What are the “8 Limbs of Yoga”?
The name ‘8 Limbs’ comes from the Sanskrit term ‘Ashtanga’ and refers to the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
In summary, these are:
1. Yama (attitudes toward our environment, moral principles)
2. Niyama (attitudes toward ourselves, observances)
3. Asana (physical postures)
4. Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath, deep breathing techniques)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (liberation,complete integration).
So why? And where did the 8 Limbs of Yoga all begin?
To live a life in Yoga we would need to discover the 8 limbs of Yoga – the heart of Yoga. This eightfold path – set out for us by the ancient Indian philosopher, Patanjali, in the yoga sutras – is considered to be the fundamental text of Yoga.
Simply put, the ‘8 Limbs’ was created thousands of years ago to help still the ripples of the mind and quiet the mental noise that prevents us from fully experiencing life as it truly is.
While the asanas (yoga poses) focus mainly on the body, the eight limbs focus on transforming suffering by disciplining the senses. When we discuss embracing yoga as a lifestyle, we are considering that there is a lot more to yoga than what happens on a yoga mat. To live a life in Yoga we would need to start with the philosophy behind the system and science.
Practicing this eight-limbed Yoga can help you:
– Awaken deeper understanding, insight, & intuition.
– Cultivate the quality of calm inner balance regardless of outer circumstances.
– Grow inner strength and resilience.
Thousands of years ago a wise sage known as Patanjali was the first to systemize and summarize the ‘big picture’ of yoga philosophy and yoga psychology. Patanjali wrote ‘The Yoga Sutras’ to outline how one can experience a complete psychological transformation through the discipline of yoga.
This ancient text – composed of 195 sutras (or little pearls of wisdom) – can be considered a guide for creating a meaningful and purposeful life. From a yoga history perspective, Patanjali’s teachings constitute what is known as Classical Yoga.
31 out of the 195 sutras outline the 8 Limbs, which are also known as ‘astanga yoga’ (‘Ashta‘ means eight in Sanskrit, and ‘anga‘ means limb.)
The Eight Limbs of yoga are also known as ‘Raja Yoga.’ ‘Raja’ means king in Sanskrit, which is why Raja Yoga is also referred to as ‘Royal Yoga.’ Just as a king maintains dominion over his kingdom, we too must learn to maintain dominion over our inner kingdom.
Observing the 8 Limbs of Yoga takes us on a journey from the outer world to the inner world. According to Patanjali, lasting transformation and liberation are achieved only by accessing this sacred internal space. The first four limbs are outwardly focused while the last four are internally focused.
What are the Yamas and Niyamas exactly?
We thought you’d never ask! And historically, this is actually the most important thing you should learn about Yoga. Asana, as we usually think of as Yoga in its entirety, is actually the third limb of Yoga. In fact, in the past when Yoga was passed down from teacher/ master to student, Asana was not even taught until the student had mastered the Yamas and Niyamas.
So…what is all the fuss about? Ultimately, what we achieve by adhering to the Yamas and Niyamas is the knowledge of how to channel and direct our energy, aura and vibration in the best, most authentic and positive way. How to use it and not abuse it.
Unfortunately in this day and age, the first two aspects (Yamas and Niyamas) are seldom passed down from teacher to student and instead, all the focus and energy is on the Asana alone.
The Yamas (attitudes toward our environment, moral principles)
1. Ahimsa – Non-violence, non-harming
2. Satya – Truthfulness
3. Asteya – Non stealing
4. Brahmacharya – Restraint/ celibacy
5. Aparigraha – Non accumulation of possessions
The Niyamas (attitudes toward ourselves, observances)
1. Saucha – cleanliness, purity
2. Santosha – contentment
3. Tapas – Austerity, work/effort, discipline
4. Svadhyaya – Know yourself, self study
5. Ishvara Pranidhana – Devotion
How do I start to cultivate this in my life?
Join us! At Loka Yoga School, our teacher trainings cover all aspects and teachings of the ‘8 Limbs’. This is a critical component of the
education and vital for all teachers to have a strong knowledge of!
During your daily morning practice, you will truly experience the Asana (of course!), Pranayama and Dharana, with workshops and time for Dhyana (deep meditation). Leading by example with a similar schedule to that in an ashram, you will have an opportunity to also focus on the Yamas and Niyamas as well. Finally, the true yogic experience with the comfort, luxury and delicious foods in Bali!