The Eight Limbs of Yoga for Wellbeing
Yoga has been around for thousands of years and is practiced by millions of people all around the world. When we hear the word Yoga many of us think of nimble people bending into pretzel shaped positions for hours at a time and rigorous workouts. Others think it’s all about sitting down and meditating for days and days.
However, Yoga is much more than just asana (posture), and meditation. Yoga means Union, or To Join Together. Yoga is a technology that can help us to go inward and to develop the inner workings of our very being, and to become connected with the universe. It can help us to develop awareness of the Present Moment, and possibly Samadhi.
If you were to look up Yoga on the internet you will find that there are many different schools of Yoga with each having their own way of practicing posture, breathing or meditation. One of the most influential schools of Yoga is The Eight Limbs of Yoga, which was allegedly devised by Patanjali and his Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali was an Indian sage. Very little is actually known about Patanjali or for when he lived. However, from scholarly analysis of the Yoga Sutras scholars estimated that he lived around the 4th or 5th century C.E.It is said that Patanjali came to Earth in order to teach and share the knowledge of yoga.
Patanjali’s teachings within the Yoga Sutras form but a fraction of the scriptural literature on yoga philosophy. Many believe that Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras from older yogic texts for purposes of ease of practice and practicality. Patanjali is highly regarded for the clarity and simplicity he brought to yogic philosophy.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are 8 branches, or 8 ways to practice, or 8 guidelines, not rules, that an individual can practice on a day to day basis to enhance their wellbeing, and to live a more wholesome and fulfilling life. Patanjali understood that each individual has their own path in Yoga and to wellbeing, which is one of the reasons why he offers many different ways to practice.
The first limb is Yamas: external disciplines. This limb encourages being kind to ourselves and others. Speaking truthfully as much as possible. To not steal from others. To exercise moderation in all things rather than giving way to compulsions. And, to practice generosity, giving our time and being generous to others and to the planet itself.
The second limb is Niyamas: internal disciplines. This limb encourages and provides guidance on practicing mindful thoughts. Acceptance of others, ourselves and whatever may be going on around us. This limb also encourages self-discipline and persistence in practice. Along with studying ancient texts (Vedas), studying oneself and finally contemplation.
The third limb is Asana: posture practice. This limb encourages the practice of Yoga postures, and strengthening the body. Its focus is to guide the individual to become more intune with their body and to develop stability of movement which can lead to stability of mind and enhanced awareness.
The fourth limb is Pranayama: breath control. This limb guides individuals to practice and become aware of the Prana (breath, or life force). The way we breathe is linked to our Autonomic Nervous System, the Fight or Flight mechanism in our body. By learning to breathe in various ways it can help us to relax the ANS and Fight or Flight. It can also help to relax and steady the mind, which can be an aid to meditation.
The fifth limb is Pratyahara: withdrawal from the senses. Pratyahara includes exercises that help an individual to withdraw from their senses and to become more in tune with their awareness. The focus of Pratyahara is to divert the attention of the senses from the outerworld to the inner world, so to our breath, our mind and so forth.
The sixth limb is Dharana: concentration. This limb is focused on developing one’s concentration and maintaining a stable mind. Practices include meditation on the breath, using Mantras, and focusing on sound or an idea.
The seventh limb is Dhyana: contemplation, reflection and profound abstract meditation. Dhyana is contemplation on an object without judgement, simply observing the object. This object can be a physical object in our environment or it can be an idea or concept in our mind. Dhyana is an uninterrupted train of thought, current of cognition and the flow of awareness.
The eighth and final limb is Samadhi: union, integration. Samadhi is the process of becoming one with the subject of meditation. During Samadhi there is no distinction between the individual of meditation, the act of meditation itself or the subject of meditation one has chosen. Samadhi is the spiritual state that one’s mind becomes absorbed in, regardless of whatever it is they are contemplating. The mind loses the sense of its own identity. The thinker (YOU), the thought process and the thought itself fuse with the subject of thought.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are not rigid rules that we must follow to live a more wholesome life. But rather, they are guidelines that we may follow however we please that can help us to develop greater well being and awareness. This is merely a starting point and the very surface of what Yoga has to offer as there is a vast ocean of ancient and contemporary knowledge within the Yoga way of life.
“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?” – Sri Swami Satchidananda.
“With Yoga, not only your body should become flexible. Your mind and emotions, and above all your consciousness should become flexible” – Sadhguru.
Link to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda:
Link to Inner Engineering by Sadhguru: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Engineering-Yogis-Guide-Joy/dp/0143428845/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1607693563&sr=8-1
By Max Evans
Course Wellbeing Practitioner