A Love Beauty Thrive guide to the 8 limbs of yoga.
“Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India.”
Yoga is essentially a map on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life, both on and off the mat. How we move, breathe and centre ourselves in our yoga practice directly carries over to how we move, breathe and centre ourselves in our lives . . . and together with the rest of the world around us.
Yet in the West, modern yoga is mostly considered a physical practice. It’s typically thought of as a workout to strengthen one’s body and to improve one’s flexibility. And we love that aspect of it – the asana (the balanced poses, sun salutations, downward dogs) – but true yoga is so much more.
Yoga’s physical expression (asana) is just one aspect of its practice. Yoga in its entirety (its complete experience) is body, mind and soul. Yoga’s holistic, ancient roots – all the beauty, wisdom and healing it has to offer – goes well beyond its physical popularity, beyond one aspect . . . to each of its 8 limbs.
We need to embody not just one, but all of the 8 limbs of yoga.
This yogic philosophy – the eightfold path – is a guide to living a balanced life of meaning, purpose, transformation and ultimately, of liberation. Each of the 8 limbs of yoga is a step to freedom, to life at its happiest, most aligned and fullest potential. And so it’s here, where we begin our understanding.
In this complete guide, you’ll discover what the 8 limbs of yoga are, where they came from, and why they are important. Not only that, but you’ll also learn how this ancient wisdom can bring you and your yoga practice beyond exercise, to a higher level of consciousness . . . to enlightenment itself.
In this post, we are going to cover . . .
- The definition of yoga.
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
- An overview of the 8 limbs of yoga.
- Why are the 8 limbs of yoga important?
- What are the 8 limbs of yoga?
- Applying the 8 limbs of yoga.
- Do the 8 limbs of yoga have to be practiced in order?
- A summary of the 8 limbs of yoga.
- Is yoga right for you?
- How to follow Love Beauty Thrive on Pinterest.
The Definition of Yoga
As an aspiring yogini or yogi, what does yoga mean to you?
“Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India”.
By definition, the word yoga means “to yoke” – to connect, join, unite – in wholeness (mind, body and soul), to our truest, highest selves. It implies a union of distinct parts, balanced and aligned, for a greater, whole purpose. It’s about ultimate oneness.
In its fullest, most complete form, we thus connect our physical, mental and spiritual selves by embodying all of the 8 limbs of yoga (something we can not fully achieve with just asana – the one physical limb – alone). Inner reflection, meditation, ethics, metaphysics and the soul are also involved.
This eightfold path dates back over 1500 years ago, to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (one of the most influential, ancient texts on yogic philosophy known today). A guide to a life of meaning, morality, self-discipline, healing and spirituality, this is where our path to yoga (to self actualization) begins.
8 Limbs of Yoga, Common Questions
We’re just about ready to deep dive and learn more. Here are a few frequently asked questions that we’ll touch on throughout our comprehensive discussion . . .
- Are the 8 limbs the yoga sutras?
- What are the benefits of practicing eight limbs of yoga?
- What are the 8 limbs of yoga in order?
- What are the 5 yamas of ashtanga yoga?
- How to practice the 8 limbs of yoga?
- What is the purpose of the 8 limbs of yoga?
- What is Patanjali’s 8 fold path (and 8 limbs of yoga)?
Let’s get started. Namaste.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Who created the 8 limbs of yoga?
Patanjali was an Indian sage, author, mystic and philosopher of whom very little is actually truly known. The subject of many myths and legends, he is believed to be the author (or compiler) of the Yoga Sutras (writings), as well as the possible divine incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu’s serpent.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, ancient texts outlining the eightfold path to our highest self (to liberation), guide us to living a more meaningful, purposeful life. Together, these 8 limbs of yoga are known as Ashtanga Yoga, which translates directly to “eight limbs” (ashta means eight, anga means limb).
Also, it is important to note that sutra itself means “to weave, stitch or thread”. Sutra literally means to suture. The Yoga Sutras are intended to be woven, stitched and sutured throughout our lives, uniting body, mind and spirit on the path to elevated consciousness, to one that is free of suffering.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that the ultimate goal, the purpose of yoga, is liberation (or freedom) from the ego, emotions and suffering of the human condition. It’s to live balanced, aligned and peaceful in the resulting state of elevated bliss, the meditative state of enlightenment (samadhi).
Its 8 limbs of yoga can be thought of as the stepping stones that create this path, that connects our outer world to our inner selves. In following the path (all eight steps), we’re able to ease the emotions and suffering of the ego and human condition, attaining a state of liberation and ultimate bliss.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (and the yogic philosophy therein) are one of the biggest influences on what we know and understand to be modern yoga today. And in this context, it becomes clear that our individual practice must go well beyond asana, the physical aspect, to achieve its true goal.
The Four Padas (Chapters) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
Before moving on, let’s briefly conclude our beginner’s understanding of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras by illustrating how they are divided into four chapters (padas).
- Samadhi Pada (the first chapter) introduces the actual steps to enlightenment.
- Sadhana Pada (the second chapter) explores our daily spiritual practice and discipline to enlightenment – the practice of yoga in action. Sadhana Pada introduces the 8 limbs of yoga, with an emphasis on the first six of the eight limbs.
- Vibhuti Pada (the third chapter) discusses harnessing the power of our minds along the path to enlightenment. Vibhuti Pada continues the exploration of the 8 limbs of yoga, with an emphasis on the last two limbs (seven and eight).
- Kaivalya Pada (the fourth and final chapter) focuses on our ultimate liberation. It outlines the roles that reflection and preparation have in our individual journeys to freedom.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga, An Overview
And so, what exactly are the 8 limbs of yoga (in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras)?
All of the 8 limbs of yoga are integral pieces to the wholeness of self. If one of the essential aspects are missing, the truest, most liberated, highest form of self can not be realized. And this is why we must learn all 8 limbs of yoga, as they are each a necessary stepping stone along the sacred path.
As a set of stepping stones (an eightfold path) to seeking inner alignment, consciousness, awareness and peace, each limb plays a role in alleviating suffering and the struggles of the outer world. As practitioners suggest, the 8 limbs of yoga are the way to connect to our own divine consciousness.
In our individual practices, we are likely to find that everyone’s eightfold path is a unique journey. You may be well established and strong in some limbs, while lacking in others. And this may change in different seasons of your life. It’s to be expected, simply weave and balance the limbs as you go.
Why are the 8 Limbs of Yoga Important?
Yoga is so much more than a form of exercise. It is so much more than its poses, than a workout and its physical benefits (although there are many). Yoga is a holistic, ancient and multi-faceted practice of many distinct and undeniably important elements. Yoga is a lifestyle, a meaningful way of life.
If we are to practice yoga in its truest form (and for its authentic purpose), we need the discipline and balance that each of the 8 limbs of yoga offer to us.
What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?
Let’s begin our in depth discussion of the 8 limbs of yoga.
1. YAMA (Social Ethics)
Yama is the first of the 8 limbs of yoga.
The yamas are five ethical guidelines for interacting with the outer world around us (moral, ethical and social disciplines). They are five universal guidelines – social ethics – on how to act toward others and live in peace with the rest of the world. Yama is to live balanced on the moral social path.
Patanjali outlines five yamas (ethical principles to guide our behaviour with others). Here are the five rules of this moral code, restraints on how to carry ourselves through life in harmony with other people. Yamas are not bound by time, place or class – we all can benefit by connecting to them within us.
Yama is often referred to as social ethics, moral code, attitude towards our environment and others, and offers conduct guidance for personal growth.
- Ahimsa (Non-Violence). Do no harm (physical, mental or emotional) to yourself or any other living thing on the planet, both with respect to intention and action. Its goal is to minimize the existence of harm.
- Satya (Truthfulness). Do not lie, pursuing authentic truth in all ways (thoughts, words and actions) – without apology, but also without harm. Its goal is an authentic life of honesty for yourself and others.
- Asteya (Non-Stealing). Do not steal from yourself or others. It refers not only to physical items and belongings, but also to ideas and even to your own body (e.g., your physical, mental and emotional health).
- Aparigraha (Non-Attachment). Do not hoard, collect or live in greed – instead, release and let go. Be generous. No obsessions with material things, belongings or thoughts (envy, jealousy or craving what others have). Its goal is to live in abundance, but with less (i.e., simplicity).
- Brahmacharya (Balanced Energy). Do not waste energy on the non-important. Dedicate it, consistently, to your practice. Be wise (use moderation) in conserving energy and emotions. It’s thought this may even suggest celibacy or balancing sexual energy/restraint.
2. NIYAMA (Self Observances)
Niyama is the second of the 8 limbs of yoga.
The niyamas are five personal observances for self care, discipline and improvement. Where the yamas are social guidelines on how to interact with others and the rest of the world (outward), the niyamas are personal guidelines, duties and disciplines concerning and within the self (inward).
Patanjali outlines five niyamas (personal principles to guide our behaviour to ourselves). Often described as positive self deeds (or personal ethics), here are the five actions of self discipline to observe in your own behaviour.
Niyama is often referred to as self observances, personal behaviour, attitude towards ourselves, offering conduct guidance for personal growth.
- Saucha (Cleanliness). Purification and cleanliness of the body, mind and intentions, both external and internal. Bathe your physical body daily, and release your mind of negativity, distraction and other “cluttering” thought patterns for greater inner focus (meditation).
- Santosha (Contentment). Acceptance of, and satisfaction with, what is. Are you always striving and wanting more? Accept yourself, people, events and life for what they are. Detach from wants, desires and comparison – these are not the paths to a life of ease and peace.
- Tapas (Heat). Self discipline, spiritual austerities, inner fire and burning desire. Essentially, live a life of simplicity – passionate and “on fire” for a spiritual practice that requires persistence and self control.
- Svadhyaya (Self Study). Study the self and yogic philosophy. Self observation, reflection and introspection (along with the reading of spiritual texts). Spiritual and self studies, self inquiry and knowledge. Also, memorization and repetition of mantras, chants and prayers.
- Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender). Dedication and devotion to the divine (to the self and/or a higher power). Acceptance of, and submission to, yoga as a holistic, spiritual practice (body, mind and spirit). Faith, trust and surrender to a purpose higher than yourself.
3. ASANA (Posture)
Asana is the third of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Asanas are the poses (physical postures) of yoga. Asana means “posture” or “seat”. Its purpose is the strength, flexibility, stability and balance needed to sit in long meditation sessions. Essentially, its goal is “to become a master at sitting still”. In the West, asana is the limb most recognized as yoga itself.
Asana’s intention is to sit in calm, steady and comfortable meditation (physically and mentally). It establishes the habits of self discipline, focus and concentration (body and mind) – all necessary for meditation. While it is the third limb, it’s often the “first entry point” of yoga for many beginners.
It’s important to note that asana is not about finding a comfortable posture, but to find comfort in the posture (working through the noticed restlessness and meditating on mastery) until it becomes effortless. It’s all about preparing the body and mind for meditation for longer sessions.
To summarize, asana’s physical postures are of greatest importance to yoga in creating the strength, flexibility, stability and balance needed to sit in meditation for longer periods of time. Also, its emphasis on the physical body (its strength and movement) promotes general health and longevity.
Asana is the first of the physical (bodily) practices of yoga, that provide the foundation needed for deeper internal work of the self. Examples of asana styles include yin, restorative, hatha, kundalini, ashtanga, iyengar as well as hot yoga.
4. PRANAYAMA (Breathing)
Pranayama is the fourth of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Pranayama is the expansion and extension of your vital life force energy (breath control). Breathing is the very essence of being alive. Pranayama exercises and breathing techniques activate our vitality and connect us to the energy of the universe (as well as to our body, mind and emotions).
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe three movements of breath relating to pranayama – inhalation, exhalation and retention. It was thought that the place, duration and number of breaths (cyclical breath control) improves your health, even extending your life. Breath work (pranayama) is healing.
Pranayama is centering and grounding, keeping us in the present moment and turning our focus inward to the self. It is also rejuvenating for both body and mind, balancing the chakras. Examples of common pranayama exercises and practices are alternate nostril and kapalabhati breathing.
Pranayama is the second of the physical (bodily) practices of yoga, that provide the foundation needed for deeper internal work of the self. It is often referred to as control of the breath and various breathing exercises.
5. PRATYAHARA (Withdrawal of Senses)
Pratyahara is the fifth of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Yoga’s first four limbs set the foundation. Next, the final four limbs turn us further inward to the authentic self and its inner world. It begins here with pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga. Pratyahara can be thought of as a sort of transition limb, gently moving us from the physical to the more meditative.
Pratyahara is awareness. It is withdrawing senses of the external world to create greater awareness of the inner world. In drawing back from external stimuli, we quieten enough to notice our inner stillness. It is, essentially, mindfulness – sensory transcendence to self growth and inner landscape.
Pratyahara is redirecting our focus and attention to what we intentionally choose (not dictated by demands of the world around us). It is to not be distracted by the constant stream of external sensory stimuli (i.e., “isolating consciousness”). Examples include reflection, mundras and the bandhas.
Pratyahara is the first of the last four limbs of yoga that focus on the deep, inner quest of self (the preparation, actualization, experience and art of meditation). It is often referred to as withdrawal of the senses, inward observation and consciously closing your mind to the outside world of life.
6. DHARANA (Concentration)
Dharana is the sixth of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Dharana is inward focused concentration. It’s the limb of yoga that first brings us, fully and completely, on the inner journey of growth (stepping away from strict focus on the physical). Dharana is the ease of extended (or maintained) internal spiritual practice. It is deeply focused, concentration.
Dharana is needed to meditate. By concentrating on a single object of the body or mind (a single point) we naturally step closer to true meditation. Examples include concentration on candle gazing, visualization (mental imagery), a silent mantra or deep focus on an energy center of the body.
It’s dedication and commitment to your spiritual world. And once mastered, we carry it with us – not only to our meditation practice, but into our everyday lives – to live mindfully in all we do. That is, dharana is the opposite of the multi-tasking and short attention spans that are so common today.
It’s important to note that dharana is intimately connected to pratyahara (the fifth limb of yoga) – withdrawal of the senses is needed to support this level of deeply focused concentration on a single point. Stay in this fixated space, effortlessly, to become one with the moment. Calm all of the mind.
Dharana is the second of the last four limbs of yoga that focus on the deep, inner quest of the self (the preparation, actualization, experience and art of meditation). It is often referred to as concentration, deep focus, calming of the mind, and concentration outside the mind itself (and not on the mind).
7. DHYANA (Meditation)
Dhyana is the seventh of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Dhyana is your true meditation practice. It is deep, real meditation. It’s the final limb of yoga before reaching enlightenment (the purpose of all the previous limbs is to prepare and bring you here – to authentic dhyana). It is not something that we do but an uninterrupted state of being and flow.
How do we differentiate between dharana and dhyana? Dharana is intensely directed, single-focus attention and concentration. Dhyana is a state of total, complete and pure awareness – without directed focus, distraction or even thoughts. It is the state of consciousness and stillness.
At times, it’s been distinguished differently. Dhyana has also been described as the state where self merges with the object of dharana’s focus and concentration. In either case, the mind is still with effortless inner peace. Quiet and steadied, the mind reflects, observes and totally lets go.
Dhyana is the third of the last four limbs of yoga that focus on the deep, inner quest of the self (the preparation, actualization, experience and art of meditation). It is true meditation itself, maintained with ease and across long periods of time.
8. SAMADHI (Enlightenment)
Samadhi is the eighth of the 8 limbs of yoga.
Oneness. Samadhi is enlightened bliss, the union of mind, body and spirit with the divine. It is the ultimate goal and true purpose of yoga. Samadhi is the liberation from the ego, cosmic connection with the universe and your higher self. It’s a journey so deep that you’re one with source and with all that is.
As such, samadhi is the final step of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We have each mastered our body and mind, our outer and inner worlds, and have now reached enlightenment – oneness of all. Also described as “realization”, keen awareness of life is a vital concept here (samadhi is not escapism).
In this limb, we transition from doing to being, living fully in the present moment (not past or future). A state of ecstasy, this completion of the yogic path – transcendence of self – is ultimately about the experience of peace. It’s the end of a journey, the oneness with universal consciousness.
Samadhi is freedom. It’s the realization (and experience) of your true connection to the universe and to all living things. You are happy, content and fully absorbed in this tranquil union of self and pure love. It is the achievement of what we all seek to achieve in life, where all the paths lead.
It was historically thought (in ancient scriptures) that samadhi is only attainable by very few, after years – even lifetimes – of practice. In more contemporary views, it is achievable by anyone who dedicates themselves to practice (this is the more modern and scientific understanding of yoga).
Samadhi is the fourth of the last four limbs of yoga that focus on the deep, inner quest of the self (the preparation, actualization, experience and art of meditation). It is often referred to as enlightenment, ultimate bliss, liberation, freedom from human suffering, and connection with the divine.
Perfect, spiritual absorption and harmony. Ecstacy, transcendence, and universal, cosmic interconnectedness with divine source. It is this union that is true samadhi.
Applying the 8 Limbs of Yoga
How do you apply the 8 limbs of yoga to your own practice?
Now that you know the eightfold path, you can begin to thread each of the limbs into your everyday life. Implementing these principles takes practice. If you are to walk the true yogic path to spiritual enlightenment, all 8 limbs must be incorporated, not just asana. It’s not always easy (as we know).
Yes, yoga can be an energizing, strength-building, invigorating physical workout that serves to keep our bodies healthy. Handstands and arm balances, backbends, downward dogs, sun salutations and vinyasa flows are all so important. Asana is necessary. But yoga’s intention goes beyond.
You may be stronger in some limbs than others. It’s ok. Embody each aspect as best as you can, but leave none ignored. It’s important because several (if not all) of the limbs build upon the practice and mastery of the others – essentially, they are stepping stones along the path to liberation.
A yoga journey is unique to your life (your path will be unlike any others). Balance the 8 limbs as your unique self (and spirit) needs – weaving, threading and stitching them not only to each other, but to your practice, to your life and to your higher self. It’s here that yoga’s authentic purpose is realized.
Together, the 8 limbs of yoga are a guidebook to a meaningful life. And a well-rounded, comprehensive yoga practice threads all limbs throughout it (even if only in the smallest of ways). Work each of them into your daily practice just as best as you can. You will soon be on your way to freedom.
Align with consciousness, alleviate your suffering and live with purpose. The 8 limbs of yoga are daily tools – the habits – to get there. It’s possible you may have already intuitively (unintentionally) been practicing many limbs (deepening your understanding will benefit more, to fully embody them).
Can you see where you might have been practicing other aspects of the eightfold path already? Look back, reflect and see how you might be able to implement them more. Ask yourself, have you incorporated the 8 limbs of yoga, but also each of their subsets too? Can you also work on those?
Consider also, that the way the 8 limbs of yoga are applied has transformed across thousands of years of yogic wisdom, knowledge and practice. Our lives and the world are both radically, unrecognizably different. As such, adjustments and understanding are necessary for contemporary practice.
At the same time, yogic philosophy of the 8 limbs still has tremendous offering and applicability to today’s world. Its timeless values continue to improve our lives, spiritual connections and overall human experience across thousands of years. And are possibly needed now more than ever.
Here are the best two tips on how to apply the 8 limbs of yoga to your own individual practice. First, always remember that asana is only one small aspect of the yogic philosophy, practice and journey. Second, journaling is so helpful. Use it as a reflection tool to see the extent of 8 limbs in your life.
Let’s do that now. Here’s a quick review of sections of the eightfold path – a consideration of how the 8 limbs might show up in our lives (and what key things we need to remember). It gives a better idea on how we can apply the 8 limbs of yoga to everyday life – and what that might actually look like.
How do the 8 limbs of yoga work together? How do they build off of each other? Let’s take a quick look and find out how they all help you to grow.
The Physical Body (Don’t Forget About Asana)
We begin with the physical – our body and the outer world. In the West, it’s the part of yoga that we focus on the most (specifically, asana). We now know that, while this is important, there’s so much more to the practice. We can’t just practice the poses as a workout and immediately be on our way to bliss.
However, we can’t just neglect these outward limbs of the path either. They are as vitally important to the journey as all the other aspects. As we practice physically, we must also work on the other limbs too. But starting here, on the physical aspects, can be helpful – giving us a strong foundation.
In this respect, the yamas, niyamas and asana mustn’t be forgotten. It is important that we deepen our understanding and practice of them all. Svadhyaya (continued study) can be especially valuable here. One of the niyamas, it’s a driving force that can determine whether we stay the path.
Asana is not the path, but it is a valuable (and necessary) step of the path. We’ve talked a lot about how asana is not everything. And that’s true. But, all this is not to say that asana is not important. Because it is. Asana is not the entire path, but it is just as important as all the other 8 limbs of yoga.
Asana builds your alignment of mind, body and spirit. It creates this key balance by working to strengthen your body with movement, flexibility and conditioning. All of this is needed for real progression through the eightfold path, and for the ability to sit in extended meditation with ease.
Explore the different types and physical styles of yoga. There are many ways to work asana (in various forms) in your practice. One style may be better for you than others, all can connect body, mind and spirit through physical movement. Yin, vinyasa, hatha and restorative yoga are all possible options.
Here, we’ve considered general ways to apply the first three limbs of yoga to everyday life (yama, niyama and asana). Next, we move on to the fourth limb, pranayama (breathing). How can we apply the breath? Let’s find out.
The Breath (Importance of Pranayama)
Breathing is the life force of yoga. Asana helps us to breathe with ease.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras teach us that both need to be done with intention (asana and pranayama). They can be practiced together or individually, and both are incredibly beneficial for our physical, mental and emotional health.
Attention to breath is very important in other ways too. It readies the mind for meditation and also helps to balance the chakras. Inhale, exhale, breathe in, breathe out. By breathing with intention, you bring life-force energy under your own control and move vitality up and down the spine.
A pranayama practice may incorporate various types of breathing exercises and techniques. Examples include simple mindful breathing, breath control practices, breath retention exercises, alternative nostril breathing and kapalabhati breath (i.e., skull-shining breath) and others. Try them out.
From the physical and the breath (the first four limbs of yoga), we then begin our inward journey to the self. Pratyahara is the fifth limb (one of transition) that brings us there, a stepping stone from outward to inward focus. Let’s see how we can consider applying it to our own everyday lives.
The Journey Inward (Becoming Still)
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga. Our eightfold path begins to turn us here from outward to inward focus (no longer fully outward or physical, but also yet not fully inward). We are in a transition phase, beginning to look in. And the first step is learning to become still. It’s time to turn within the self.
By withdrawing from the senses, we can begin to move into stillness in this way (examining our inner landscape). It can be thought of as pure internal awareness. If you are not attuned to your physical senses or surrounding environment, it’s possible to notice the consciousness and essence within.
As you explore, be still. Embrace the quietened mind. Sitting in total peace, take your time with yourself. If your mind wanders, be gentle. Calmly encourage it back to quiet awareness. It’s something you can try each day.
From here, it’s thought you can also gain an understanding of bandhas (as noted just briefly above).
The bandhas are energy locks in the body. It’s useful to consider them when learning to apply pratyahara to your life, as they can work together. In yoga, there are three bandhas (some describe four). Energetic locks of the body are mula (pelvic), uddiyana (abdominal) and jalandhara (throat).
It’s thought that pratyahara can help the practitioner to strengthen and control the flow of vital energy through each of these energetic locks (through the bandhas). By focusing on these energy centers within, you are also further developing pratyahara as you’re less dependent on the senses.
After we master this transition limb, it’s time to move even further inward once again.
The Focusing of the Mind (Beginning to Meditate)
Dharana is the sixth limb of yoga. It is deep focus and concentration, often on a singular point. How do we apply this to our lives? How can we practice dharana every day to develop this limb? As we move closer to meditation, it is all about the deep focus of the mind. And this can be practiced in many ways.
Here, we are in the first stages of meditation. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed (a traditional meditation visual) bring your attention to a single point. As discussed, it can be a simple repeated mantra, a focused mental image, or a specific energy centre of your body. It can also be combined with pranayama (breathing techniques), meditating on breath.
Repeat these practices as you work to implement dharana (and the other limbs of yoga) into your life. As with pratyahara, if your mind begins to wander, that’s ok. Simply bring thoughts back (gently) to your focal point. It’s all about awareness, concentration and focus – deeply, but with ease.
How to begin? Start with using a chime timer. General suggestions include beginning with just one to three minutes, working up from there as you progress in your ability to concentrate. Ideally, you’ll be able to practice dharana with ease for two 20 minute sessions a day (often morning and night).
After dharana, we move even deeper within ourselves to the seventh limb.
The Meditative State (Path to Enlightenment)
Dhyana is the seventh limb of yoga. It is true meditation. After progressing through the first six limbs, the skills needed for the actual practice (and benefits) of authentic meditation are mastered. You’ve now applied all other aspects of the eightfold path, capable of true meditation – with ease.
True dhyana is difficult to accomplish. But in time, it is achievable. Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara and dharana will all serve to bring you here. Focusing on all limbs, continue to practice and sit in meditation. As you do, you’ll dive deeper and deeper into your self and meditative state.
Eventually, this leads to samadhi. You’ll find liberation, freedom, and ultimate bliss.
The Actualization of Self (Liberation at Last)
Samadhi is the purpose of yoga. As you discover deeper states of dhyana – spending more and more time here – you’ll soon experience samadhi. Samadhi, the eighth and final limb, is the actualization of enlightenment. It is connection to the divine, higher purpose and ultimate bliss. Here, you have transcended self.
The highest achievement of yoga, samadhi is a union of the self with universal consciousness – becoming one with cosmic awareness. Once experienced, it is more easily accessed. How? Experience samadhi by mastering dhyana. Discover dhyana by mastering the first six limbs of yoga.
Can we take the cosmic union of samadhi one step further? Some argue that Patanjali says we can. Beyond samadhi, a unique form of “seedless contemplation” is considered. A total separation of the human spirit from the matter and forms of the outer world, where the soul expands infinitely.
In these ways, you can apply all of the 8 limbs of yoga to your everyday life.
Do the 8 Limbs of Yoga Need to Be Practiced in Order?
As you practice the 8 limbs of yoga, you’ll begin to see how they naturally thread themselves into your practice – and into your life. It’s commonly said that they’ll weave themselves into your life “both on and off the mat.” This is very true. You’ll notice them independently, and also working together.
You’ll be stronger in some limbs than others. Some will come much more naturally to you than others. And this is all ok too. You just need to balance (and work on) them all as best you can, not leaving out or skipping over any of the limbs. Stepping stones along the path, they each play a key role.
A yoga journey is unique to you. Everyone’s yoga practice is different. The best way (and order) to practice the 8 limbs of yoga is the one that you will continue. Some limbs are better than none. Ideally (according to some), the limbs are to be practiced and mastered in order, as the skills in turn build upon each other.
Samadhi (even dhyana) is incomplete – not experienced in its fullest form – if other aspects of the path are missing, rushed or not truly actualized. All of the 8 limbs of yoga are integral to the path, essential to our experience of bliss. You may not be ready for the next limb if you’ve not yet practiced the first.
Others argue that the 8 limbs of yoga are not intended to be mastered in order, but rather simultaneously. As all limbs are part of a greater whole, they are not entirely distinct. One blends into the other. In this case, they are not considered separate steps but aspects that develop together.
It is thought that this is possibly why they are originally (and officially) referred to as “limbs” of yoga, and not technically as “steps” of yoga – even though they are often frequently described this way. It’s this perspective that allows us to view the practice as an authentic whole, as all parts of self.
From this perspective, it’s not that we master one and then move on. Instead, as we practice and progress overall, we naturally become more and more capable, still, meditative (and so on) – with respect to embodying and embracing the 8 limbs and the purpose of yoga as a dynamic whole.
In this understanding, you don’t need to practice the 8 limbs of yoga in order (sequentially). However, you may personally find that – given how they build upon one another – that it can also make sense to do so, should you choose. You can start from the beginning if that does work well for you.
It’s also important to remember that no limb is ever fully and completely mastered. We are all lifelong students of yoga – it is a practice. You may even find that your level of ease with certain limbs varies across seasons of your life. Go with the flow, to where your yoga journey decides to take you.
Samadhi, true enlightenment, is not easy for one to attain. It is a purely divine state, so deep that your inner and outer selves become one, and together become one with source and cosmic connection. When this is truly understood, it becomes clear that mastery of all steps is important.
What does this come down to? Simply do your best along all 8 limbs of yoga, along each stepping stone of the eightfold path. Strive for balance in all ways and aspects of your life – body, mind and spirit. Show yourself, (and those around you) love, kindness and respect. You’ll be well on your way.
In sum, the 8 limbs of yoga are a series of sequential “steps” along a path (the eightfold path). However, each of the 8 limbs of yoga are also seamlessly interwoven with each other at the same time (threaded). It is this understanding that is key to their modern understanding and practice.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga, A Summary
Yoga is a spiritual path. A guidebook to a meaningful and purposeful life in all ways. A path to attain true freedom, liberation and ultimate bliss. It is far more than simply a workout or form of physical exercise. The 8 limbs of yoga make this practice one that goes well beyond mere physical fitness.
Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi are the 8 limbs of yoga. It is these aspects combined that serve to carry the benefits of our practice off the mat and into our everyday lives, transforming us inside out. Our character is built, and our inner being changed.
We can translate the 8 limbs of yoga to the following. Our moral code, personal behaviour, physical postures (the body), breathing techniques (vital life force), withdrawal of the senses, deep concentration, meditation and ultimately, enlightenment – connection and oneness with the divine.
Yoga is an ancient practice of infinite consciousness, of thousands of years and lifetimes of wisdom. Morality, ethics and self discipline are at its very foundation. It is a journey to the experience of peace, something that can not be attained (only experienced). Stillness, contemplation and reflection.
The philosophy of the 8 limbs of yoga give us the inspiration, guidance and balance needed to live a fulfilling life (which goes well beyond the typical western approach and understanding). How we practice yoga is just as important as its purpose and end goal. It is about the yoga practice itself.
It is integrated in your life in all ways – in your thoughts, words and actions.
No matter being thousands of years old, yogic philosophy and the 8 limbs are still incredibly relevant and applicable to today’s world and life. It is an awakening to (and awareness of) consciousness itself, a true knowing that everyone – and everything – is interconnected. It is the goal, that we are all one.
Is Yoga Right for You?
Yoga is generally considered a healthy practice.
It can be adapted to accommodate for a variety of abilities and conditions. However, as with any new health, fitness or exercise program, there is always a potential for injury if not practiced safely or correctly (especially for those who are prone to – or have previous – injuries).
If you have concerns, consult a doctor before starting any fitness program (including yoga). Do research to see if it’s right for you. Yoga is also very beneficial for mental health, but never a substitute for a doctor’s care. If you’re ever in crisis, seek immediate professional help (and know that you’re loved).
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