Eight Limbs

Ashtanga Vinyasa- is one of the modern yoga systems. “Ashta” means eight, “Anga” means limbs and “Yoga” means the union. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called Ashtanga. These eight steps are the guidelines on how one should live a meaningful and purposeful life. They are a prescription for self-discipline, moral and ethical conduct; they direct attention to one’s True Self and help recognizing the spiritual aspect of our nature.

I. Yama – Ethical Disciplines

1. Ahimsa – Nonviolence

The word ahimsa literally means not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.

2. Satya – Truthfulness

Satya means “to speak the truth”. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa.

3. Brahmacharya – Control of senses and celibacy

Brahmacharya is control of the senses; more specifically it refers to celibacy or chastity. One of the main reasons for restraining from indulging in sensual gratification is that practicing the higher limbs of Ashtanga yoga: dharana, dhyana and samadhi requires a tremendous amount of energy (prana). This energy is built though asana, pranayama and japa, but is dissipated during sensual enjoyment.

4. Asteya – Non-stealing

The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. Satya is more than just telling truth. One’s actions should be in accordance to one’s words and thoughts.

5. Aparigraha – Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth

Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary and not to take advantage of a situation. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for his future. Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.

II. Niyama – Self observation

Niyama means “rules” or “laws”. These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Just like yamas, the five niyamas are not just exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared to yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal.

1. Sauca – Purity

The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind, of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.

2. Santosa – Contentment

Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment ‘to accept what happens’. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.

3. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy

Tapas is austerity. The luxury and comfort of our modern society, with all its advantages, makes our mind soft and weak. To strengthen ourselves physically and mentally we must practice austerities. The highest tapas is meditations on God and the divine Self. Daily practice of yogic disciplines in considered tapas.

4. Svadhyaya – Self study

The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.

5. Isvarapranidhana – Surrender to God’s will

Isvarapranidhana means “to lay all your actions at the feet of God.” It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god’s will. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we set aside some time each day to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives.

III. Asana – Posture

Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly knows aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The practice of moving body into postures has widespread benefits; of these the most underlying are improved health, strength balance and flexibility.

IV. Pranayama – Breath control

Pranayama is control, measuring, and directing the breath. In the Yoga Sutra, pranayama and asana practiced are considered as the highest form of purification and self discipline for the mind and body, respectively. The practices produce inner fire of purification.

V. Pratyahara –Withdrawal of senses

The natural tendency of the senses is to go out towards the objects; in doing so they pull the mind away from the inner Self. Yogi must be able to pull the senses within, direct the attention internally, in order to keep a balanced and peaceful mind. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves.

VI. Dharana – Concentration

Dharana means “immovable concentration of the mind”. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. “When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sadhaka (seeker) reaches the sixth stage, dharana. In dharana we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of going out in many different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection can create the right conditions, and the focus on this one point that we have chosen becomes more intense. We encourage one particular activity of the mind and, the more intense it becomes, the more the other activities of the mind fall away.

VII. Dhyana – Meditation

It is a natural flow of thoughts of consciousness between the meditator and the object of meditation. It is a very joyous state and is compared to the flow of oil from one vessel to the next. It is very natural and effortless. In dhyana there is still duality of consciousness which is the felling of separation between the meditator and the object of meditation. When maintained long enough this state will lead to the highest rung of Ashtanga yoga ladder which is samadhi.

VIII. Samadhi – Super-conscious state

The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” Patanjali describes this stage as a state of ecstasy. In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity.

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