A Simple Explanation of the 8 Limbs
What are the 8 limbs?
What are the 8 limbs?
You might have heard about the 8 limbs in your Yoga class or read about them somewhere along your Yoga path but perhaps they have not been explained to you. Maybe your teacher mentioned Ahimsa or non-violence in practice. Maybe you read a Yoga article and they are advocating truthfulness or Satya in your practice and in your life. But what does this have to do with Yoga? Well the 8 limbs is a great place to start to help form the full picture of Yoga beyond Asana (poses). The 8 limbs are a fundamental aspect of a particular type of yoga philosophy called Raja Yoga, which is the study of understanding the mind and living in more harmony or union otherwise known as Yoga.
The word Yoga means to yoke or unite and each limb is like a stepping stone to achieve this union. The 8 Limb Path is a blue print to finding more union whether that is with your body, mind and soul, to a higher power, to your community or with all living things. They do not have to be practiced in a chronological order, however usually when you master an aspect of one limb then you can access the next limb with more fullness. In todays modern world the 3rd limb or Asana (the physical part of Yoga) is more commonly and readily practiced because of its tangible nature. Asana often acts as a gateway to the other Limbs. The 8 Limbs are just one part of the Yoga Sutras or principles of Yoga.
Here are the 8 Limbs:
1. Yama (Restraint)
2. Niyama (Observances)
-Tapas (heat/ discipline)
-Svadhyaya (self-study/ study of spiritual books)
-Isvara Pranidhana (Devotion)
3. Asana (Physical Posture)
4. Pranayama (Control of Breath/ Life Force)
5.Pratyahara (Withdrawal/ Control of Senses)
6. Dharana (Concentration/ One Pointedness)
7. Dhyana (Meditation)
8. Samadhi (Enlightenment/ Superconscious State)
Where do the 8 Limbs come from?
The 8 Limbs are taken from the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras is an ancient text of about 200 sutras (threads) that weave together to form the quilt of Yoga. It dissects the science of Yoga and its purpose, obstacles, prevention or removal of obstacles and the outcome of the practice. There are many translations of this texts into many languages, however, The Yoga Sutras was originally written in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit.
Who wrote the 8 limbs?
There is some discrepancy as to who wrote the 8 Limbs and the Yoga Sutras. Some believe it was written by one great Yogi, Patanjali, or if it was a group of Yogis or perhaps his own disciples. It is most widely accepted that the author of the Yoga Sutras and the 8 Limbs was indeed written by the great Sage Patanjali from India.
When were they written?
As Yoga was an oral tradition there is no exact date on when they were written. Many scholars believe that it dates back to 5,000 B.C to 300 A.D (2000 -7000 years ago) yet the system of Raja Yoga precedes even these dates.
How do you apply them in your practice and life?
As mentioned above, it is often most accessible to start this path through the entry way of the 3rd limb or Asanas under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Asana helps us cultivate a sense of awareness that is useful in observing and exploring the other limbs. In Asana you can start to practice the Yamas and Niyamas. With this deeper awareness cultivated on the Yoga mat, then with mindfulness and intention Yoga becomes a lifestyle and can be practiced and applied in all areas of life. An example of practicing Yoga off the mat and embodying Aparigraha can be found here in an earlier blog post.