You’ve probably heard the term 8 limbs of yoga thrown around, and you might be wondering exactly what this phrase means and how it relates to the practice of yoga. Though there are many different types of yoga that each has its own specific form, 8 limbs of yoga refers to the eight steps you can take to improve your life through the practice of yoga. If you would like to know more about the 8 limbs of yoga and how they relate to your daily life, continue reading for everything you need to know about this important part of the practice of yoga.
What are the 8 limbs of yoga?
Yama is Sanskrit for self-control and refers to a moral code. The Yamas are guidelines on how we should treat others, ourselves, and our environment. Essentially, they cover how we interact with others and ourselves (our bodies). These yamas include ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), asteya (nonstealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (not avariciousness).
The niyamas, or observances include saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (self-study), Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to God), and pranayama (equanimity). All of these spiritual practices can be translated as self-care. So essentially, doing yoga isn’t just a physical practice; it is also a self-care practice.
The Eight Asanas or yoga poses are: Tadasana, Utkatasana, Urdhva Hastasana, Uttanasana, Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle).
It is usually a good idea to practice them in some order. It’s important to take a break after you do each one. That way your body can adjust to each pose gradually. If you rush through them all at once you may suffer muscle strain or injury. Once you’ve mastered these eight asanas it will be much easier for you to begin learning more advanced poses.
Known as breath control, pranayama is a series of exercises designed to help you regulate your breathing. When practiced properly, pranayama can calm your mind and body by slowing down your breathing rate, which in turn can lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
There are hundreds of variations on pranayama and everyone’s body reacts differently. When learning these techniques, it’s important to consult with an experienced yoga instructor or practitioner.
This is translated as sense withdrawal. It helps us to get in touch with our true selves. The idea is that we can learn more about who we really are, what motivates us, and what makes us happy when we can take a step back from external distractions.
Rather than allowing your senses to be controlled by your environment, you learn how to control them yourself. Pratyahara isn’t just about developing self-discipline but it’s also about gaining a better awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses so that you don’t have to rely on others for validation or approval. Learning how to become self-reliant will give you more confidence and make you less needy.
Dharana is a term for a specific form of concentration in yoga. Dharana is focused concentration, usually on a single object. Dharana can be practiced as breath-focused meditation by counting breaths, as visualization meditation by focusing on an image or symbol, or as mantra-focused meditation.
In all cases, you bring your attention to your chosen object and when it wanders, you gently return it. You don’t force yourself to focus any more than you would forcefully try to close your eyes—you simply notice when they’re open and then close them gently.
A Sanskrit word meaning meditation, Dhyana is one of eight limbs, or stages, in Raj yoga. In his commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Vyasa explains that Dhyana occurs when thoughts subside and your consciousness becomes completely focused on a single object.
Dhyana ultimately leads to Samadhi (enlightenment). Techniques such as chanting mantras, japa, and pranayama can help you reach dhyana and prepare you for higher states of meditation.
Samadhi is a state in which one’s mind is fully absorbed in God and free from all desires for worldly objects. It is a state where one can easily be identified with Brahman or Universal Consciousness.
A mind full of Rajas (desire, attachment) and Tamas (laziness, inertia) finds it difficult to achieve Samadhi. Sadhana done without proper guidance and motivation tends to produce impure Samadhi because only parts of the mind merge with Brahman while other parts remain attached to worldly objects.
Only after receiving proper guidance in scriptures should you practice Samadhi; otherwise one may experience self-delusion thinking that they have achieved Samadhi when actually they are far away from it.