​The Eight Limbs of Yoga

In the West, Yoga generally means going through a series of poses in a studio. This may be as far as you want to go. However, as you begin to get deeper into yoga, you will discover The Eight Limbs of Yoga, described many years ago by Pantanjali. These are the basis of a complete yoga practice that moves beyond the postures.

1. Restraints and Moral Discipline (Sankrit: Yama)

This first limb usually refers to vows, disciplines or practices that are primarily concerned with the world around us, and our interaction with it. While the practice of yoga can indeed increase physical strength and flexibility and aid in calming the mind, what’s the point if we’re still rigid, weak and stressed-out in day-to-day life? 

There are five parts:

  • Non-violence
  • Truthfulness
  • Non-stealing
  • Right use of energy
  • Non-greed

2.  Self-discipline (Sanskrit: Nimaya)

Niyama has to do with self-discipline and spiritual practices. The 5 niyamas are:

  • Cleanliness
  • Contentment
  • Spiritual purification
  • Study of sacred texts
  • Devotion to a higher power

3. Postures (Sanksrit: Asana)

Asana is the physical posture and this is the limb that is the most obvious in the West. It's through asana that we dissolve tensions, build strength, eliminate toxins, increase mobility and circulation.

4. Breath Control (Sanskrit: Pranayama)

Breath control is the measuring, retention and directing of the breath. When the in-breath is coordinated or joined with out-breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are obtained.

​5. Sensory Control (Sanskrit: Pratyahara)

We draw our awareness inward and direct attention inward. Detachment from the senses makes it easier to observe things internally, perhaps leading to liberation from attachment to objects and cravings.

6.  Focused concentration (Sanskrit: Dharana)

Concentration and intense focus on a single point, with stillness of the mind. The goal is reach the highest mental state, where the mind, intellect and ego are all restrained.

​7.  Meditation (Sanskrit: Dhyana)

Dharana sets the stage for Dhyana, the perfect state of meditation. In this state of meditation you are keenly aware, but without a point of focus. How do you tell the difference between concentration and meditation? If there is awareness of distraction, you are concentrating and not meditating. The calm achieved in meditation spills over into all aspects of your life.

8. Union with the Divine/Peak of Meditation (Sanskrit: Samadhi)

Body and senses are at complete rest. Samadhi means harmony, “to bring together, to merge.” The body and senses are at complete rest yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, awake; one goes beyond consciousness.