What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

What are the 8 limbs of Yoga?

Most people start their yoga journey with a physical yoga practice, whether it’s vinyasa yoga, ashtanga, or yin yoga.  But yoga is an ancient spiritual science that can take you on a much deeper journey of self-discovery.  It is beyond what we practice on the mat but who we are in the world, how we show up in our relationships, and how much we are willing to unreel the layers of conditioning and limiting beliefs that we have built up.  These are all aspects that if you decide to embark on a 200 hour yoga teacher training, you will be introduced to as you discover that there are many deeper aspects to Yoga.

Yoga is not just about being able to do a headstand or achieving a certain level of physical flexibility (despite what yoga influencers show). Actually, if you follow the 8-Limbed Path as laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, a physical yoga practice is hardly mentioned.  Rather it is a holistic practice that encompasses the mind, body, and spirit.  The 8 Limbs of Yoga provide a framework for achieving balance and harmony within oneself and connecting with a divine presence beyond ourselves.

The first two limbs of the 8-limed Path, are known as Yama and Niyama.  They are the ethical and personal practices that form the foundation of yoga.  You could describe them as moral codes outlining your relationship with others and your relationship with yourself.  The Yamas include non-violence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satva), non-stealing (Asteya), the right use of energy (Brahmacharya), and non-greed or non-hoarding (Aparigraha).  The Niyamas include cleanliness (Saucha), contentment (Santosha), self-discipline (Tapas), the study of the self (Svadhyaya), and devotion or surrender to a higher being (Isvara Pranidhana).

Practicing these principles helps to develop a strong ethical foundation for both your personal practice and when you teach yoga. They also help guide us in our relationships with other people and remind us to keep doing our own inner work to shine a light on areas that need attention.  By promoting self-awareness, inner peace, and a sense of connection to the world around us you’ll also begin to understand yoga’s link to mindfulness and meditation.  Both of these practices, which you’ll dive deeper into during your YTT with Inner Yoga Training, invite you to find a calmer, quieter way of being and will ultimately help you in your daily life.

The third limb of the 8-Limbed Path is, Asana, which most people associate with yoga: the physical postures and movements.  The actual translation of this limb is “a comfortable seat” for meditation but it is now the name given to any physical practice.  While the practice of Asana can provide numerous physical benefits such as increased flexibility, strength, and balance (to name a few), its true purpose is to prepare the body and mind for the deeper spiritual practices of yoga. During your yoga teacher training, you will be incorporating Asana with Pranayama (breathing), meditation, and kriyas (internal actions) which will cleanse the body and mind at a deeper level.

This leads us to our next limbPranayama.  Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, is the practice of regulating the breath to help calm the mind and enhance the flow of vital energy or prana in the body, especially through the spine. Breathing techniques such as deep belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and humming breath help to settle thoughts, reduce stress, and increase vitality and energy.  As you gain control of the breathing process, you will begin to understand the connection between emotions, breath, and the mind.  Yogis believe that we are born with a certain number of breaths and when they are used, we die in this lifetime.  By learning to slow down and control our breath we can extend our life.

The fifth limb, Pratyahara, is the practice of withdrawing the senses from external distraction and focusing inward to develop self-awareness and concentration which is why at Inner Yoga Training we invite our students to spend the morning in silence, not engaging with others and away from their phones.  In our modern world of constant stimulation and distractions, the practice of Pratyahara can be particularly challenging but is crucial for developing a deeper connection to oneself and being comfortable with your own emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

The sixth limb, Dharana, is concentration or single-pointed focus to calm and still the mind. By bringing your mind to the present, you’ll begin to let go of the traumas in the past and stop worrying about the future.  The practice of concentration helps to develop mental clarity, focus, and stability, enabling you to deepen your meditation practice.   We’ve limited distractions from the outside world with Pratyahara and now we can direct our minds and stop the constant chattering.  This might be achieved by repeating a mantra, focusing on a picture, or gazing at a candle.  These periods of extended focus and concentration will naturally lead us to the next limb.

The seventh limb, Dhyana, is meditation, or the sustained state of focus and awareness, leading to a deep sense of inner peace and connection.  While it may appear to be very similar to Dharana, there is one distinction.  In Dhyana, we take away the single focus or point of concentration and move into a state of just being.  The mind has settled, become quiet and we can stay in stillness with little or no thought at all.

The eighth and final limb, Samadhi, is the state of complete absorption and union with the object of meditation, resulting in a profound spiritual experience and liberation. Samadhi is the ultimate goal of yoga, where the practitioner experiences a sense of oneness with the universe, transcending the boundaries of the self. Patanjali believed that one could achieve Samadhi by regularly practicing the other seven limbs of yoga.  While unobtainable to mist, you may experience it in small temporary moments.  If you’ve heard of being in a “flow state” this is Samadhi.  Runners can experience it where everything external ceases and running becomes effortless.

While the practice of asanas is an important part of yoga, it is only one aspect of a much larger and more holistic practice. Whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned practitioner, integrating these practices into your daily routine can help to transform your life and promote health, happiness, and spiritual growth. Join us at Inner Yoga Training in 2023 for a deep personal transformation as we explore the 8 Limbs of Yoga.  We have training dates every month!

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