The eight (aṣṭau) limbs (aṅgāni) of yoga are: relationship guidelines (yama); individual practices (niyama); physical discipline (āsana); mastery of the breath (prāṇāyāma); appropriate use of the senses (pratyāhāra); concentration (dhāraṇā); meditation (dhyāna); and complete absorption (samādhayaḥ).
PRACTICAL LIVING Patañjali stated in the last sūtra that if we practice the limbs of yoga with determination and devotion we will experience more clarity and joy in life. Here we are presented with the eight limbs. This sūtra lists the eight categories of life that we should be reflecting and acting on in order to make changes in our lives. They are:
i. yamas: our relationship with the external world. This includes our thoughts, actions, words and belief systems toward everyone and everything outside of us. The five yamas are: kindness, honesty, integrity, moderation and simplicity. Begin to reflect on how these play a role in your life.
ii. niyamas: our relationship towards ourselves. There are five niyamas and they are suggestions on the work we need to do with ourselves in order to “clean the mirror”, which we’ve previously mentioned is the path towards inner peace. We will discuss these in more detail in a few sūtras. They are: cleanliness, contentment, refinement, self-reflection and surrender.
iii. āsana: the movement of the spine in different directions, accompanied by the breath in order to maintain health and wellbeing on a physical level. This is the limb that many people summarize yoga to be. Hopefully it has been become clear that yoga is more than this limb by itself. The goal is deep inner peace. But the path to inner peace requires a body that supports all the practices in that path.
iv. prāṇāyāma: the extension of energy or life force within us.
v. pratyāhāra: awareness of the power of the senses and their appropriate usage.
vi. dhāraṇā: concentration – the ability to direct the mind to one object.
vii. dhyāna: meditation – a deep interaction and relationship with an object.
viii. samādhi: an experience of the light within. A profound relationship with the Self, the soul, our true nature.
Patañjali has a profound respect for the eight limbs and discusses them in detail throughout the rest of the second chapter. The next sūtras will provide us with very practical guidelines. Let the work begin!
IN THE YOGA WORLD The eight limbs range from external aspects of life such as our relationships to others like deep internal transformation. Different commentators on the sūtras have varying interpretations on the sequence of these limbs. Some say that we should work them in order, beginning with practicing kindness and honesty in the yamas and gradually working up the ladder. Others say that it depends on the individual. Many people nowadays begin in the third limb – āsana. Then, the more they enter the yoga world, the more curious they become about how the practice on the mat can affect the other parts of life. And not everyone is interested in deep transformation or a spiritual experience. Looking at yoga in this modern day, there is a huge range of people practicing different aspects of yoga, depending on what their interests, needs and abilities are. That is powerful. Understanding that human beings are different and they’re constantly changing is an important idea to remind ourselves of because it means that we will always work on different aspects of yoga depending on who we are. This shows acceptance, which is one of the niyamas.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON From astrophysics, to yoga, to world traveling, Tristan is this magnificent being that has the ability to connect with people on so many different levels. He is cognitively brilliant, yet humble. He is an academic powerhouse yet extremely musical and artistic. He is introspective yet super goofy. He is a New York lover yet a Californian at heart 🙂 I love being with him, exchanging ideas, laughing, reflecting and simply hanging out. He is actively working on the eight limbs in his relationships and consciously desiring to evolve. I admire that and get very inspired by the conversations we have. He inspires others. His students are so blessed to have him as a teacher! Love spending time with you dude! Thanks for the over-a-decade of friendship!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we look at the yamas more specifically!