The 8 Limbs of Yoga are not about the physical practice that a Yogi applies on the mat but are more like a teaching handbook of how to live a happy and fulfilled life, on both the spiritual and physical level. They come from ancient texts called the Yoga Sutras, written by a man called Patañjali, and describe various traditions including “eight-limbed yoga” and “action yoga.” The purpose of the 8 Limbs of Yoga is to help guide you through life. Think of it as a code, one that you can apply directly to your daily life, but in order to do so, you need to understand the purpose of each limb.
Yama: Our Moral Compass to the World
This first limb breaks down into five specific areas:
Ashima: maintain peace, compassion, and love for others.
Satya: live your life with truth and honesty, this is your dharma, or sacred purpose.
Asteya: do not waste and do not steal.
Brahmacharya: maintain key life energy (don’t waste it).
Aparigraha: No greed or collecting of material items.
Niyama: Your Attitude Towards Yourself and How You Treat Yourself
This second limb also breaks down into five areas:
Saucha: Maintain purity and a clean body.
Santosha (Santosa): Find happiness without having to search for it.
Tapas: Be disciplined within yourself and your energy.
Svadhyaha: Study of yourself, be self-aware.
Isvara Pranidhana: Contemplate a higher power and observe oneness in divinity.
Asana: Yoga Poses
The asanas allow for you to maintain your physical being, and the dwelling for your spirit. By following each asana, our bodies become stronger and more open to receive all that they need to continue their nourishment and growth. They connect the mind, body, and soul, but remember this is only one limb of yoga.
Pranayama: Breathing Technique
A Yogi cannot practice an Asana without breath, the two are meant to work together to allow your body to perform at its best. In fact, breathing is so important to yoga that breathing techniques are often practiced on their own to help better-direct the flow (prana) throughout your body.
Pratyahara: Keeping the Senses Within
Now we enter some of the more difficult limbs to follow and understand. This limb means to ignore your five senses that are always being distracted by the outside world and focus them inwardly. By doing this you give the senses a break and allow them to better-understand yourself. As a result, your senses become clearer.
This is a difficult limb for many to master as rarely does the mind stop moving and focus on one thing. The choice is yours, you can choose to focus on an outer-body focal point, the Drishti, or focus inwardly on the feeling and breath, such as with Yoga Nidra. The point is, by focusing on only one thing we allow our balance to improve as we free our mind of distractions.
Forget the past or the future, meditation is about being present in the moment and allowing your focus to relax. Whenever you do a task, wash the dishes, go for a run, or brush your teeth your body and mind go through the motions without you actually having to focus on what you are doing. This is what meditation is, it is just being and allowing your body to be.
This is the last limb, where one could say where all the limbs lead up to and is your ultimate goal. It is the purest form and where you can honestly say that your mind, soul and physical being are all at peace, together.
To reach your best self within the practice of yoga, it is necessary to apply all the limbs together. Remember, this is a lifelong study, and one that you can choose to practice how you want. Start with the first couple of limbs and work your way through your journey of the 8 limbs.