The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Yoga practice has been increasingly popular in recent years. Where I stay in Singapore, everywhere I go, I will see someone carrying a yoga mat; on the train, on the bus, everywhere. The general perception is that yoga is a physical fitness activity. Or in some occasions, yoga can be viewed as a healing therapy for body, mind, and soul. That, indeed, is very close to the foundation theory of yoga philosophy. Which was coined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra “The Eight Limbs of Yoga”.

To go into details each and every limbs of Yoga, it would take more than just an article but thousands of them. This article will discuss briefly the general concept of eight limbs.

1) Yama: the practice through actions and speech.

Yama considers the 5 key elements: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-hoarding. To put into context, one should practice these elements into daily action such as not to tell lies, maintaining peaceful environment with others, etc. 

2) Niyama: the practice of the self.

Just like Yama, Niyama has 5 key elements; these are cleanliness, contentment, spiritual pursuance, self-discipline, and self-study. However, unlike Yama, Niyama requires individual to recognize the importance of each elements to fully integrate them into the self. By then, the practitioner can achieve a soulfully healthy body, mind, and soul.

 3) Asana: the practice of the body.

Asana is the physical aspect that more dominant (in the popular cultures around the world). Asana is the way to build strength, flexibility, discard toxins and release blockages buried deep inside the muscles and joints. However, one must remember, doing asanas requires engagement of total body organs to act as one, controlled by the mind – consciousness. To move from one asana to the other, not only the body moves, but also the mind stays focus. This awareness of physical body movement begins with the control of breath – Pranayama.

4) Pranayama – the practice of controlling life force.

Pranayama is the practice of controlling and moving the body in a service of breath. Moving the body does not necessarily mean to practice asanas but general activities such as sitting, sleeping, and so on. “Prana” as explained by Master Satya, is “life force” – breathing or energy and “ayama” means “extension”; together, the two words mean the extension of life force – controlling the breath. In yoga, pranayama and asana emerge as a unity that one cannot be performed without the other. It depends on the type of yoga that you are following, pranayama techniques are performed accordingly to create a harmony, higher level of concentration; thus as a result benefits the body, mind and soul.

5) Pratyahara: the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions.

Again, Pratayahara relates to the 5 key elements of body functions: touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, and tasting. Unlike others, this practice requires one to completely withdraw from all these elements that are externally triggered. By switching off all these basic senses, internal self-practices (self-awareness, self-realization, etc) will become the main focus and constantly reminds one to always seek within before reaching out.

6) Dharana: the practice of concentration.

Dharana refers to the focus of the mind. To practice concentration, practitioner must always direct the mind to one path, single focal point where there is no distraction, no whatsoever.

The key is to fully surrender to one activity (example: singing “om” 108 times), or an object (example: a candle light), accept what it is/what it is not, shut down the temptation of external desires, close our eyes; when our mind starts to wander, keep directing the mind back to the current moment. Until then, we can center ourselves in an extremely calm state of mind.

7) Dhyana: the practice of boundaries-less meditation.

Dhyana essentially means “meditation” with “devotion”. When you meditate, do not ask reasons, do not wonder purposes, do not seek intention, just pure concentration on the object to find no boundaries or limitation. It feels a dropping into the rabbit hole and keeping on repeat whenever the hole brings you to somewhere that trigger external desires or distract your concentration.

Everything is united in one individual – the Universal spirit.

8) Samadhi: enlightenment.

Samadhi is the absolute state of human body, mind and soul. Where our body dissolves into a Universal spirit through space and time. During samadhi, one realizes the unimportance of everything – the reality, the past, the future, the object, the self and the non-self but the loosen form of ourselves – the nothingness – the goal of all existence. The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task. Yoga Sutra suggests asana practices together with pranayama is the foundation for Dharana, once we can lose out what is external influenced, we can focus on practice Dhyana and let Samadhi to naturally occurs.

Kelin Vu Bich Chau, Doan – 200hr YTTC Weekend 

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