By Bhavan Kumar
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is a classic text, but it still has relevance today, because of the Eight Limbs. The ideal Yoga practice is a delicate balance between science and art, creating a union between mind, body, and spirit. The practitioner uses the body and breath to nurture an awareness of individual and unified focus. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali describes the foundations and framework of Yoga philosophy from before 200 A.D. The sacred text offers a description of the innermost workings of the mind and provides an eight-part practice for controlling mental restlessness and cultivating unshakeable peace.
At its core, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describe eight Ashtanga, or “limbs,” of Yoga which provide the proper structure for yoga practice. Each limb correlates to a practice for achieving a healthy and balanced life. Mastery of the eight limbs eventually provides spiritual fulfillment and connection to the divine.
The Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra are briefly described below. The first five limbs are considered “external aids to Yoga.” The final three limbs are considered “internal aids to Yoga.”
1. Yama: includes five guidelines for moral and ethical behavior towards others, also known as universal morality or ethical social behavior. Restraint and abstention from wrong acts, sometimes known as “the Commandments.”
*Ahimsa – nonviolence, harmlessness.
*Satya – not lying, truthfulness.
*Asteva – not stealing, includes more than just physical acquisition of material property.
*Brahmacharya – not lusting, to be without desire.
*Aparigraha – not coveting.
2. Niyama: includes five guidelines for moral/ethical behavior towards self. Right observances, sometimes known as “the Rules.”
*Saucha – cleanliness, internal and external purification.
*Santosha – contentment, a state of mind wherein all conditions are considered just and correct.
*Tapas – sustained practice, “fiery aspiration.”
*Svadhyaya – study of self, close scrutiny of the causes of desires, aspirations and feelings.
*Isvara Pranidhana – surrender to God, the attitude of the lower self toward the God within.
3. Asana: Proper practice of yoga postures. Right poise, while maintaining correct physical, mental, and emotional attitude. Today, asana has attracted a global audience for health, fitness, appearance and ego enhancement. This concerns traditionalists, but many beginners are drawn to this particular limb before exploring all that Yoga has to offer us.
4. Pranayama: Proper practice of breathing exercises and regulation of the breath, including the control, regulation and suppression of the vital forces of the body. For the practical value of Pranayama to bear fruit, time must be invested in the practice. Most practitioners do not realize the benefits for years and some may never fully appreciate this underrated practice, which easily connects mind and body.
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses (exterior reality does not distract from one’s internal reality). If you can read a book on a train or in a plane, you can do this. Another method is to silently practice mantra, prayer, affirmation, or pranayama without anyone knowing, while you are in a public place. This is what Paul Jerard often describes as practicing Yoga in daily life without making it into a show. The practical application of Yoga does not appear on Instagram or on the cover of Yoga Journal. Yoga off the mat is much like Pratyahara, which can be a survival technique, but it will not make front page news in social media or on a Yoga magazine.
6. Dharana: Concentration (internal and external distractions do not cause loss of focus). Fixation (centering) of the mind. Some teachers refer to this focusing step as a general guideline in preparing for meditation today and during the time when Patanjali lived. It is believed that Patanjali compiled the concepts within the Yoga Sutra. After that, the editing process would have added or subtracted aspects based upon what was practiced during his lifetime and based upon what he perceived as essential. Some types of meditation practiced today vary in their approach toward learning how to focus before attempting meditation.
7. Dhyana: Meditation (builds upon Dharana, concentration is no longer of a single focus but is all-encompassing). This creates the capacity to use the mind as desired, to transmit higher thoughts, while processing ideas and concepts to the mind. Today, we see many approaches, books, and videos that teach meditation due to the Internet. In Patanjali’s time, it is likely there were also many types of meditation available. Sadly, they did not have an Internet to give us the archives they had at the time. The existing texts left from the past, give us a glimpse of what was going on before and during Patanjali’s life and times.
8. Samadhi: Bliss (builds upon Dhyana, self-transcendence through meditation. Merging of self with Universe, or enlightenment). To engage in contemplation concerning the realm of the soul. Eventually, Samadhi produces full illumination. Much has been theorized about the state of Samadhi. Some believe in levels of Samadhi. Others believe that Samadhi will never be attained by humans, because no human can attain enlightenment. Yet, there are even more theories about attaining the highest form of Samadhi, provided you pay your guru for it. This is not to make light of these theories, but beware of anyone who professes to be the gatekeeper to enlightenment.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga provide a strong framework and logical pathway toward the attainment of divine union. It is important to remember that these Eight Limbs of Yoga do not refer to something accomplished on one plane, or another, but to simultaneous activity and the practice of all these methods at once as they refer to the physical, mental, and emotional bodies. This allows a natural state of total health and integration.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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3 thoughts on “The Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra”
Thank you for explaining the eight limbs of Yoga provide a path that I can use to make sense within my practice. You provided steps much clearer than most of the writings I have read up to this point.
Mastery of the eight limbs eventually provides spiritual fulfillment and connection to the divine. Thanks for this valuable post.