Most of us are familiar with the physical side of yoga, known as Asana, but very few know that all together yoga comprises of Eight Limbs. There’s more to yoga than just stretching and trying to get some killer arms while working on your Chaturanga. The Eight Limbs were first recorded in the sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. While it might sound daunting, I will try and outline each limb as simply as possible.
There are five Yamas and they act as moral guides on how to interact with the world around us. This is how we practice yoga off the mat. They are:
Aparigraha (non-greed and non-hoarding)
There are also five Niyamas which are seen as observances and self-discipline practices. They are:
Svadhyaya (self-study and the study of spiritual or yogic text)
Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power)
This is the limb we’re all familiar with and practice when we go to a yoga class. It’s the physical aspect of yoga. The idea behind Asana is to get the body ready for meditation.
I have grown to love this Limb. Prana is energy or life source and can be described as the breath. Pranayama is the practice of controlling your breath. This can be achieved through different breathing exercises such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) which I do whenever I feel anxious.
This is the practice of withdrawing the senses. During meditation we draw our focus inward, letting go of the distractions around us. Most of us experience this when we’re concentrating hard on something. It seems like the whole world falls away except for that one thing you’re focusing on.
Dharana is connected to Pratyahara. It’s the focussed concentration required when the senses are withdrawn to begin to meditate. We begin to focus on concentrating on a single point. Through extended periods of focused concentration we begin to meditate.
Dhyana is when we become completely absorbed in our focus, this is meditation. Initially we might only be able to hold it for a second or two, but through regular practice you will be able to meditate for longer periods of time without any breaks or distractions.
Samadhi is often referred to as enlightenment or bliss.
That is essentially the Eight Limbs in a nutshell. Each Limb works together with the next one to encourage your body to relax, your breath to come under control and for your mind to find clarity and peace. So next time you unroll your yoga mat, maybe try to sit still for a few moments and focus on your breath or save a few minutes for a meditation practice.