What really are the eight limbs of Yoga?
The eight limbs of Yoga are outlined in “ The Yoga Sutras of Pantajali”. These philosophical texts constitute the foundations of Yoga. I’m going to be sharing a deeper insight into the eight limbs of Yoga and how we can incorporate them into our practice, lives and our very core nature.
LIMB 1: Yamas
Yama, often directly translated as ‘control’, think about Prana-yama- ‘control of prana’ (energy). The yamas refer to our integrity and the moral code by which we live. There are 5 separate yamas within this first Limb of yoga:
Often translated as non-violence and compassion. We can try to lead a more compassionate life by becoming mindful and aware of how we are treating others and how we treat ourselves. Not inflicting any harm to any other living being or yourself, friendliness, kindness and expressing gratitude are all ways which we can live a more compassionate life. When we do not create or inflict any harm or negativity, we increase the harmonious vibrations that we give off and share with others, leading to a more peaceful life.
We should bare Ahimsa in mind during practice on the mat too, accepting our bodies, not pushing to the point of pain, injury or uncomfort, thinking positive and kind thoughts about ourselves and others.
We can even incorporate ahimsa into our diet, thoughts, actions. (Ex. veganism, vegetarianism, recycling more, voluntary work). It’s about having compassion for others, loving ourselves and respecting each and every one of us…. 🌎 This includes creepy crawlies and all those things you despise or fear. 🌸Compassion leads the way. WE ARE ONE.
-Satya or ‘truthfulness’
Satya is the second of the 5 Yamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. What is Truthfulness? Well, it’s a bit more than just not telling lies or speaking the truth. We must consider exactly what we say, how we say it, and how that could have an effect on others. In fact, it is said that if the truth can harm or inflict pain on to another person… it is better to say nothing. BUT we must remember that keeping quiet about something and telling a lie are two quite different things. Satya (truthfulness) and ahimsa (compassion) go hand in hand and should not come into conflict. The Mahabharata, the great Indian epic poem, says: “Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths. Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. That is the eternal law, the dharma.” Let’s all try Experimenting with behaving truthfully. True to ourselves, true to each other. Ask yourself today, what is my truth?
From Sanskrit asteya translates to ‘non-stealing’. Whilst this may seem pretty self explanatory, the true meaning runs much deeper, as with all the Yamas. Going beyond simply not taking what is not yours (in a physical sense),asteya can also apply to time, ideas… even energy and emotions. The aim of asteya is to be content enough within yourself in order to not take from anyone else, learning to control desire, ego and dependency. Yogic philosophy encourages us to accept what is given to us by others, but only that which is giving freely. We should respect one another’s time, efforts and thoughts and avoid becoming draining to others. Everything we could possibly want/need/desire is already there within, waiting nourish, love and support us. ✨❣️🔑 “Desire or want is the root cause for stealing.” Swami Sivananda.
Often translated as ‘celibacy’ or ‘chastity’..: immediately we assume this refers to sex, right ? Fear not, you don’t have to give up a healthy sex life in order to reach Samadhi (highest state of consciousness) , this Yama can be thought of as “right use of energy” …as it were. What this means, is directing energy away from external desires, with sex being one of the leading forces, and internalizing that energy to find peace and contentment deeper within. Instead we can re-direct this energy to work towards other barriers or emotional issues in our lives. Whether that’s trying to be more positive, to worry less or to eat better …whatever that may be for you. MODERATION. Be mindful where you focus too much energy- Negativity and toxic relationships should waste no space in your blossoming and beautiful mind, body and soul.
“Non-greed” “non-possessiveness” “non-attachment”. This Yama teaches us to have or take only what we need, and to let go easily when the right time comes. Particularly poignant at this time of year when were more likely to over-consume, over-indulge, over-spend. What we can take from this is the ability to let go of what no longer serves you (objects, relationships, even emotions etc) and to keep excess under control. You could have everything you’ve ever wanted, but would you be free? Freedom is happiness. The more things we have, the more we complicate our lives, then the more we keep wanting more!! Point is…. as Gala quite rightly pointed out in the 90s 🎶 ….”FREE FROM DESIRE, MIND AND SENSES PURIFIED. 🎶 🕺🏻(Nananananana)
Limb 2- Niyamas
Described as cleanliness. This can be externally, internally and in even terms of choices or clarity. Mindfully living in cleaner surroundings and a cleaner body can leads us to purer and more positive life. Internal Cleansing techniques are endless, check them out! My favorite is using the Neti pot 🐘 for nostril cleansing (this elephant neti is so cute!) .. yuck I know, but you have to try it! Something therapeutic about water trickling through through your face and having a good charity shop clearout ! 🙈 This photo takes me back to my YTT, every morning at 5:30am we were neti potting away before sunrise practice!!
The niyama of “contentment.” And, what a blissful word it is. Whilst it sounds particularly peaceful and happy for those who are completely fulfilled, it can also seem hopelessly unattainable to others. There are so many of us fighting our own battles, darker demons, maybe holding on to the past or niggling self doubts, self-destructive thoughts. These deeply rooted habits are energy killers, dream killers, and self esteem killers and not to mention relationship killers!! It may seem like they only your thoughts… how can they destroy everything around you. Well they do! And I know they do!! I pushed endless people away in times of hurt and Pain, and subjected myself to self destruction. Yogic philosophy teaches us to learn to let go, to come back to the present and to appreciate and accept what we have. (On and off the mat!, we must remember this in terms in yoga practice too!). In my eyes it’s a balance of learning to let go + belief that you are attracting new and positive things into your life + being ok with where are you and what you have now = contentment? Well that’s just my theory. Everything is changing. Be water. ✌🏻
Translating traditionally as Discipline or austerity. The word Tapas derives from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’. When we challenge ourselves, it’s like igniting a fiery passion or desire within. This fire that is cultivated can be converted into motivation, passion for growth and self change, willpower, self-confidence and courage. If everything was easy would we still grow? Same goes for on the mat, transformation is most likely to occur when we’ve pushed through physical and mental barriers… it’s not about being hard on yourself or pushing too far , it’s about having the will and strength to want to transform.
meaning “ones own reading” or “self-study”. Normally beginning with our physical practice on the mat, yoga teaches us to observe our bodies, breath, thoughts, sensations, habits, intentions, and goals etc. After all, self awareness is the first step to progression. Off the mat however, in our normal daily lives, at work and in our relationships we often fall back into habits of acting upon or listening to our egos. Finding ourselves doing, believing in or saying things that don’t actually align with our actual beliefs or with the true self . Taking time to contemplate and self reflect allows us to observe on a deeper level. Through this, we can slowly begin to see and understand the habits and life lessons that have shaped us into who we are today, ( or atleast …who we THINK we are). When we self study on a deeper level , we enable the “real” self to emerge… something which goes beyond the ego, the “I” and the illusion. This profound connection to self allows us to make way for something much more magical and supreme 💫 The connection to the DIVINE…that which goes beyond the mind, the ego and limited sense of self💫. Be sure to devote more time and energy to self study, meditation, go beyond your five senses, and there we realize that we are MUCH MUCH more than…. “I”
– Isvara Pranidhana: This Niyama is essential to yoga practice and in our normal lives. How easily can we say, “I surrender.” Is it too important to us to be “right”? How important is it to force yourself into that particular pose that hurts your wrists and neck. Isvara Pranidhana, encourages us to Surrender . This could be in an asana or being able to deeply relax and surrender everything in Savasana. Yogic philosophy encourages us to Surrender from other things in our day to day lives too. To surrender from the ego, to control selfish desires and attachment to things and people. Surrender from Worrying and fretting, trying to be in control of situations… Sometimes it’s easier to just… quietly, and … surrender
Limb 3: Asana
The third limb comprises of all the hundreds if not thousands of postures practiced in yoga.
Yoga was primarily created to train the mind to become disciplined and still, and to prepare our bodies to be comfortable in long periods of Lotus pose meditation. In the modern world of yoga, it’s easy to forget this… practicing Asanas were never intended for a way to become fit and strong… physically the body under his major changes, but it was never the aim of yoga.
Limb 4: Pranayama
Generally translated as “breath control”. Pranayama revitalizes the body, steadies emotions and brings huge clarity to the mind. This photo demonstrates alternate nostril breathing aka “Anuloma Viloma.” This technique restores equal flow of energy through the body, making us feel rejuvenated, more emotionally and physically balanced, and said to extend life itself. Swami Vishnu Devananda, a close disciple of Swami Sivananda said, “Pranayama is the link between the mental and physical disciplines, while the action is physical, the effect is to make the mind calm, lucid and steady.” ⚖️☝🏻 BREATH IS LIFE. Control prana – control the mind.
Limb 5: Pratyahara
Sense withdrawal is a very important in yoga practice yet perhaps the least discussed and perhaps the most difficult to master. It can be extremely difficult to disconnect in our modern world. For this reason we now need it more than ever before. Pratyahara is about rejecting external influences ( sights, smell, music, objects, company, all things pretty and captivating basically). When we are no longer distracted or Influenced by this external stimuli, we take better control of our pranic energy and send it within to awaken our internal senses and world. Quieting the “monkey-mind” ( Buddhist term for mental chatter) is the second challenge, and once the “monkey” pipes down… our internal world can be found and tuned into… and what’s goes on in there, is a billion times most beautiful and more fascinating than ANY external pleasure 💥Shut down the surroundings and quieten down that monkey!
Limb 6: Dharana
Well how do we train that “monkey mind”? Practicing Dharana can help! Teaching us to focus on one object or one idea alone. When we focus or meditate on only one thing, we lose sense of the surroundings, time and above all, of the SELF. Next time you meditate try gazing at a particular object that you are drawn to for a few minutes. Fixing the mind on something external will increase your power of concentration, helping to still and quieten the mind. This practice helps to prepare for internal concentration/meditation, which is the next step. Candle gazing is a great place to start!
Limb 7: Dhyana
Internal meditation or better described as “deeper awareness of oneness”. In this kind of internal meditation one does not focus on any object and senses are not involved as in the previous limb. Here the origin of consciousness itself IS the object…They are one, as WE are with everything that surrounds us. This type of profound meditation teaches us to simply observe, without judgement. This technique is fundamental in Buddhism, Hinduism and in yoga. Once limb 6 (external meditation) has been mastered, Dhyana is the next step. Oneness. Supreme consciousness.
Limb 8 ✨Samadhi✨
The final limb! After mastered the first 7 limbs, Samadhi is now attainable. Transcending higher than the ego, the body, the mind…into a higher state of consciousness. Pure bliss. Where Atman (self soul) meets Brahman (world/cosmic soul). The divine. Separation does not exist anymore . Complete unity, complete union with your higher self.