Getting to the Core: An Insight on the Eight Limbs of Yoga
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra mentions about the eight-fold path of yoga, popularly called the ‘ashtanga’ or the “eight limbs”. The ashtanga or the eight limbs acts as guidelines for living a healthy, purposeful and meaningful life. Gaining knowledge about the 8 limbs helps in the overall development of you as a human being. It helps me too, which is why I write about it!
Yama: It is the first limb that focusses on our ethical standards and sense of integrity. It is based on the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The five yamas are ahimsa or nonviolence, satya or truthfulness, asteya or non-stealing, brahmacharya or continence and aparigraha or non-covetousness.
Niyama: is the second limb that focusses on self-discipline and spiritual observances. Attending temple services daily, saying prayers before meals, taking contemplative walks and developing one’s own meditation practices. Saucha or cleanliness, samtosa or contentment, tapas or spiritual austerities, svadhyaya or study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self and isvara pranidhana or surrender to a higher power are the five Niyamas.
Asana: The yogic postures comprise of the third limb. Through the daily (or weekly, it’s all good!) practice of asanas, we are able to develop self-discipline and concentration, both of which are essential for meditation.
Pranayama: The fourth stage or limb comprises of various techniques which are designed to gain control over the breathing process while enabling people to recognize the connection between breathing, the mind and the various emotions. Pranayama can be practiced as an isolated discipline or can be integrated into regular hatha yoga routine.
Pratyahara: It is the fifth limb that focusses on the conscious withdrawal of awareness from the external world and outside stimuli. This step involves detaching ourselves externally and identifying the habits that are harmful to our health and likely to interfere with our inner growth.
Dharana: The practice of Pratyahara helps in creating the setting for dharana or concentration. While practicing concentration, which follows meditation, we learn to concentrate on single mental objects such as the image of the deity, a particular energetic center in the body or a silent monotonous sound that slows down the thinking process.
Dhyana: In this stage, the mind is clouded in stillness and there are a few or no thoughts at all. Attaining this stage is not easy, it requires a lot of strength and stamina.
Samadhi: This is the last limb or the final stage when the yogi merges with his/her point of focus and rises above the Self altogether. It is in this stage that the yogi realizes the profound connection to the Divine. This stage is also described as the stage of ecstasy.
The ‘ashtanga’ or the right eight limbs describe the way for attaining peace in life. Every human being must follow these steps for spiritual enlightenment.
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