THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA
Compiled by the Sage Patanjali Maharishi in the Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment.
1. Yamas - The Yamas or restraints are divided into five moral injunctions, aimed at destroying the lower nature. They should all be practiced in word, thought and deed:
Brahmacharya moderation in all things
2. Niyamas - The Niyamas or observances are also divided into five and complete the ethical precepts started with the Yamas. These qualities are:
Saucha purity; internal and external cleanliness
Swadhyaya self-study or self-reflection
Ishwara Pranidhana devotion, dedication, surrender or faith in the Universe or personal God
3. Asana - posture. Yoga asanas are meant to be held for some time. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The spinal column houses the all-important nervous system, the telegraphic system of the body. By maintaining the spine's flexibility and strength through exercise, circulation is increased and the nerves are ensured their supply of nutrients and oxygen. The asanas also affect the internal organs and the endocrine system (glands and hormones). The other purpose of asana is to challenge the breath so that we can learn to control the breath.
4. Pranayama - "Prana" is breath, the vital energy in the body, or life force. "Yama" means control or restraint. Therefore Pranayama translates to breath control or controlling our vital energy.
5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind.
6. Dharana - concentration. The last 3 steps constitute the internal practice of Raja Yoga. When Dharana is achieved, it leads to the next step:
7. Dhyana – maintained concentration. Meditation is that state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation. There is still duality in Dhyana. When mastered Dhyana leads to the last step:
8. Samadhi - the superconscious state. In Samadhi non-duality or oneness is experienced. There are different levels of Samadhi, or different stages of connection with this state of non-duality or oneness. Ultimately, the word on it's own refers to the deepest and highest state of meditative consciousness (enlightenment). Basically, a trance like state; transcending the ego and experiencing a sense of inner peace, bliss and understanding of the world, the ability to see the true nature of reality, and we can experience this on different levels or stages.
* Do not confuse Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga with Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga; is a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. The Sanskrit word "Ashtanga" or "eight limbs" is representative of the eight fold path of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali