“Yoga, as a way of life and a philosophy, can be practiced by anyone with inclination to undertake it, for yoga belongs to humanity as a whole. It is not the property of any one group or any one individual, but can be followed by any and all, in any corner of the globe, regardless of class, creed or religion.”
“Behind the strength of the body, is an energy, which is spiritual and which keeps us alive. To achieve access to the spirituality, you must first understand the physical. This body is our temple and in this temple is Atman – God.”
Shri K. Pathabi Jois
Ashtanga Yoga literally means “eight limbs of yoga.” These limbs are defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the ancient texts that is often cited as a source for the philosophy behind yoga. The eight limbs are the foundation of the Asthanga yoga practice and they act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.
Each limb relates and builds upon the one before it.
The following are the 8 practices or limbs:
1. YAMA (moral restraints) – how we relate to others
The yamas are:
• Ahimsa-non violence, non harming to other living beings,
• Asteya- non stealing
• Brahmacharya- celibacy (control of the sexual impulses)
• Aparigraha- covetousness
2. NIYAMA (observances) – how we relate to ourselves
• Saucha: cleanliness of mind, speech and body
• Santosa: contentment, acceptance of others, acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are in order to get past or change them, optimism for self
• Tapas: persistence, perseverance, austerity
• Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures, study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches and actions
• Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God, true self, unchanging reality
3. ASANA (posture) – how we relate to our body
4. PRANAYAMA (breath extension) – how we relate to our breath or spirit
5. PRATYAHARA (sensory withdrawal) – how we relate to our sense organs
6. DHARANA (concentration) – how we relate to our mind
7. DHYANA (meditation) – moving beyond the mind
8. SAMADHI (meditative absorption) – deep realization and inner union
The first four limbs are referred to as “external yoga,” and the last four limbs are called “internal yoga.” The fifth limb, pratyāhāra, acts as a bridge between the external and internal limbs.
As students of yoga we actively practice the external limbs, while the internal limbs are the fruits of a sincere and continuous practice.
The eight limbs of yoga are interconnected, and not separate steps along the path. Whether one starts by practicing the physical postures, breath awareness, or mindfulness in the daily practice of the yamas and niyamas, each limb encourages growth in the others.
As the body becomes steady and at ease, the breath starts to come under control, and the mind begins to experience moments of clarity, and essential peace.