Yoga’s esoteric reputation can be somewhat intimidating, so we’re creating a monthly cheat-sheet to give new and old practitioners alike a more accessible guide to the lineage of their beloved practice. This February we’re starting with the foundations – the 8 limbs of yoga.
What are the 8 limbs of yoga?
In his seminal Yoga Sutras Patanjali details an eight-fold path for yogic living – eight critical steps which act as a guideline for moral conduct, self-discipline, healthfulness and spiritual development. Those eight steps are as follows:
Rules for behaving ethically and respectfully towards ourselves and all other living beings:
Guidelines for self-discipline and spiritual development:
Tapas: Spiritual purification
Svadhayaya: Study of self
Isvara Pranidhana: Surrender to God
The physical side of practice (i.e. most people’s idea of what yoga is). Through asana we are able to master the body – building strength and releasing tension – and concentrate the mind in preparation for meditation.
Translated as ‘life force extension’, pranayama techniques harness the power of breath on our mental and physical state and begin the process of drawing attention inwards.
One stage on from step 5, pratyahara is the practice of sensory withdrawal. The practitioner observes his / herself objectively, noting the cravings and whims of the ‘monkey mind’ which interfere with inner growth.
Next, we slow our thoughts down and fix our attention on one single point – the chakras, imagery or mantra are all useful tools to do this.
This is the meditation stage. The mind is quiet but focused and all sense of separateness begins to slip away.
The final step of the 8 limbs of yoga is the ecstatic state of enlightenment as the practitioner realizes his / her interconnectedness with all things and with divinity itself.
So there you have it – your twice-weekly yoga asana practice is really a single piece of the bigger picture. The aim of the game? Samadhi – the ultimate state of bliss and higher consciousness. Let’s just call it a work in progress!