The ‘Yoga Sutras’ of Patanjali explains the path of ‘Ashtanga’ which means ‘eight limbs’. These ‘eight limbs’ are guidelines showing us how to live a more well rounded life paying close attention to our conduct, our health, our true spiritual nature and self discipline day in and day out. We usually don’t pay close attention to the aspects of Ashtanga on a daily basis but these guidelines can help our actions coincide with our thoughts, but first our thoughts need to be aligned with our true self, and that is where the journey begins.
Here we begin with the first limb yama which focuses on our ethical standards and integrity, highlighting our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. When I grew up the ‘Golden Rule’ was imprinted in me because I said it everyday at school for 7 year in Trinidad, “Do unto other as you would like them to do unto you” The Yamas relate directly to this rule.
The 5 YAMAS are:
- Ahimsa – Non-Violence
- Satya – Truthfulness
- Asteya – Non-Stealing
- Brahmacharya – Continence
- Aparigraha – Non-Covetousness
The second limb is niyama , which focuses on spiritual observances and self-discipline. Developing your personal meditation practices, saying grace before your meals, regularly attending church/ temple anre all practices of niyama.
The 5 NIYAMAS are:
- Saucha – Cleanliness
- Samtosa – Contentment
- Tapas – Heat; spiritual austerities
- Svadhyaya – Study of sacred scriptures and of one’s self
- Isvara pranidhana – Surrender to God
Yoga has many postures called Asanas, which compose the third limb. A yogi’s body is sen as a temple of the spirit and proper care is important for spiritual growth. These asana are not merely postures for aesthetic pleasure but they create the habit of concentration and discipline, which are necessary for meditation practices.
Pranayama (breath control) is the fourth limb, and it translates to ‘life-force’. Our breath, our mind and our emotions are intimately connected and through pranayama we can recognize these connections as we gain mastery over our respiratory process.
These first four limbs of yoga refine our personalities, helps develop an energetic awareness of ourselvesand gain bodily mastery which prepares us for the second half of our journey to the mind, the senses and attaining a higher state of consciousness.
Pratyahara which is the fifth limb means withdrawal or sensory trancendence. Here we consciously withdraw our awareness from the outside world, focusing our attention internally and provides the opportunity to take a look at ourselves and observe any cravings or habits that interfere with our spiritual growth.
Dharana or single pointed concentration, is the sixth limb. This allows us to concentrate on a single point or object which naturally leads to meditation. Each of the previous limbs create the base for the one that follows to build upon.
The seventh limb of Ashtanga is Dhyana (contemplation/meditation) which is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although this seems to be the same as dharana the difference between the two exists. Dharana is concentration on a single object while Dhyana is a keen state of awareness without focus on anyone object.
Samadhi also known as the state of ecstacy or absorption, is the eighth and final limb of ashtanga. The realization of the profound connection to the divine as well as all living things becomes apparent, bringing the experience of bliss and being at one with the universe. This is the point where the knower, the known and the knowledge become one. We are all trying to achieve this state of being, we all want peace, happiness, joy freedom and fulfillment these are all things that can only be gained through direct experience, they cannot be bought nor possessed, they can only be exchanged for continuous devotion.
These are the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga according to Patanjali.
“May we see the truth, may we speak the truth, may we know the truth.”