjali many thousands of years ago, and documented in his Yoga Sutras (ancient texts), the 8 Limbs offer words of guidance and direction, which form the very foundation of living an enlightened and peaceful existence.    

They form a structured route of progression through our yoga practice, starting with your relationship to yourself and others (yamas & niyamas), moving onto what we aspire towards on our yoga mat (asnana, pranayama, pratyahara & dharana), and finally the journey (dhyana) to the blissful state of enlightenment (samadhi). 

As mentioned in our blog ‘What is Yoga?’, yoga is a journey and a relationship, and by exploring the 8 Limbs in a little more detail, we can begin to deepen our understanding of this epic and expansive journey.  

There’s a great deal of information, concepts and Sanskrit words weaved into the 8 Limbs, so take in what resonates with you, don’t try to overwhelm yourself by taking it all on board at first.  Maybe for now, simply read the following summarised descriptions of each limb and take just one concept to reflect on during your time on the mat for the following week.   Don’t worry … we will be exploring each of them in more detail in our blogs over the coming weeks.

1.) Yama. The first limb describes 5 social ethical concepts, which create the foundation of all practices. They all encourage self-restraint and consideration of others. These are more your every-day practices that can be applied to all aspects of life, fairly easily. So, we have: Ahimsa non-harming, Satya truthfulness, Brahmacharya moderation, Asteyanon-stealing, Aparigraha non attachment. 

2.) Niyama. Here, we shift from the ideals of our relationships with others, to our relationship to ourselves. This second stage describes another 5 practices to lead us to developing a quality relationship with the self, as we observe our mind, body and habitual patterns. You may or may not realise but during a yoga session many teachers at Artemis guide you through some of these ideas to consider on a regular basis. Sauche cleanliness, Santosha contentment, Tapas discipline, Swadhyaya self study, Ishwara Pranidhana surrender.

3.) Asana. The one everyone is most familiar with, the physical practice of postures and movement. With an endless amount of different ways to control the body, finding space, building strength, developing flexibility, becoming grounded, becoming centred and balanced. 

4.) Pranayama. Some of you might be familiar with this word. Pranayama means “life-force extension” which is a mystical yogi way of saying “breath exercises”. There’s a whole range of different practices that work with or control the breath, from simple observation to very strong and possibly dizziness-inducing practices. As always, only practice what feels right for you!  

5.) Pratyahara. This is the practice of developing a withdrawal of the senses, withdrawal of external stimuli and taking your attention inwards. Becoming an observer of our mind and thoughts. This is where we begin to shift from more physical and tangible ideas to more conceptual and meditative practices. 

6.) Dharana. The practice of learning to steady the mind, as we withdraw our senses by practicing Pratyahara we can begin to concentrate with a one-pointed focus. This practice includes focusing on a mantra, a word, or intention. 

7.) Dhyana. Taking an extremely subtle shift from a meditation practice of focusing on either the mind or an object, as with the previous 2 limbs. Dhyana is an uninterrupted pure state of concentration, keenly aware, still, producing very little thought, free from distractions. Often a very fleeting moment for most of us. 

8.) Samadhi. The wonderful Samadhi, the bliss state. This is where we begin to feel the oneness with all living things. If we are lucky, we may get glimpses of this notion in Savasana, feeling a sense of pure harmony and peace within and without. However, easily lost once we continue with our day.

In the following few posts we will take a closer look into some of the aspects of the Eight Limbs and how we can practically apply them. But hopefully this has given you some insight about how yoga is not just practiced in the studio but is in fact something we can practice anywhere at any time. 

We would love to know which aspect you would like to reflect on in your own yoga practice!

Namaste x