The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The eight limbs of yoga are:

1) Yama: These are 5 moral observances that pertain to how we treat others in this world, and when practiced they will reduce the suffering in the world

a) ahimsa: Practice non-violence because violence leads to more violence and fear

b) satya: Practice honesty because deceit leads to more deceit and mistrust

c) asteya: Do not steal because stealing leads to theft and loss

d) bramacharya: Neither suppress nor indulge in sex because suppressing leads to indulging and indulging leads to suppressing

e) aparigraha: Do not consume more than you need because consumption leads to waste

In other words: Learn to see the cause and effect of what you say and do.

2) Niyama: These are the 5 moral observances that pertain to how we treat ourselves, and when practiced they will prepare you for a more peaceful life

a) shaucha: Cleanliness is Godliness

b) santosha: Find peace and contentment in all that you do

c) tapas: Turning your heart to gold through devotion and transforming from your suffering

d) svadhyaya: Study attentively how you move and breathe, also study sacred texts.

e) ishvara pranidana: Surrender to the Divine Sublime

3) Asana: the yoga postures

Be mindful in your body, sculpt it into something beautiful, strong and healthy, and improve your range of motion.

4) Pranayama: breath attention

The breath gives life to all living beings on the planet. There is much to be learned from the breath, and there are certain breathing techniques that promote clarity of mind and good health when practiced correctly and regularly.

5) Pratyahara: withdraw of the senses

All of the information that comes into the brain and body from the external world comes through our sense organs. We learn and experience life when we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch, and we make choices based on what entices us and what repels us. Through Pratyahara the senses cease to be distractions.

6) Dharana: concentration

a practice of bringing the mind back to the same place over and over again, which helps to calm the fluctuations of the mind, which in turn promotes freedom. Consider a mind that is distracted by a piece of chocolate cake, which smells and looks delicious. This cake creates an impulse in the mind, which will naturally lead an individual to eat the cake. But perhaps you don’t want to eat the cake for a higher order of reasons such as it was not made with organic eggs, or you are on a cleanse. The cleanse or the desire to eat only organic eggs are like a mantra for the mind to anchor on. The senses and their impulses can be pacified by concentrating on the higher goal of eating cleanly.

It is obvious here the relationship between Dharana and Pratyahara, between the ability to concentrate the mind and cease to be distracted by every sensory impulse. All of the limbs are dependent on each other in this way. Dharana helps to create freedom because there are so many distractions for the senses, which entice us to indulge in aspects of life that may not actually promote health and well being in the long run. It takes determination, Tapas, to concentrate the mind on evolving towards a state of living where we are not distracted by unhealthy or unenlightening indulgences.

Dharana also leaves room for mistakes. There are times when we will choose to eat the chocolate cake while we are still learning the art of concentration. However, if and when we remain steadfast we can make ourselves available to a state of Dhyana.

7) Dhyana: meditation

through concentrating the mind and holding it in one place we can make ourselves available to a state of awareness where we begin to understand the nature of things.

8) Samadhi: complete absorption

when the mind remains in a state of meditation and the veils of separation are removed

I like to think of the Eight Limbs like learning to create music. First you must learn the notes (yama and niyama). Then you pick an instrument (asana). Next you learn how to play a song (pranayama). Then you memorize the song so you can play it without the sheet music (pratyahara). You begin to play that song over and over again (dharana).  Until the song is coming through you and you are no longer thinking about it (dhyana). And then you are playing the song in harmony with others (Samadhi).


About Joyce Englander

I teach weekly yoga classes in New York City, which focus on moving mindfully and gracefully with the breath. I believe that learning yoga is similar to learning a language, and the more you are around it the more fluent you become. This blog is an opportunity to share my thoughts and re-visit lessons from class; to create a bridge for students to translate their classroom experience into real life. I am interested in how practicing yoga can help to improve people's lives and reduce needless suffering.
This entry was posted in Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Eight Limbs of Yoga

  1. Pingback: The First Limb | PRACTICE. BREATHE. TEACH.

  2. April says:

    I really like how ishvara pranidana, “Surrender to the Divine Sublime,” is emphasized in the Niyama, “how we treat ourselves,” rather than how we treat others or even how we treat the divine itself (though I’m sure there is much overlap).

    & I love love the concluding metaphor to music.

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