Yoga is a holistic practice that has been around for many years. Whether you practice yoga face-to-face inside a class or virtually, yoga can be a powerful way to refine the body, mind, and spirit. The legendary Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that appeared back in 250 BC highlighted the definitive ways of how to live a meaningful life— which makes up the eight limbs of yoga. In this guide, let’s get to know the 8 limbs of yoga and how they can exactly impact your life. But first, let’s have a quick throwback of yoga and its amazing benefits.
A Quick Throwback: Yoga & Its Benefits
Yoga is an ancient therapeutic practice that’s passed down from generation to generation. It combines bodily movements and breathwork through a series of physical poses and meditation.
This practice has been around for almost 5,000 years and was officially outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In Sanskrit, the word “yoga” means to yoke, unite, or join, which is pretty evident in practice: synchronizing the body, breath, and mind.
Today, yoga generated many styles, and each has its own combinations of breathing techniques, poses – also known as asanas -, and meditation sequences to help relax the body, mind, and spirit.
Proper techniques are required to ensure the safety and purpose of practicing yoga. If you have previous or existing health problems, it’s best to consult your health care provider before rolling up your mats. Yogic poses can be adjusted based on your needs.
Some of the most common styles of yoga in the Western region are Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Power, Restorative, Hatha, and Bikram or Hot yoga.
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The amazing benefits of yoga may affect each person differently. Most claim that it helps them to relax and relieve stress. Others find themselves feeling better and more healthy. Yoga can refine every aspect of yourself, inside and out.
On a mental level, practicing yoga helps you to relax. Many practitioners claim that practicing yoga helps them become productive and more focused on work and life. In a research in 2003, experts had purposely observed long-time yogis and those who were just starting. They found that the production of stress hormones diminished in the very first session of practicing yoga.
Yoga is also known for increasing the alpha and theta brain waves, which means practicing yoga can help relax the brain and supports handling the emotions and subconscious self.
By simply amplifying the positive brain chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, and enkephalins, any person practicing yoga will feel better in no time.
On a physical level, practicing yoga will help tone and shape your body. This is probably the result of better insides since yoga helps stabilize your metabolism and offers physical actions that make you sweat to get energized.
Yoga helps to strengthen specific muscle groups while improving your grounding and stability. Thus, it is a great way to improve other qualities that any sports need, such as better flexibility, endurance, and coordination.
It also helps to locate and prevent bodily strains and injuries. Most claim that yoga brings their body into harmony, which is very beneficial for the overall well-being. When the mind-body is balanced and in harmony, yogis will feel healthy, and they will choose healthier options for a better life.
That said, it’s time to get to know the 8 limbs of yoga that can guide you in living a meaningful life.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: 8 Limbs of Yoga Explained
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the Ashtanga is a Sanskrit term that means “eight limbs.” These eight limbs are steps for a complete guide on how to live a meaningful and purposive life. They serve as a measuring point for moral and ethical behavior and self-control which influences one’s health and helps us to appreciate the deeper aspects of our nature.
Yamas is the first limb that deals with the rules of your ethics, sense of honesty, and how you pay attention and react to everything in your life. Yamas is a common practice that reminds us of the golden rule we know— “Do unto others what others do unto you.”
The five yamas are the Ahimsa – peaceable, Satya – honesty, Asteya – nonstealing, Brahmacharya – continency, and Aparigraha – nongreedy.
Niyamas is the second limb that represents self-discipline and spiritual traditions. Regularly attending church or offering tights, saying grace before meals, giving yourself time to meditate, or learning habits of practicing reflective activities are all examples of a niyama practice.
The five niyamas are Saucha – proper hygiene, Samtosa – pleasure, Tapas – warmth; religious practices, Svadhyaya – the study of sacred scriptures, and the Isvara Pranidhana – the power to surrender.
Asana/s is the third limb of yoga which is also known as the poses in yoga practice. From a yogic perspective, the body is the spirit’s temple, so taking care of it is essential to reach your spiritual growth.
Through asanas, you can improve your discipline and your ability to focus, which is needed for meditation practice.
The Pranayama, best known as the “life force,” ranks the fourth stage in the 8 limbs of yoga. It involves different breathing techniques and patterns that influence the respiratory system and supporting the deep connection between the breath, mind, and spirit.
Yogis believed that the prana also energizes the body and extends the life itself. You can practice pranayama whenever you want, like relaxing in your living room, cooking, or simply incorporate it into your daily yoga routine.
These first four limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras focuses on developing your personalities, overcoming yourself, and energizing your awareness inside and out. All qualities that have been mentioned will support you for the next journey, which is about your overall senses, the mind, achieving a higher status of awareness.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga that involves withdrawal or receptive superiority. At this stage, you will draw the conscious mind away from the outer world and outside disturbances, making you unstoppable from improving yourself.
The pratyahara practice offers you the chance to step back, have a break, and take a look at yourself. This opportunity will allow you to carefully observe your desires, mainly those harmful cravings that will hinder you from improving your inner growth.
Every limb prepares us for the next stage, but for the Dharana or concentration, the practice of pratyahara sets this practice.
Having yourself free from distractions, dealing with the disturbances in your mind will come in handy.
In the dharana practice, which leads to meditation, you learn to slow down the process of the ever-wandering mind by concentrating on a single object or visual image.
That can be a chakra in the body, a visual representation of a deity, or through the sound’s silent repetition.
Of course, you already started harnessing your powers of concentration in the previous stages, such as the asanas, breathing techniques, and the detachment of the senses.
Through asanas and pranayamas, although you pay attention to your bodily movements, your concentration progresses. Your concentration continually moves as you adjust to the sudden nuances of any poses or breathwork patterns.
In pratyahara practice, you become more observant of yourself. But in dharana, you put focus on a single point— which also sets you for meditation.
Dhyana, or meditation, is the seventh limb of yoga. It is an extended-concentration technique. It’s important to know that concentration and meditation are two different practices. There’s a fine line of characteristics between these two.
Dharana focuses on one point, while dhyana is the ability to be aware of everything without focusing on anything.
Through this process, the mind is already in a peaceful state and away from distractions, which encourages little or no brain activity at all.
When your power and stamina can reach this state of stillness, you know you did a great job. But if you fail to achieve this, don’t stop and give up. The first time is always the challenging part. Remember that yoga is a systematic practice and that it has a process to follow.
Even though you can’t achieve the perfect pose in one go, or the best state of concentration, you will learn and benefit at every stage as you progress.
Samadhi is the eighth and final limb of yoga that allows you to be in a state of ecstasy. Through this practice, you will unify your point of focus, transcending into yourself in the process.
You will achieve a deeper connection to the higher being, the creator of all living things. With this attainment, you will have the “harmony that passeth all understanding”; the feeling of tremendous bliss and unity with the whole universe.
However, if we take time and carefully assess ourselves what we really want in life, may it be freedom, contentment, pleasure, or self-confidence, what Patanjali believes as the height of the yogic path – aside from the 8 limbs of yoga – is that all human beings should achieve and spread peace.
It’s important not to compare yourself to another as you have different paths and views of how meaningful life can be. Namaste.