Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga
Written by Dee Oh (referencing Jennifer Fitzsimmons' Pathways Academy of Life Yoga Teacher Training and various other sources)
Achieving enlightenment through yoga is the ultimate goal and this state is called Samadhi. There are 8 limbs of yoga (Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga) and practising all or parts of the 8 limbs to achieve the state of this nirvana bliss/enlightenment/Samadhi state is the goal of a yogi.
Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga are:
1) Yama - abstension, moral principles which are simple universal principles to live by, the main ones include:
i) Ahimsa - non-violence against other humans, animals and nature
ii) Satya - truth; to speak truth with kindness in all situation
iii) Asteya - non-stealing of others' belongings, work, etc...
iv) Brahmacharya - celibacy, to keep one's body pure without conducting adultery and sexual misconduct
v) Aparigraha - without greed and avarice, not coveting for materials and not longing to take what is not earned or deserved fairly and rightfully
2) Niyama - observance of life, how we live when no one is looking
i) Sauca - cleanliness
ii) Santosha - contentment
iii) Tapas - austerity
iv) Svadhyaya - self study
v) Ishvarapranidhana - total surrender to God/Creator/Higher Being/The Universe
The Yamas and Niyamas come first in the order of Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga because they serve as pre-requisites before one embarks on his/her journey to practising yoga. In the wise words of an experienced yogi, "Yoga without these Yamas and Niyamas is an impossibility"
3) Asana (Postures) - the physical practice with numerous challenging, fun postures which are practised with consciousness, mindfulness and in synchrony with the breath - the only purpose of Asanas is so that one can sit without distraction in meditation after, without getting pins and needles. Nonetheless, many in the West practise yoga Asanas primarily without the other 7 limbs and without the aim to achieve the enlightenment and inner peace that is intended for the practice. Yet, the physical benefits on its own are significant and so this kind of practice that primarily focuses on Asanas serves a great benefit to society as well.
4) Pranayama (Breath Control) - pranayama is not to really control the breath but to expand its feel, lengthening of breath, slowing down of heart beat, conscious breathing cleansing the mind and relaxing the body, mind and spirit. Prana means vital energy and ayama means extension--pranayama is thus the increasing and extension of one's vital energy within our bodies.
5) Pratyahara (Withdrawal of Senses) - we begin to withdraw our senses from the external surrounding and turn ourselves inwards, thus we stop losing energy to objects that are not relevant or real in our lives, turning ourselves inward and paying attention/tuning in to what matters and killing the external "noise"
6) Dharana (Concentration) - through one point of awarenss... once we withdraw our senses and draw our attention and energy within, we direct this energy into something we concentrate on; often we direct ourselves to our own personal mantras, our own personal petitions and words of affirmation to help our conscious and subconscious mind imprint them firmly within ourselves, thus beginning the transformative work of changing how we think, live and behave
7) Dhyana - meditation - receiving a light that we have not experienced
8) Samadhi - contemplation - the only true object of yoga - self transcendence, the ultimate decoupling of pure consciousness from body and mind... the union of the body, mind and spirit with the divine Creator of earth (God)
Some Observed Controversial Issues with Yoga
As opposed to popular belief among many who practise yoga, especially in the commercial centres, yoga is not just a physical practice. In my own experience as a yoga practitioner, I have encountered many who have this misguided aim and focus in their practice of yoga as they fully focus themselves on working on the "Asanas" with emphasis on perfecting the poses and purifying their diet and nutrition with vegetarianism, cutting out alcohol and smoking from their lives while placing a far less emphasis, forgetting or even not being aware of the main goal of practising yoga, which is to attain harmonic union of the body, mind and spirit within and with the divine Creator and all beings in the universe.
With that said, the great emphasis on an Asana-focused yoga practice in modern culture is not to be undermined in its benefits for society and the promotion of yoga as a whole. As many people are more naturally drawn to introducing a physical practice in their lives for the sake of keeping fit, healthy and looking good, the Asana limb of yoga does play a huge part in drawing wide interest among the masses towards learning yoga. Further, even if one practises yoga that is predominately focussed on Asanas, their mindset and lifestyle are very likely to transform positively towards the ways of a yogi as I have previously experienced in my own personal practice of yoga where I found practising Asanas made me a calmer and more mindful person, helping me tremendously with coping with a highly stressful job and life whilst having clinical depression and anxiety.
Also, I have observed many yoga practitioners and yoga teachers placing a lot of emphasis on glorifying their yoga gurus and themselves as teachers, which is contradictory to the precept of equanimity whereby everyone is supposed to be equal. Many yoga practitioners and teachers end up encouraging idolatry of the teachers as a result of the overt projection and glorification of the yoga masters/gurus/teachers to the extent of creating new lineages of yoga under the name of the particular guru/master/teacher, which is quite unnecessary in my humble opinion, and the placing of the photographs of these gurus/masters/teachers as a worshipping item at their altar.
Yoga also instils in us a mindset and lifestyle of being thankful and grateful towards everything in life, including being thankful for our body, our breath and all the beautiful people and things that we are being blessed with in this life. Taking time during our yoga practice to give gratitude everyday in our Sadhana practice
Yoga to me is not a religion but rather a healthy and balanced way of life that is based on a systematic school on psychology, physiology and spirituality. Therefore, yoga can be practised hand in hand with any other religious beliefs as religion is a set of beliefs while spirituality is a way of life or system that enhances one's efforts to work towards a change within.
To get the full benefits of yoga, just like for anything else in life, we need to keep up with our regular practice.
How my view of yoga has changed through this teachers' training course?
As a religious Catholic, I came to this retreat with fears and doubts of whether yoga would be conflicting to my religious beliefs. Through this training, I have learned that yoga is a process that actually enhances my religious practice as it enables me to go deeper within myself through deep meditation, thus aiding me in gaining a closer connection with God. The beauty of yoga is that anyone with any religious faith can use this process to help them to connect more deeply with their own faith and beliefs, be it Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, etc.
The other significant change of my view of yoga through this course is how it is life coaching in essence. I have been working on setting up my life coaching practice and this course has helped me by giving me a framework for me to work on my life coaching clients through all their issues holistically.
How yoga has changed my life?
Yoga is by far one of the most powerful tools to achieve a holistic health solution that I have experienced in my life. On a personal level, I have gained from the practice better control over my emotions, better handle of stress from work and life, a stronger physique, a more mindful way of life, higher energy levels, positivity and a strengthening of my can-do attitude, calmness, less flaring of my temper, strengthening of my joints and bones for preparation for other physical work, lower occurrence of illnesses and many more in my practice over 15 years as a devoted student and aspiring teacher.
I have become more conscious of my actions, thoughts and communication. Eating excessively has been a problem I have been dealing with almost all my life and I used to eat out of suppressing an emotion. This emotional eating would involve eating big bags of chips, lots of sugary snacks and just a large amount of food in general to make myself feel good whenever I was feeling upset, emotional, disappointed, stressed, anxious. With learning and gaining a deeper consciousness of my actions, I now eat more mindfully, meaning I eat more slowly and mindfully think of each bite of food that I take into my body. Eating is
I am a highly emotional person since young and was always having large upswings and downswings in life through the dualities. It was highly disruptive. My family, friends and people close to me in a professional or personal setting had to endure this often highly disruptive behaviour. With the active and regular practice of yoga, I aim to achieve a more healthy and balanced relationship with my family and loved ones.