Yoga encompasses working toward the betterment of your mind, body, and spirit. Some practices focus on increasing flexibility and improving physical health, while others focus more inwardly on the mind and spirit. True yoga practices encompass them all. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra offers a pathway toward improving your moral conduct and self-discipline through eight limbs, called the “Ashtanga Yoga System.” The word “ashta” translates from Sanskrit to English as “eight,” and “anga” means “limb.”
By focusing on the eight limbs of yoga, a person can achieve better self-control and a sense of peace and connection to the Universe that is beyond understanding. So, what are the eight limbs of yoga? Let’s look at each one and the benefits they provide.
Yama is the first limb, which focuses on how you interact with others. By practicing Yama, you can learn to use your energy to positively impact the world around you.
The five Yamas include:
“Ni” is a Sanskrit verb that translates to the words “inward” and “within.” By practicing Niyama, we show respect to ourselves through duties that build character and increase self-awareness. These duties can also be practiced in our interactions with others.
The five inward-focusing Niyamas include:
Asana is the third of the eight limbs of yoga. It focuses on postures and physical poses. Although there are many different asanas, choosing the ones your body can comfortably perform is best. That way, you can settle into different “asanas” or “seats” without feeling pain or discomfort, allowing you to focus inwardly on breathwork and meditation.
Prana can be translated as “energy” or “life source,” and Pranayama focuses on breathwork. Breathing is essential to life, and when you practice breathing techniques, you can gain control over your mind and emotions. As an alternative perspective, some people see Pranayama as a way to free themselves from old thought patterns and emotional states.
Pratyahara (Pratya – “to withdraw” + Hara – “to take in”) takes a lot of practice, but when effectively performed, you can learn to be truly present. Our senses are constantly bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells that can be distracting, but Pratyahara doesn’t mean you turn them off. Instead, Pratyahara allows you to alter your focus so these everyday distractions don’t affect your focus. An experienced person can use Pratyahara daily to remain in the present moment.
Dharana (Dha “maintaining” + Ana “other”) is the limb that teaches focused concentration. When we practice Dharana, we also use Pratyahara since it’s necessary to withdraw your senses to place them intentionally on something else. Often, Dharana requires visualization, breathwork, and candle gazing as you learn to control your focus.
Dhyana is the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga and involves true meditation. Although yoga practices teach us the techniques that help with focus, concentration, and control, true meditation is a state of being aware, with a quiet mind and very few thoughts. This state takes incredible stamina to achieve, but yoga is a process, and with practice, you can achieve Dhyana.
Samadhi is the eighth limb of yoga, where a meditator achieves indescribable peace. At this point, the individual will transcend the Self, finding a connection to the Divine and a blissful connection to all living things. Here, a person will feel complete peace. Although it seems impossible, with practice and focus, anyone can reach Samadhi.
When we think of yoga, most people think of Asanas, the different postures practiced in typical yoga classes. Although Asanas are incredibly beneficial, there is so much more to yoga. By exploring the many techniques and facets of yoga, you can learn to master your focus and your emotions and find a deep connection with yourself and the Universe.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga and the eight limbs of yoga, we’d be happy to help. Schedule a class today at Zenlife Center for Healing to start your journey toward improving the health of your mind, body, and spirit.
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