When you talk about yoga, there are so many different areas and topics you can choose as the theme of your conversation. You can have a look at it from physical point of view; how it affects the physical body, the muscles, the mind, your concentration, your breath and so on. You can dig deeper in it from emotional perspective to see what sensations are arising within you whilst flowing in and out of asanas, what those could mean and what past experiences are still within you that needs to be dealt with. Of course, there is the self – growth aspect of it, where you get to know more and more about yourself, who you truly are, how you handle life itself, and how you cope in different challenging situations. And there is the philosophical part of it, that gives you more knowledge on the history of yoga, the real reason behind its practise, and you gain more information about its teachings, values, and insights of how one should be living life.
In this blog, I would like to approach yoga from one of its philosophical point of view. To be more precise, I would like to go a bit into details about “Ashtanga = Eight Limbs of Yoga”, explaining what they are and what the meaning of them. (If you have not heard of Ashtanga before then let me tell you that the creator of Ashtanga (where “ashta” means eight, and “anga” means limb) is Panatjali, who was a scholar in philosophy and spirituality. The book “The Yoga Sutras” are the ones that are containing these sets of practices and observances that were written in order to guide you on your spiritual journey towards enlightenment for a meaningful and purposeful life.)
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are: first is Yama; the second one is Niyama; followed by Asana; then Pranayama; fourth limb is Pratyahara; fifth is Dharana; sixth is known as Dhyana and the eight limb is Samadhi. But let’s see them in a bit more detail now, with a more explanation given to them.
Yama: this is about social contact, correct behaviour towards others. They deal with how you relate to others. The first limb explains moral discipline, ethical standards, sense of integrity, non – violence, truthfulness, refraining from stealing and greed. It is about the right use of energy towards others.
Niyama: it is about inner work, how you should work with yourself, and how you should live your life. The second limb deals with how you relate to you. This is a guide that should be followed by those who want to deepen self – development and spiritual growth. It is about cleanliness, purity of the mind – body – environment, it is about the state of happiness and satisfaction, acceptance of discomfort, self – reflection and surrender. This is about turning inwards toward personal refinement.
Asana: the literal meaning of the word is “seat of consciousness, awareness”. This refers to a particular posture taken for meditation. The aim of practising asanas is that you are being able to sit in meditation pose with ease, in relaxed state and steadiness for a prolonged period of time to be more disciplined and have the ability to concentrate.
Pranayama: it is about changing the patterns of your breathing, about extending the life force within with breath. These are introducing different breathing patterns in order to change the practitioner’s state of mind. It impacts the physical and subtle aspect of you. By regulating and slowing down your breathing, your mind should be regulated and quietened. Practitioners should recognise the connection of the mind – breath – emotions.
These four stages are concentrating on refining your personalities and they are developing energetic awareness of yourself. The first four limbs are preparing the practitioners for the second half of Ashtanga yoga that is about senses, mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
Pratyahara: it is about refining the senses, shifting them inwards, towards meditation state. It is about to draw the practitioner’s awareness deeply into themselves to be able to focus on one thing, to focus on meditation. By withdrawing the senses, you are allowed to objectively observe the habits that are bad for your health and likely to interfere your inner growth.
Dharana: it means concentration, it is a single pointed focus. It is when the practitioner is able to hold meditation, effortless focused attention steadily with breath, a mantra, or maybe with visualisation. Without Dharana, there is no point of asana, no point of pranayama nor yoga. It is a very important limb, focusing on one thing only.
Dhyana: it is active monotasking where you are setting aside all the tools like mantra, or breath to get into the zone of meditation. Where you are sitting in the experience of meditation. When you are in the zone, being unaware of anything around you. This can be acquired over a long period of time. It is the true connection to meditation, uninterrupted flow of concentration.
Samadhi: the last limb is the by – product of the other seven limbs. It is the enlightenment, the blissful state itself. Free flowing consciousness. The more you experience it, the closer you get to freedom and liberation. It is about being with the things that are right now, being one with the Universe. Unity.
These are the Eight Limbs of Yoga that are guiding the yoga practitioners who are aiming to gain self – awareness, mindfulness, enlightenment and unity. They are building upon on each other, one cannot exist without the other, one cannot be attained before the one that is beforehand is attained.
As always, it is totally up to you how you live your life, if you accept this guidance or not, if you try and follow it or not. One might think they are a bit strict, too much while others might agree with all aspect of it. No matter what you think of them, one thing is for sure. Whether you are practising yoga or not, whether you are working on self – growth towards enlightenment or not, the first four points of Ashtanga is suggested to be followed by everyone in order to live a lighter, easier, happier, more loving, accepting, non – judgemental World where we all get to be compassionate towards others and towards ourselves, as well.