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The Eightfold Path of Yoga


As you probably know by now, yoga is so much more than moving your body. Yoga is a way of life, a path to purposeful living, the mother ship of personal practice. It holds a deep philosophy and inspirational approach to living life as a conscious being. In Sanskrit the word yoga translates to yoke. A daily discipline of yoking your heart to your mind, your mind to your breath, your breath to your body, your body to the earth and all that is beyond. It is the powerful combination of physical poses (asana) with breathing (pranayama) and concentration (dhyana) techniques, that together move and rebalance energy so that the yogi can find stillness and harmony in mind, body and soul. This is a practice to deepen and grow over a lifetime (or more).   



 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali refers to Eight Limbs of Yoga, each of which offers guidance on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. These moral guidelines have a central place in the philosophy of yoga. Each of the Eight Limbs of Yoga represent a different stage in accomplishing the ultimate interconnectedness with one’s self, as well as with all living things. It is said to be the path to enlightenment. Created by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, which is considered the earliest textbook on yoga dating back 2,500 years ago, this remains an ideal of mindfulness, conscious development and transcendence for every yogi today. We will explore them briefly below.

 

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are:

  1. YAMA – Social, ethical restraints or disciplines

  2. NIYAMA – Self-discipline or duties 

  3. ASANA – Poses and movement

  4. PRANAYAMA – Breathing Techniques

  5. PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal

  6. DHARANA – Focused Concentration

  7. DHYANA – Meditative Absorption

  8. SAMADHI – Bliss or Enlightenment

 

1. Yama

The Yamas and the Niyamas are yoga's ethical guidelines described in the first two limbs of Patanjali's Eightfold Path. Simply put, the Yamas are things not to do, while the Niyamas are things to do. Together, they form a moral code of conduct for yogis. 

There are five Yamas:

 

2. Niyama

The second limb, Niyama, is fivefold as well. But where the Yamas focus on the outer world, the Niyamas contain personal practices related to our inner world. The Niyamas impart the importance of self-discipline through: 

  • Saucha: purity

  • Santosha: contentment

  • Tapas: self-discipline, training your senses

  • Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration

  • Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender 

3. Asana

After Niyama’s introduction to the spiritual realms of yoga, Asana offers practical instructions on postures that can help you transcend your Self through the ancient art of meditation. The third limb thus teaches concentration but also puts an emphasis on your body, which is the temple of the spirit.


4. Pranayama

The importance of breath control in yoga goes beyond its basic benefit for your bodily health. Pranayama literally means the “life force extension” and it sees breathing exercises as both a rejuvenation technique and the extension of life –connecting your breath, body, mind, and emotions.


5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara offers you a unique opportunity to hone your senses and withdraw from external stimuli at the same time. By observing yourself and nothing but yourself, you gain an objective perspective on who you are, what limits your personal growth, and how to overcome that.


6. Dharana

After reflecting on all these past 5 limbs, you enter Dharana. The sixth limb of yoga works with your senses and attention too but in a different way. It teaches you to silence both external and internal distractions and concentrate on a single mental object, which can be a mantra, a deity, or simply the breath. This is the basis for entering meditation.


7. Dhyana

The absolute concentration of Dharana leads you to the seventh stage – meditation. The two are not to be confused for one another, as Dhyana is a higher form of contemplation, the one that is one step away from focus-less awareness. Dhyana introduces complete and uninterrupted stillness and quietness. It is the meditative state.


8. Samadhi

Only with a fully aware and quiet mind can you arrive at the final stage, marked by a state of ecstasy, transcendence of Self, and interconnectedness with the Universe. Samadhi is the ultimate state of bliss and enlightenment. 




 

Both spiritually and practically, mastering the Eight Limbs of Yoga requires commitment and self-discipline. At the same time, this practice is an immensely rewarding experience as it teaches us how to conduct ourselves in our everyday lives and allows us to feel the one true purpose of our nature. Practicing yoga thus means exploring all of the eight limbs.

Our yoga practice is like planting a tree. We do the work to prepare the ground, plant our seeds, nurture and care for the seedling. We must then trust that something is happening beneath the soil, even if we can’t see it yet. And with time, it grows. Season to season, year to year our practice develops organically. Some seasons there may be transformative growth spurts and an abundant harvest, and other times growth will feel stagnant with a small harvest, but there will always be something beautiful waiting for you. As you dedicate yourself and care for it, your practice will blossom and grow into a fruitful tree!


Do you feel called to learn more about yoga philosophy and deepen your practice?

Check out our Back to Nature Yoga Teacher Training from Sept 28 - Oct 19th 2024



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