PATANJALI’S EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA
His eightfold path is made up of mental & physical disciplines. It is a process to achieving enlightenment but does not follow a step-by-step pathway – different aspects of the path may unfold at different stages in our lives.
The Eightfold Path (or 8 Limbs of Yoga) comprise:
1. Yamas: How we use our energy in relationship to others, our outward behaviour.
- Ahimsa – compassion for all living things, non-violence. Are my thoughts, actions and deeds fostering the growth and well-being of all beings?
- Satya – truthfulness, having honest communication and action without deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths. Practising right speech.
- Asteya – not stealing, that all misappropriation is an expression of a feeling of lack. And this feeling of lack usually comes from a belief that our happiness is contingent on external circumstances and material possessions. This can also extend to ‘stealing’ another person’s time e.g. not checking with someone if they are free before launching into our own problems.
- Brahmacharya – celibacy/chastity but it’s more like using our sexual energy wisely, not manipulating and using others sexually – jealousy, attachment, resentment and blinding hatred. You can also look at it purely as energy, merging one’s energy with God.
- Aparigraha – not grasping, not holding onto things or avoiding over-consumption. The practise of aparigraha also requires that we look at the way we use things to reinforce our sense of identity, reaching out for external validation only to realise that what we really want is already within us.
2. Niyamas: Codes for living soulfully – personal disciplines
- Saucha – purity. Living purely, maintaining a cleanliness in body, mind and environment e.g. by eating healthy food, reading books that elevate our consciousness, watching movies that inspire, and associating with gentle people, we are feeding the mind in a way that nourishes our own peacefulness. It’s about making choices about what you want and don’t want in your life.
- Santosha – contentment or that we are at peace with whatever stage of growth we are in and the circumstances we find ourselves in. This doesn’t mean that we accept or tolerate unhealthy relationships or working conditions. But it may mean that we practice patience and attempt to love as best we can within our situation until we are able to better our conditions.
- Tapas – not Spanish hors d’oevres but burning enthusiasm or dedication. Literally translated as ‘fire’ or ‘heat’ and is the disciplined use of our energy and having enough respect for yourself to make choices that truly nourish your well-being and provide opportunities for expansive growth.
- Swadhyaya – self-study in whatever way you choose e.g. through painting, writing, sport, music or meditation. It’s inconsequential as long as there is an intention to know yourself through it and the commitment to see the process through. Any activity can become an opportunity for learning about yourself.
- Ishvarapranidhana – celebration of the spiritual – devotion to ‘god’ or whatever you choose to call ‘the universal one’; the practice of spending some time every day to acknowledge an intelligence larger than our own. It could be spending time communing with your garden at dawn, taking a few moments on the bus to breathe slowly and clear your mind, or a more formal practice like a daily reading, prayer or meditation. This practice requires that we have recognised that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives.
3. Asanas: These are the postures that keep the body strong, flexible, and relaxed. More literal meaning is ‘to sit’ or ‘to stay’. The qualities of asana are sukha (ease & lightness) and sthira (focus/steadiness/alertness). How can we comfortably sit in a pose while focusing our mind’s attention completely in the body? By practicing the poses we strengthen the nervous system and refine our process of inner perception.
A recent phenomena in Western yoga is the emphasis on the physical benefits of asanas resulting in de-emphasising the other traditional purposes of yoga which are to facilitate the flow of prana (vital energy) and to aid in balancing the energetic systems of the physical and metaphysical body.
4. Pranayama: The breathing practices. Prana = lifeforce, energy. Yama = to lengthen. By learning to breathe fully, our energy levels increase and our lives are enriched. Practitioners report that the practice of pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, and sound judgement, and also claim that sustained pranayama practice extends life and enhances perception.
5. Pratyhara: Drawing one’s attention toward silence, blocking out any external distractions from our five senses and moving into present time awareness.
6. Dharana: Focusing attention, the practice of concentration that leads to calming the mind. Entering into a quiet, meditative space becomes more effortless and more desirable, it may be thought of as holding steady.
7. Dhyana: One-pointed focus, meditation. We experience the mind emptying itself of thoughts and desires. Having mastered the concentration of the mind, one reaches a point of unwavering stillness, where the mind cannot be distracted.
8. Samadhi: The return of the mind into original silence, enlightenment. It is the ultimate goal of yoga practice. At the peak of meditation, the practitioner passes into the state of Samadhi or transcendence, beyond everyday egoic consciousness into a deep peace. In this state the yogi is totally aware and alert but at the same time not part of this world.
Yoga is a complete Science of Life which is equally applicable and helpful for men, women and children. Religions are social sciences which help to maintain culture and tradition and support the lawful structure of human society. Yoga is a universal science for self-improvement and enlightenment. All the methods of self-growth which are found in any religion are already in yoga philosophy.