What Are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

What Are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

While many people associate yoga with practicing poses, that’s just a part of it. Maintaining other essential aspects will allow practitioners to maximize the benefits of individual poses.

Why are these stages important? Eight limbs or stages of yoga are vital to instilling a sense of calmness in your mind and body to help you avoid distractions and focus entirely on your poses.

Read further to learn about the 8 limbs of yoga, along with their meanings and benefits.

What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

These are the stages of yoga that you will go through to meditate successfully. Even if you can pull off various poses, here’s why ensuring the remaining stages is essential as well.

1.     Yama

yama

It is the first limb and refers to discipline, vows, and practices that we implement to engage with the people around us. While yoga can boost physical flexibility and strength while calming the mind, it’s not enough to live a fulfilled and purposeful life. And that’s because you’re not interacting with the world.

The Yamas include five ethical precepts that preserve a sense of balance in your life. This is crucial to interact with the world around you and guide you on how to act and respond to others. Here are the five precepts of Yama.

·       Ahimsa

Ahimsa refers to non-violence and refraining from violent behaviors or activities, even ones that aren’t explicitly violent. It’s why you’ll see many yogis interpreting ahimsa as adopting a vegan diet, as all living beings should be treated with non-violence and kindness.

·       Satya

Satya indicates truthfulness. It motivates yogis, to tell the truth, encouraging them to live honest lives. It guides one to look inwards and reflect not only on lies they may tell others but lies they tell themselves as well.

·       Asteya

asteya

This aspect of Yama refers to non-stealing. It prohibits others from taking someone’s property and using it. While it is surely excellent advice, it goes beyond the more objective, explicit interpretation. After all, there are more ways to steal than just taking someone’s objects, assets, or personal belongings. Using people’s intellectual property, such as pictures, logos, and themes, without consent is also stealing.  

·       Brahmacharya

It refers to celibacy and is a yamna that requires more support to adopt a contemporary lifestyle as a yogi. As one of the eight limbs of yoga, it encourages practitioners to develop honest, open relations with their partners.

·       Aparigraha

While it translates as ‘non-coveting,’ it means refraining from feelings of envy, jealousy, and greed. Of course, practitioners needn’t suppress these feelings, but they should practice mindfulness as a way to deal with them. It will involve coming to the realization that having material possessions isn’t the main goal of life, helping them follow the rules of Aparigraha.

2.     Niyama

niyama

This is the second limb that indicates the duties and responsibilities one has towards their self. In some ways, one can also interpret it as their actions towards the world. In fact, the prefix “ni” means “within” and “inward” in Sanskrit.

·       Saucha

Saucha refers to the purification of the mind and body, which is important preparation for meditation. It also means identifying thoughts that can distract you from your goal and purpose.

·       Santosa

Translated as ‘contentment,’ Santosa helps you feel gratitude for the things you already do, encouraging you to stay happier.

·       Tapas

Tapas is commonly recognized as heat and is defined as an encouraging practice to stimulate and target our inner fire.

·       Svadhyaya

Experts translate it as self-study, but in easier terms, it refers to introspection. It emphasizes the need to study and memorize mantras and sacred prayers, as well as look at one’s own skills.

·       Ishvara Pranidhana

The most common translation of Ishvara Pranidhana is ‘dedication to God and Masters.’ These yoga practices help acknowledge yoga as a spiritual activity.

3.     Asana

asana

Asana, also known as posture, is the physical aspect of yoga. To reiterate, this step doesn’t refer to performing an impressive backbend or handstand. Rather, it refers to a “seat” that you choose for practicing yoga. Asana also encourages yogis to choose a comfortable and steady posture before they begin.

Traditionally, there are several poses in each yoga form. For instance, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika encourages postures like Virasana (hero pose) and Padmasana (lotus pose). But even so, classical yoga involves choosing a pose that keeps you comfortable.

While it’s true that you need to switch between different poses during a yoga session, it doesn’t imply that you have to keep moving. The idea of any yoga pose is to make you feel comfortable so that you can focus on your breathing and don’t let your surroundings distract you.

Sure, poses look complicated, but they’re not designed to make you uncomfortable. The right way to go about it is to start small and then work your way up to more difficult poses. This way, your body will stay relaxed, no matter the yoga pose. If you don’t feel comfortable performing a certain posture, your body isn’t ready for it. Instead of trying to do it perfectly the first time, take it step by step so that your body grows used to it.

4.     Pranayama

This stage of yoga involves performing breathing techniques. The word Pranayama translates to ‘life source’ or energy. This word describes the very essence of our life that keeps us alive. Besides that, Pranayama also involves breathing techniques that impact how our bodies work. Once we manage our breathing, we can control our mind and body.

The word Pranayama has two syllables, “prana” and “Yama,” which means “breath-control.” It can also be understood as “prana-ayama,” which refers to “breath liberation” or “freedom of breath.”

Practicing different breathing techniques can improve your mental health in several ways. For this, you can choose stimulating practices like Kapalabhati or calming techniques like Chandra Bhadana. Note that each breathing technique offers a unique benefit. It can have an effect on how you respond to the environment, which can also include dealing with issues that affect you.

5.     Pratyahara

pratyahara

The fifth of the eight limbs, Pratyahara, refers to ‘sensory transcendence’ or withdrawal. In this stage of yoga, you try calming your mind to prevent responding to distractions in the immediate environment. At this point, you make an effort to draw attention away from outside stimuli and the external world. Instead, direct your attention towards your breath and your existence.

Since it’s the most difficult stage, it requires some time and patience before you can see results. However, this is also a great time to step back and understand your capabilities. When you’re at this stage, you look at yourself and notice things that are most distracting for you at the moment. Well, this withdrawal from the world around you is an effective way to build awareness of cravings and habits that can prove detrimental to your health. After all, distractions can prevent you from achieving the growth you’re capable of. It’s why this stage is a crucial aspect of developing the basics.

6.     Dharna

As you may have understood, each stage prepares you for the one that comes after. This means practicing pratyahara prepares you to practice Dharana or concentrate. Once you free yourself from outside distractions, it’s time to deal with the distractions and issues of your mind. It’s not an easy task and requires significant practice. Some people take days to uncover the skill. When you practice cultivating focus, you will learn how to slow down your thoughts and to think process. Also, you will learn to center your entire focus around a single object or emotion before you start meditating. By doing this, you will be able to calm your mind and body and start addressing problems by thinking clearly.

Though you will have already developed the power to concentrate in the previous stages, this stage helps you see results through actions. At this point, you need to pay close attention to your actions. When you move from a pose or breathing techniques, your concentration continuously shifts. You need to learn to maintain focus even when you are changing your pose so that your body doesn’t get distracted again. And if it doesn’t, you have to repeat the steps to eliminate negative thoughts.

Additionally, at this point, you need to focus on a single thing. So, when you concentrate for extended periods, you will naturally start to meditate. If you are planning to take yoga classes, your instructor will guide you in this stage. They will give you tips to maintain focus based on your issues. This will help you develop concentration quickly. But if you are planning to perform yoga by yourself, you’ll have to start by maintaining focus.

7.     Dhyana

dhyana

The seventh stage of yoga, dhyana, refers to contemplation and meditation. This indicates the stage of yoga when there is an uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although mediation (dhyana) and concentration (Dharana) may seem similar, they are a bit different from one another. Dharana encourages you to concentrate at one point. However, dhyana is a stage where you are entirely focused on your yoga practices without forcing your mind to do so. This means you’re not consciously concentrating on anything. Rather, your mind unconsciously avoids getting distracted.

At this stage, your mind grows quiet, and it might produce a few thoughts, but in most cases, your mind goes quiet and blank. Reaching this stage of yoga is easier said than done, as it requires extensive strength. Of course, while it seems as though reaching this stage will be challenging, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Keep in mind that yoga is a process. Even when you are not able to pose perfectly in the beginning or maintain excellent focus in the first few weeks, it will still offer certain benefits. Yoga is a practice that can improve your mental and physical health at every stage and level. So even if you haven’t mastered a certain pose, you will start noticing improvements.

8.     Samadhi

This is the final stage of yoga and is known as the state of ecstasy. At this last stage, you will merge with your point of focus and achieve the purpose of yoga, i.e., you will build a connection with the divine force. You will understand the connection of the divine with the living things. With these realizations, you will find yourself at peace. You will experience happiness and a sense of lightness and calmness in your body and mind.

Once you reach the last stage, you will understand the true meaning of freedom, fulfillment, and joy- all things that a human being needs to live a peaceful life. You will feel complete, grateful, and confident. The peace you will experience at this point is priceless. It will help you improve your life, make better decisions, and be free of the chaos of the world to see true tranquility. You will also boost confidence, self-worthiness, compassion for others, and a loving heart.

Related Questions

 Can You Avoid Any Stage of Yoga?

Each stage of yoga is equally important and helps you meditate. You can’t avoid implementing any of the limbs to benefit from yoga.

Is the Sequence of Limbs Important?

Each limb helps you get to the next stage and build your abilities to perform yoga. So, yes, the sequence of yoga is important.

Conclusion

The limbs of yoga are its different stages that help you achieve the purpose of yoga. All 8 limbs are important to successfully perform yoga and benefit from it. By successfully performing achieving each stage, you will get closer to the results you’re looking to gain.

In this article, we have defined all 8 limbs, their meaning, and how they help you during yoga.

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