What Are The 8 Limbs Of Yoga According To Patanjali


The Eight Limbs of Yoga, also known as Ashtanga (“Ashta” meaning eight, and “Anga” meaning limb), were a set of rules codified by the sage Patanjali in India around the 2nd century BCE. These limbs are designed to guide practitioners down the path of spiritual self-realization and enlightenment, or simply provide a framework for healthy living. The intent behind the practice is to cultivate detachment from cravings, wants and desires in order to achieve inner peace.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga as Outlined by Patanjali are:

1.Yama: Yama includes ethical values such as abstaining from violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-covetousness.

2. Niyama: Niyama includes religious observances like purity of body and mind, contentment with what one has been given, dedication to higher understanding through study and service, self-discipline and physical austerities

3. Asana: Asanas refer to physical postures developed during yogic practices which helps maintain a steady and comfortable body suitable for meditation/prayer while enabling connection with the inner self or higher consciousness

4. Pranayama: This refers to breathing exercises designed to gain control over the vital forces within our bodies leading to refinement of breath control and improved concentration

5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of senses from their objects aiming at disconnection from outer world so that all attention can be focused on inner experiences

6. Dharana: To concentrate on an object with complete awareness believing it will lead you toward pure concentration on true nature’s existence
7. Dhyana: To contemplate upon that object in order to arrive into being which goes beyond thinking i.e., non diversified contemplation

8 .Samadhi : Held up as goal of yoga-experiencing absolute joy & inner stillness; experiential absorption with Brahman

Historical Overview

One of the most prominent figures in the ancient Indian spiritualism movement is Patanjali, an Indian sage who wrote the Yoga Sutras. These teachings are credited with systemizing and consolidating many aspects of yoga knowledge, including its philosophical roots in Hinduism. The eight limbs of yoga, or ashtanga in Sanskrit, arise from her work.

The goal of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras was to provide a means for achieving liberation from suffering and thus reaching eternal bliss through meditation or union with oneself or Brahman, the Supreme Being. To reach this end, Patanjali identified 8 steps (or “limbs”) through which one must journey: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

Yama represents five behaviors that set the foundation for practicing ahimsa (non-harming) ” satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (healthy relationships/sexuality), aparigraha (non-hoarding), and daya (compassion).

Niyamas are five personal observances that foster living a more spiritual life: sauca (cleanliness); santosha (contentment); tapas (self-study/control); svadhyaya (spiritual study), and Isvara pranidhana (surrender).

Asana is translated to mean posture; it serves to both align and tone the body while cultivating mental focus. Pranayama is controlling and prolonging breath; by doing so one improves respiration while calming the mind.

Pratyahara transcends consciousness beyond physical sensations and removes distractions by withdrawing attention away from external stimuli. Dharana involves focusing on an object or thought with unwavering concentration in order to still the mind and prepare it for further steps towards meditative enlightenment.

Dhyana refers to deep contemplation and profound inner quietude which is cultivated once concentration has been maintained over a long period of time without interruption; eventually leading to Samadhi – intuitive understanding or ecstatic transcendence of individual bubble wherein new levels of awareness are experienced beyond intellectual understanding. Through practicing all 8 limbs together one can overcome obstacles on their path to realizing Samadhi for reaching Enlightenment.

The Eight Limbs

1.Yama: This is the first of the eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali, and relates to moral codes. Yama emphasizes moral living and encourages self-discipline, integrity, kindness and nonviolence – leading toward peaceful relations with others.

2.Niyama: This limb focuses on personal practices including purification, contentment, austerities, study of sacred writings and meditation – intended for inner development.

3.Asanas: Asanas involve setting up the physical body in a postured position that creates steadiness and comfort in the body’s outer shell, allowing the mind to become absorbed in one’s spiritual practice.

4.Pranayama: Pranayama involves controlling breath while inhaling and exhaling in various ways with an intention of balancing energy flow within the body and stabilizing one’s awareness.

5.Pratyahara: Pratyahara is considered as taking sensory control of oneself by removing all external attachments of the senses with their objects or affiliations; turning instead towards focusing on one’s innermost self or Self Awareness (Atman).

6.Dharana: When reaching this stage in practice, practitioners have successfully delved into the depths within themselves so they can maintain focus on an object like a mantra or visualization for a prolonged period of time (this includes contemplation).

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7.Dhyana: Silent concentration from dharana spirals into Dhyana which is also known as Meditation ” allowing complete connectedness with “The All Knowing” divine consciousness within that profoundly shifts ones perception beyond it being simply one of seclusion and detachment but rather leads to being absolute unity within all created things in existence featuring integration and true harmony leading to wisdom beyond words.(Cited from https://www.himalayaninstitute/ewhat-are-the-8-limbs-of-yoga)

8 .Samadhi : Finally, Samadhi welcomes practitioners who have reached alternate states between sleep and wakefulness where enlightenment from deep meditation dawns like a light illuminating anything that was previously deemed wickedly dark! One becomes aware of their true identity even amidst chaotic turmoil; presence blooming conclusively guiding life according to ones highest potential knowing that you are already awaking spiritually! (Cited from https://enheyetransformsme/etakes/30794)

Real-Life Examples

The eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali are:
1. Yama (Compassionate living): Set a positive intention for your practice and observe a compassionate behavior toward yourself and others. For example, be kind in interactions with other people and take time for self-care without judgement.
2. Niyama (Personal discipline): Make sure that your practices are consistent and regular by creating a schedule or routine that you can stick to. Stick to it even when you don’t feel like it, as consistency will create more visible results faster than sporadic practice times.
3. Asana (Physical poses): Do physical poses regularly not only during your yoga class but at home too, even if it’s just 10 minutes each day of stretching or movement. Pay attention to your technique and explore the different poses until you discover which ones bring the most benefit to you physically, mentally and emotionally.
4. Pranayama (Breathing techniques): Focus on breathing techniques while practicing pranayama in order to reach a deeper level of awareness within yourself ” learn how breathing affects your state of mind and make conscious adjustments when needed.
5. Pratyahara (Centering Attention Inwards): Make time daily for stillness so that you can pay attention to any sensations, feelings or thoughts that arise ” take note of them without getting attached or judging them otherwise this can lead to greater understanding about who we are mentally and emotionally.
6. Dharana (Concentration Development): While practicing asanas or meditations, work on developing concentration so that your mind stays focused on the here-and-now rather than wandering into other places ” become aware when this happens and then gently bring yourself back into the present moment again through notice its sensations or subtle movements in the body such as breath or heart beat etc..
7. Dhyana (Meditative Absorption): Once concentration has been developed through regular practice try focusing on entering an altered state of consciousness through deep meditation ” evaluate any thoughts or feelings as they arise without attachment then allow them to dissolve back into oblivion for a true mindful journey inwardly which is also known as Samadhi/Ecstasy .
8 . Samadhi (Oneness Awareness): Eventually come out from this deep meditative state being aware of both inner progression from spiritual journey while understanding various aspects related externally in our environment ” once established such type of oneness awarness helps with attaining presence & knowledge making thus paving path towards liberating philosophy with treading paths willfully & willingly towards divine union beyond material realm with non dualityistic beliefs over egotistical tendencies thus leading us towards blissful & contentment life ultimately!

Combining Principles

The eight limbs of yoga, according to Patanjali, are Yama (duties), Niyama (personal observances), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses from external objects), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enlightenment). These eight components represent an evolving sequence as a yogic practitioner grows.

Yama refers primarily to ethical codes or duties and include non-harming or ahimsa, truthfulness in speech or satya, non-stealing or asteya, moderation for using only what is necessary or brahmacharya and non-grasping or aparigraha. Niyama refers to personal practices such as keeping cleanliness or saucha, contentment or santosa, practice of self-discipline and austerity through tapas, self-study known as svadhyaya, devotion to a higher power known as Ishvara Pranidhana.

Asana teaches one the skill of holding the physical postures associated with yoga bringing power and strength in both body and mind. Pranayama focuses on taking awareness into the breath bringing stillness of being which transcends into pratyahara where one turns attention inward by withdrawing from sensory perceptions. Turning inward also allows energy center balancing in one’s body as powerful resources for further exploration. Dharana introduces focusing on mental object so steady contemplation can arise while dhyana is that deep contemplative state beyond concentration leading towards enlightenment known as samadhi.

Optimal results come with combination of all limbs when each practice flows into a wholesome resonating experience rather than limiting creative extension individually. Together the integration assists in understanding the relationship between yourself and others successfully balancing internal energies affecting your soul evolution process.

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Benefits and Challenges

The eight limbs of Yoga, known as Ashtanga and outlined by the sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, are Yama (self-restraint or observances), Niyama (personal disciplines), Asana (postures or body positions), Pranayama (breath control or extension), Pratyahara (withdrawal from sensory attachments), Dharana (concentration on a single object of focus or attention), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (union with the Divine). Following these eight limbs will lead to liberation and self-realization for many yoga practitioners. This practice can help individuals to develop healthier minds and bodies, encouraging them to live with peace, mindfulness, and kindness.

The physical benefits that can result from following the eight limbs of yoga include physical strength and flexibility, improved breathing capacity, improved posture, enhanced balance and coordination, increased concentration abilities, improved mental clarity, greater body awareness and relaxation. Additionally, regular practice can also help reduce stress levels as well has help individuals cope with anxiety. Following these eight limbs results in deeper spiritual realization of being connected to something greater than ourselves.

Though there are tremendous physical and spiritual benefits to be reaped through proper yogic practice of the eight limbs there may be some challenges initially especially due to our modern lifestyles inhibiting us from properly connecting with our authentic selves. These practices require discipline, self-control and at times even sacrifice all of which can be hard in today’s fast paced society. Other potential challenges include the lack of financial means to attend classes/ Workshops at an Ashram where one could get formal instruction or inadequate guidance from teachers who may not have received proper training themselves which could lead one into practising inappropriately both mentally as well as physically..

Summary & Reflection

The eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali are essential elements for the pursuit of self-realization through yoga practice. The 8 limbs, also known as the Raja Yoga Path, are Yama (abstention), Niyama (observance), Asana (posture) Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enlightenment).

Yama is focused on ethical standards or restraints to be observed in our attitude and behavior towards others. Niyama is concerned with personal observances such as friendship with the divine, contentment, austerity, and self-study. Asana refers to physical postures practiced control of the body, detoxification and improved circulation of energy in the body. Pranayama looks at breathing exercises for purifying and strengthening nervous and respiratory systems. Pratyahara brings about a withdrawal of senses from material objects so that we can concentrate on our inner world. And then comes Dharana which concentrates single-pointedly on one object or idea to enhance concentration power and focus. Dhyana follows as meditation practices which don’t involve concentration but rather observation and witnessing attained when thoughts settle down naturally after concentration is used in dharana. Finally comes Samadhi where all mental distinctions between subject and object begin to disappear leading us toward a state of unity consciousness”the highest form of self-realization.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga according to Patanjali are an essential guide for attaining spiritual fulfillment through yoga practice by learning how to control our minds, emotions, and physical bodies while connecting with something higher than ourselves. Through this systematical approach to yoga practice , we can understand ourselves better as well as our true potentials which can promote higher states of wellbeing ultimately leading us on a path toward liberation.

Resources & References

1. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: The Complete New Translation and Commentary, by Chip Hartranft (Shambhala Publications, 2003).

2. Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar (Thorsons, 2002).

3. Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga (Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health): https://www.kripalu.org/resources/eight-limbs-raja-yoga

4. A Guide to the 8 Limbs of Raja Yoga (Yoga Teachers Support Group): https://thesuperyogi.com/teachers/8limbsofrajayoga.htm

5. Path of Fire and Light: A Practical Companion to the Yogic Path, Volume 1, by Swami Rama (Himalayan Institute Press, 1996).

6. The Bhagavad Gita; An Interlinear Commentary for Students, by Dr VVIS Ganapati Sthapati (Weiser Books).

7. All About Patanjali’s 8 Limbs Of Yogic Practice (Yogamatters Blog): https://www.yogamatters.com/blog/all-about-patanjalis-8-limbs-of-yogic-practice

8. Understanding Raja Yoga Through The Eight Limbs Compared To The Eightfold Path Of Buddhism (Ayurvedic Learning Online): http://ayurvediclearningonline7808203082807810519481x113x228300nydwzxrzazgfglktumahlmeynprcgoeymvpnvlkuorcs100xxxen=en&pid=lcoe

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