8 Limbs of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali refers to 8 limbs of yoga, each offers guidance on how to live a meaningful & purposeful life.

The building blocks of the sutras:

  • Yamas/Niyamas - give us increasing tranquility internally and in our environments

  • Asana creates steadiness in our body

  • Pranayama - controls and expands our energy flow

  • Pratyahara - restrains the senses so that we may establish a fertile field on which to cultivate the seeds of devotion

These first 5 limbs can and should be practiced simultaneously

  • Dharana/Dhyana - develops concentrated focus (Dharana) into a devotional awareness in which we feel inner peace and enter meditative stillness (Dhyana)

  • Samadhi - with regular practice, we can live, and move, and breath in inner tranquility and joy (Source: True Yoga, Jennie lee)

8 Limbs of Yoga

Yoga involves eight areas including 1) self-restraint, 2) observance, 3) postures & movement, 4) breath, 5) focusing inward, 6) concentration, 7) meditation and 8) culminating into a union of body and mind.

When practicing yoga, we need to involve all areas as we hold postures (asana), take deep breaths (pranayama), focus inward/being mindful of how we feel (pratyahara), concentrating on the present moment (Dharana), and meditating on a mantra (Dhyana).

Being mindful of what is happening in our body and mind, and letting go of things we cannot control.

1- Yama (Self-Restraint)

Yama translates to mean abstinences. These are things we remove from our life to bring ourselves into alignment as we move towards a union of body and mind. One also refers to the yamas as moral disciplines or moral vows.

The first limb, yama, deals with one's ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

2- Niyama (Observance)

Positive duties or observances. Niyamas are a combination of attitude and action. Developing purity and contentment manifesting in our actions. These are standards to move towards over a lifetime. These standards include choosing purity, contentment, pairing passion and non-attachment, self-reflection and devotion.

Purity comes through simplicity. Simple living means we choose to have and do less, but as a result, we enjoy more. -True Yoga, Jennie Lee

"Through study of sacred text and introspection, one communes with the divine self," Sutra 2.44

3- Asana (Movement & Postures)

Don't force a perfect posture. Instead, notice how the body is feeling. Adapt the practice to your body's needs. There are two ways to approach asana practice; 1) repetition and 2) holding.

All asana postures have different forms from gentle to challenging. Be mindful to apply the principles of peacefulness to each movement.

The 5 General Categories of Asanas;

1- Back bending postures: open the chest in front of the torso. These postures energize the body and increase inhalation.

2- Forward bending postures: open the back, enhance elimination and digestion, and calm the nervous system.

3- Asymmetric or lateral bending postures: address unevenness in the body. And tightness in the back, shoulders and pelvic girdle.

4- Twists: liberate tension in the spine and release vital energy. They assist digestion and metabolism.

5- Inversions: strengthen the spine, deepen respiratory rhythms and reverse the effects of gravity on the body. -Source: True Yoga, Jennie Lee

4- Pranayama (Breath)

When we breathe, it's important to breathe slowly, which streamlines the breath, with the free and easy movement of the diaphragm, engaging the entire torso (in fact, the entire body). Practice breathing through the nose, which naturally slows the exhale, because the nostrils offer more resistance to the breath than the mouth, and gives the lungs enough time to extract the maximum amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. This type of breathing activates the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system and the relaxation response. -The Yoga of Breath, Richard Rosen.

An advanced practitioner of pranayama can regulate the movement of energy through breath to less than one cycle per minute (one breath in, one breath out). Slowing the breath dramatically like this prolongs life by decreasing stress on the organs and cortisol levels. Deep breathing maintains elasticity in lung tissue. - True Yoga by Jennie Lee.

5 Pranayama Techniques

  • Basic Breath Awareness.

  • Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath)

  • Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing)

  • Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention)

  • Kapalabhati Pranayama (Breath of Fire or Skull-Shining Breath)

5- Pratyahara (Withdrawal of Senses)

Pratyahara can be seen as withdrawing from the senses and choosing to focus inward. Pranayama (breath work) prepares the body for pratyahara and asana, which helps to prepare the body for meditation. It is the connection between the inner and outer aspects of yoga.

How can one practice Pratyahara?

  1. Detox from the media. We can start by withdrawing from the things that work against us, such as unhealthy food and toxic relationships.

  2. Move yourself into peace. During asana practice, we release physical tension.

  3. Focus the mind and the senses will follow.

  4. Patience and practice.

One way to begin to understand pratyahara on an experiential level is to focus on a familiar yoga posture, Savasana (Corpse Pose). This pose is done lying supine on the floor and is the practice of relaxing deeply. The first stage of Savasana involves physiological relaxation.

6- Dharana (Concentration)

Dharana means “holding,” “concentration,” or “steady focus.” When you practice Dharana, you are “binding” the mind to one place, idea, or object.

How can one practice Dharana?

Taking a steady and comfortable seat (asana), controlling the breath (pranayama) and restraining the senses (pratyahara), focus your mind on one of the following:

  1. Mantra – Many concentration and meditation techniques rely on the use of sound to concentrate the mind. A very common mantra to use is Om (or Aum), which can be repeated silently in the mind, over and over, until the mind becomes still.

  2. Breath – You can focus on the breath coming into and leaving the body, as an aid to concentration.

  3. An Everyday Object – You can use a pleasing or soothing object to focus your attention on. For example, a flower, a key, perhaps a small statue of something which means something to you. Many yogis practice gazing at a flame. The practice of gazing is called trataka in yoga.

7- Dhyana (Meditation)

Dhyana is a meditative state of being. The practice of Dhyana brings about keen awareness without focus and moves us from a state of doing to being.

Although Dhyana sounds and seems similar to Dharana (the preceding limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga), it is subtly different. While Dharana teaches us a one-pointed focus, encouraging us to concentrate all of our attention onto the breath, or a sound, or a visualisation, Dhyana brings about keen awareness without the focus.

So while Dharana requires us to concentrate on one object, Dhyana teaches us to observe it without judgement, without attachment – instead contemplating it in all its colours and forms in a profound, abstract state of meditation.

When you practice dhyana, you focus your mind on a particular object or concept with the goal of becoming one with it. The best way to prepare for a dhyana practice is to first do some yoga to bring your body to a calm and relaxed state. Then you'll be ready to shut down your senses and focus your mind.

8- Samadhi (Union of Body & Mind)

Only by relaxing, reposing in the self, by practice of resting, conscious relaxation and conscious rest can you achieve this state of samadhi. Unconscious rest is sleep which we are forced upon by nature. In sleep you are not really resting. It is possible only in deep meditation, because you are consciously resting.

The 8 Steps To Having a Samadhi Experience

  1. Live as if everyone and everything was put here just to enlighten you.

  2. Release all concern for what others think of you.

  3. Honor the infinite power behind your word and thoughts.

  4. Be Fully Awake To The Now.

  5. Trust Your Experience.

  6. Reveal and Heal Your Shadow Side.

  7. Respond To People Consciously.

  8. Let Go, Love and Laugh!

-Source: The Samadhi Experience