What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at the history of yoga, introduce the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (which forms the basis of yoga philosophy) and explore Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga and how to apply them to your daily life. But first, what even is a yoga practice?

What is a yoga practice?

One of the challenges I find as a yoga teacher is incorporating all of the elements of what a yoga practice really is and why they’re so beneficial.

Most people start yoga because a doctor, physiotherapist or maybe a friend has suggested it could help them with stiffness, back pain or a sore shoulder, for example.

When it comes to yoga newbies, it’s really important to me that everyone feels welcome, that the yoga practice is accessible to everybody. It can feel a little daunting in the beginning to be faced with some of the deeper elements of yoga.

As students start attending classes regularly, become comfortable with the physical poses, and start improving their flexibility, they can also start to notice the benefits to their mind, reduced stress and better sleep. Once this starts to happen, they often become more open to the other aspects of yoga and may wish to dive much deeper into the yogic way of life.

Not just a physical practice

So, yoga is not just a physical practice – it’s a holistic discipline that integrates the mind, body and spirit. While yoga includes physical postures (asanas), it also emphasises breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation and ethical principles (yamas and niyamas, which we explore below).

Yoga has many benefits beyond the physical level. It can help reduce stress, enhance mental clarity and focus, improve flexibility and balance, and promote overall wellbeing. Through regular practice, individuals can develop greater self-awareness, inner strength and a sense of inner peace.

Yoga is also a deeply spiritual practice for many, offering a path towards self-realisation and a connection to something greater than oneself. It encourages individuals to cultivate mindfulness, compassion and gratitude in their daily lives.

So, while yoga does provide physical benefits, it goes far beyond this and offers a comprehensive approach to achieving balance and harmony in all aspects of life.

The history of yoga

Yoga is a practice that has origins in Egypt and the Indus Valley – two ancient civilisations that date back over 5,000 years. One of the most harmful myths is that yoga is simply a workout. Yoga is, in fact, a holistic philosophy that gifts us a set of tenets, which teach us how we can navigate life in a spiritually aligned way. The Yoga Sutras outline these principles in an eight-limb system, known as the 8 limbs of yoga.

What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

What are the Yoga Sutras?

Decoding the ancient wisdom of Patanjali

If you’re new to yoga, then you may not yet be familiar with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written by the sage scientist Maharishi Patanjali. In a nutshell, the Yoga Sutras is a collection of 196 short verses that serve as a guide to attain wisdom and self-realisation through yoga. The text is estimated to have been written in roughly 400 CE and is regarded by many as the basis of yoga philosophy.

The 196 sutras (which translates to ‘threads’ or ‘discourses’ in English) are separated into four padas (chapters): Samadhi, Sadhana, Vibhuti and Kaivalya. The sutras are clear, accurate and full of precious wisdom to prevent, overcome and transcend the human miseries and suffering, even in modern times.

The text itself is open to interpretation by the practitioner, but at its core the Yoga Sutras is intended to provide depth and practical wisdom to help yogis and yoginis explore the central meaning of yoga.

Samadhi Pada

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali discusses the meaning of yoga. The messaging in the 51 sutras in this section speaks to those who have already adopted yoga into their daily life, and focuses on themes of enlightenment, concentration and meditation.

Sadhana Pada

Moving forward in the book, but perhaps backward in philosophy, chapter two of the Yoga Sutras explains how to achieve a yogic state. The 55 sutras in this section discuss the practice of yoga, and introduce the ‘8 limbs of yoga’, which are as follows:

  • Yama – Five principles of ethics
  • Niyama – Five principles of conduct & discipline
  • Asana – Physical practice of yoga
  • Pranayama – Breath regulation
  • Pratyahara – Sensory withdrawal
  • Dharana – Concentration
  • Dhyana – Meditation
  • Samadhi – Self-realisation

This chapter also dives deeply into the first six of the 8 limbs of yoga, making it possibly the most important chapter for newcomers and those who are seeking yogic tradition in their day-to-day lives.

Vibhuti Pada

The 56 sutras included in chapter three focus on the benefits of practising yoga regularly. Here, Patanjali explores the power and manifestation that result from yoga and dives deeper into the final two limbs of yoga – Dhyana and Samadhi.

Kaivalya Pada

The final chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali contains 34 sutras that focus on liberation and freedom from suffering. Here, the text explores the ultimate goals of yoga and provides thoughtful insight on the unconditional, absolute liberation that yoga provides.

Whether you’re just getting started with your yoga practice or you’ve got decades under your belt, there’s always something new to be learned from the Yoga Sutras.

The 8 limbs of yoga

The practice of the eightfold path of yoga comes from section two of the Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada. In this chapter, Sage Patanjali refers to this eightfold path as “ashtanga yoga” in sutra 29 (aphorism 2.29). He created this path to help us transcend human sufferings and to reach self-realisation and ultimate freedom. In simple words, this way of living promotes the harmonious collaboration of body, mind and spirit and complete health and wellbeing.

The 8 limbs of yoga, as described by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, are:

  1. Yamas: These are ethical guidelines that deal with our behaviour towards others. They include Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy or moderation) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
  2. Niyamas: These are personal observances that focus on self-discipline and self-improvement. They include Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).
  3. Asanas: These refer to physical postures practised in yoga. Asanas help to create strength, flexibility and balance in the body while preparing the mind for meditation.
  4. Pranayama: This involves breath control techniques that expand and regulate the life force energy (prana) in the body. Pranayama helps to cultivate concentration, calmness and vitality.
  5. Pratyahara: This limb focuses on withdrawal of the senses from external distractions. It’s the practice of turning the awareness inward, away from the external stimulations, and gaining mastery over the mind and senses.
  6. Dharana: Dharana is the concentration or one-pointed focus of the mind. It involves fixing the attention on a single object, such as the breath or a mantra, to achieve mental stability and inner awareness.
  7. Dhyana: Also known as meditation, this is the uninterrupted flow of concentration on the chosen object. Dhyana leads to a state of deep contemplation, where the meditator becomes absorbed in the object of focus.
  8. Samadhi: This is the ultimate state of enlightenment and union with the divine. It’s a state of pure bliss, where the practitioner experiences a merging of the self with the universe, transcending duality and achieving self-realisation.

The purpose of these eight limbs is to guide individuals on a transformative journey, fostering physical strength, mental clarity, emotional balance and spiritual awakening. They provide a holistic approach to personal growth and self-discovery.

If you’d like to learn more about the holistic practice of yoga, why not take a look at our class schedule and events pages.

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