Yoga teaches us to unite our body, mind and spirit. While it does sound like a very personal thing, it also involves the world and people around you.
The Ashtanga Yoga System, which is more commonly known as the eight limbs of yoga, provides guidelines on how to live a balanced and ethical life. Following these eight limbs will ultimately enable you to reach your goal of unison.
Eight limbs of yoga
The Yama limb consists of five ethical standards that control how you act towards the world around you.
- Ahimsa – non-violence
- Satya – truthfulness
- Asteya – non-stealing
- Brahmacharya – celibacy
- Aparigraha – non-coveting
The Niyama limb focuses on self-discipline and spiritual observance. It encourages you to develop your own meditational practices, be it attending church, praying before meals, taking long walks or chanting mantras.
To achieve this self-discipline, there are five steps you need to follow:
- Saucha – purification – clear negative thoughts about yourself and others
- Santosa – contentment – learn to be satisfied and at peace with yourself. Be thankful for what you have and don’t compare yourself to others.
- Tapas – asceticism – take part in encouraging practices that make you feel happy and motivated.
- Svadhyaya – study – study yourself and the world around you, and the relationship between the two.
- Ishvara Pranidhana – dedication to god – acknowledge that yoga is a spiritual practice that affects your mind, body and spirit.
The most commonly followed limb, and often the entry-level for most people, is Asana. This is the practice of postures. The idea behind this is that your body is a temple of the spirit and, to keep your soul healthy, you need to keep your body healthy.
In this limb, you start to develop a habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate.
The Pranayama limb consists of techniques that are designed to help you master your respiratory processes – control your breathing.
It also helps you recognise the connection between breath, mind and emotions.
Where the previous limbs focused on the external factors that contribute to a balanced lifestyle, the Pratyahara limb turns the focus internally.
It encourages you to withdraw from the world around you, like sounds, sights or smells, and allow them to pass without capturing your attention.
In this limb, you learn to slow down your thinking processes by concentrating on a single mental object. This way, you get rid of mindful distractions. Once your mind has been cleared of distraction, you can start to meditate.
The Dhyana limb teaches us to meditate. This is when your flow of concentration that you practised in the Dharana limb, becomes uninterrupted. Your mind is brought to silence as you have few or no thoughts.
This is when you meet with the single mental object that you were concentrating on and reach a state of joy. You transcend into this object and completely withdraw from the world without you.
The Samadhi limb is meant to make you realise the connection between yourself and all living things around you.
Each limb of the Ashtanga System can be practised on its own. However, when you start at Yama and work your way to Samadhi, you will realise that each limb precedes the next and that they make the following limb so much easier.