Last updated on September 22nd, 2023.
Are you looking for more in your life? Do you feel like you are missing something? Perhaps you need more guidance and self-discipline in your life. You may think that this article will suggest fresh new ways for you to change your life. Just the opposite.
We realize that it’s hard to make meaningful changes in your life. What with work and the kids and extracurricular activities, who has time to make changes? We’re all just trying to hang on and meet all of our commitments.
But what if there was a way you could begin living a better life, a happier life? And what if you could get off the materialism merry-go-round and stop worrying about the Joneses?
We’re going to be talking about ancient yogic texts from the Hindu tradition that are studied and used to live better lives by millions of yoga practitioners worldwide. If you follow the suggestions from ancient yogic texts that we’re going to talk about below, your life could become so much smoother and easier. A lot of weight will be lifted from your conscience, and your mind will become clearer. You’ll gain an in-depth moral code, you’ll deepen your meditation practice and you may even learn to not judge situations that you have no control over. So, read on as we talk about a code of living that yogis have known about and lived for thousands of years!
What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?
The 8 Limbs of Yoga or “Ashtanga” are from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an over 4,000-year-old treatise on ethics, meditation, and physical postures. You can think of the 8 Limbs of Yoga as simple ways to have a pleasant life. The 8 limbs will allow you to live purposefully and ethically. You’ll grow your self-discipline and you may pay more attention to your health. And, ultimately, you will feel free and unencumbered. At least, that’s the ultimate goal, and a worthy goal to strive for.
If you’re interested in studying to be a yoga teacher, you’ll spend quite a bit of time learning how to live the 8 Limbs of Yoga to cultivate a better you. And you’ll most like read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Living the 8 Limbs of Yoga will allow you to better service your yoga students. Because, it would be unjust if you teach your students about the 8 Limbs of Yoga but aren’t an example of them.
Whether you’re looking to become a yoga teacher, or you just want to lead a better, more meaningful life, the 8 Limbs of Yoga will help you navigate life’s messiness. They’ll bring a sense of order to your life.
Below, we’ve listed the 8 Limbs of Yoga and we show you how to live them. Remember, you won’t be able to master each one right away but learning more about them is the first step. And with practice and self-control, you’ll be able to incorporate the 8 Limbs of Yoga into your life.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
1) Yama (abstinences)
Students of yoga can think of yamas as a code of conduct, or our social ethics. Yamas include:
· Ahimsa (non-violence)
· Satya (truth)
· Asteya (non-stealing)
· Brahmacharya (use of vital energy)
· Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)
2) Niyama (observances)
Niyamas are our personal ethics to have a balanced life. They include:
· Sauca (purity or cleanliness)
· Santosa (contentment)
· Tapas (heat created by regular practice)
· Svadhyaya (self-observation, including mantra)
· Isvarapranidhana (devotion)
3) Asana (yoga postures)
Practicing yoga postures gives us discipline and helps us concentrate. Plus, they allow us to take care of the body, which houses our spirit.
4) Pranayama (breath control)
Pranayama includes a variety of breathing techniques to help yogis purify their find. One comma pranayama technique is ujjayi (overcoming) breathing. You’ll find yoga practitioners doing ujjayi breathing by narrowing their trachea to make a sound in their throat.
5) Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
Pratyahara is practiced by drawing the attention inwards. Yogis may sit in a meditation pose and observe their breath, drawing their attention inward.
6) Dharana (concentration)
To practice dharana, a yoga practitioner may fix their mind on a mantra, an idea or a concept. They focus on just that point and nothing else.
7) Dhyana (meditation)
Dhyana is contemplation on the object that the yoga practitioner is focusing on in the dharana stage. You’ll be aware of the many aspects about that object.
8) Samadhi (ecstasy, union)
During samadhi, you’ll become one with the subject of your meditation and you’ll lose the sense of your own self. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe samadhi as ecstasy.
How to practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga
Yoga educators believe that if you practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga, you’ll lead a happier life. But how do you practice those 8 Limbs of Yoga? Well, lets take a deeper look into each of the 8 limbs. Remember, though, it takes work to practice the 8 limbs. And it isn’t easy. There is a lot of temptation out in the world. And, you will have to train your body and your mind to master the 8 Limbs. Some people never actually master them. But, attempting to improve your life by trying to practice the 8 Limbs show’s self-care and consideration for your health and emotional well-being.
Following the 8 Limbs of Yoga doesn’t mean that you’ll have to become a nun or a monk. But you will have to think more about your choices. You may find yourself paying more attention to your consumption of both food, clothing and goods. You may think twice about the way you treat the people around you. You may not act frivolously or flirt meaninglessly. You may also find yourself with new friends who also want to practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga. And you may find that those new friends are as serious as you are about living a moral code.
As with all things, practice will improve your meditation technique which will in turn improve your well-being. It’s of benefit to you to begin with as little as 5 minutes a day. Many seasoned practitioners will meditation between 15 – 20 minutes twice a day. Consistency is also important. We wish you good health, a strong mind and a true spirit on your journey!
Deepen your practice
- Yama – In practicing the yamas, remember the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It takes time and hard work to practice yamas. But it gets easier and natural over time to avoid things like lying and coveting. Chastity can also be tough. However, non-harming may take longer to avoid, as for some people, this involves becoming a vegan and rejecting clothing and shoes made from leather.
- Niyama – Being optimistic about the circumstances around you as well as your self can be difficult. Optimism is not humanity’s strong suit. But introspection of your thoughts, speech and actions can make life much easier.
- Asana – In terms of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, this stage refers to poses that you hold for some time, while staying calm and relaxed. And that can be difficult. The Yoga Sutras say, “asanas are perfected over time by relaxation of effort with meditation on the infinite.” And, achieving a pose can take time. You may not be limber when you begin practicing yoga. But, with practice, you will be able to achieve and hold poses for long periods. Remember, however, that if a pose causes you any pain, it can’t be thought of as an asana. If you’re in pain, you won’t treating yourself with kindness and non-harming. In fact, yoga teachers tell their students that if they are in pain, they should adjust the pose or get out of it completely. You’ll generally practice this asanas at your home, or in a studio setting.
- Pranayama – In yogic belief, pranayama is your “life force extension.” In practice it’s the mastery of your breath. And practicing pranayama or yogic breathing can rejuvenate your body and extend your life, yogis believe. Practicing pranayama, you may be in the middle of a yoga practice in your home or at a yoga studio, sitting in lotus pose while meditating, or even trying to calm yourself in a grocery store line. If you’ve taken a yoga class, you probably have noticed a slight hum coming from all of the students practicing their yoga breath. And they make take yoga breathing into other aspects of their lives for calmness and stillness in stressful situations.
- Pratyahara – When practicing pratyahara, a yogi extracts their senses from the external world and moves their attention to the inner self. Practitioners will be sitting in a meditative pose, such as lotus pose. They will generally be using pranayama breathing. And, they will be focusing on one object, internally. The object could be a thought or a concept, or an actual thing, like the flame from a lit candle, the sight of a beautiful flower, or the sound of a singing bowl. Like pranayama, you may be practicing at home or in a yoga studio.
- Dharana – Also generally practice in your home yoga space or in a yoga studio, dharana adds onto pratyahara. Remember the one object you focused on in the pratyahara stage? In dharana, you’ll increase that focus onto one point of the object. You’ll train your mind not to wander and to stay fixated on that one point. This is a difficult state to maintain. It could take years of practice to hone and perfect your focus.
- Dhyana – Dhyana adds on to the dharana stage. In dharana, you’re still focusing on the object in your mind. But now, you are observing it without any judgment. As your mind is looking at all sides of the object, be it an idea or an actual physical item, you are experiencing an uninterrupted stream of consciousness.
- Samadhi – The last of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, in the samadhi stage, you are one with the object that you are meditating on. Your meditation on the object is so deep that you lose sense of yourself. There is only a harmonious union between the item being meditated upon and the meditator.
Practice makes perfect
Some people live years not being able to fully incorporate all 8 limbs that Patanjali talked about in his ancient text. And that’s perfectly OK. Just by making attempts at improving your life will make you more aware of your impact on the world around you. Fortunately, there are so many great yoga books for beginners as well as advanced students out there to help you distill the Sutras and dive deeper into yoga philosophy and meaning.
Yogis have tried for years and years to achieve samadhi. And, although it may seem like samadhi is far off and unreachable, it’s more about the journey. Every step on that journey to samadhi is one step closer to a better life.
You may have thought that yoga was only about asanas but instead it’s an important part of the 8 limbs. And practicing yoga poses will allow you to become aware of your health and your body. Further, hand in hand with yoga poses is meditation. This important component to the 8 limbs can also be difficult to master. Sitting in lotus pose and trying not to let your mind wander is hard work! But, the more you meditate, the easier it will be. That goes for each limb. The more you practice each one of the 8 limbs, the easier your life will be.
We hope that our introduction to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali will be as meaningful to you as they’ve been to generations upon generations of yoga practitioners. Learning about each of the 8 limbs will allow you to build or improve your moral code. And the Yoga Sutras will make you more mindful and spark you to make improvements to your physical and emotional health.
And, after mastering the moral code of the 8 limbs, the asanas, the breathing and the meditation, you’ll could be one of those lucky few who achieve enlightenment, ecstasy and most importantly, transcendence.