The Eight Limbs of Yoga


Ashtanga Yoga literally means “eight limbs of yoga.” These limbs are defined in the the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and comprise the foundation of Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy.

The following are the 8 practices or limbs:

1. yama (moral restraints) – how we relate to others

2. niyama (observances) – how we relate to ourselves

3. āsana (posture) – how we relate to our body

4. prāṇāyāma (breath extension) – how we relate to our breath or spirit

5. pratyāhāra (sensory withdrawal) – how we relate to our sense organs

6. dhāraṇā (concentration) – how we relate to our mind

7. dhyāna (meditation) – moving beyond the mind

8. samādhi (meditative absorption) – deep realization and inner union




The Yamas or the first limb, consists of five parts: ahimsā (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (directing one’s energy towards the Divine), aparigraha (greedlessness, non-hoarding).

The Niyamas or the second limb, also contains five aspects: śauca (purity), santoṣa (contentment), tapas (purifying practices), svādhyāya (self-study, and the study of sacred texts), Īśvara praṇidhāna (surrender to the Divine, Universal Self).

The Āsanas we practice and teach have been given to us by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He believed it was necessary to enter into the eight limbs of yoga through the physical postures, the third limb.




The first four limbs are referred to as “external yoga,” and the last four limbs are called “internal yoga.” The fifth limb, pratyāhāra, acts as a bridge between the external and internal limbs.

As students of yoga we are able to actively practice the external limbs, while the internal limbs are the fruits of a sincere and continuous practice.

The final limbs of our practice are manifested through Divine Grace and arise spontaneously. They are not mental states that can be brought about by our own individual efforts. They are the result of fully understanding what it means to completely surrender to something greater then oneself.

The eight limbs of yoga are interconnected, and not separate steps along the path. Whether one starts by practicing the physical postures, breath awareness, or mindfulness in the daily practice of the yamas and niyamas, each limb encourages growth in the others.

As the body becomes steady and at ease, the breath starts to come under control, and the mind begins to experience moments of clarity, and essential peace.



Return from Eight Limbs of Yoga to About Ashtanga



Nancy Gilgoff

Workshop

September

20 & 21, 2014



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