Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga

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Yoga on the mat is one aspect of a bigger picture.

One important and extremely influential yoga text from which yoga as we know it today is derived is the yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In the yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that when the changing states of the mind are stilled we have the experience of our true nature.

All of the techniques of yoga are designed to facilitate this experience of soul, or universal consciousness. When we are fortunate enough to have this experience, we begin to realise that deep within us is an awareness that is unconditioned and eternal.

Patanjali outlines an 8 step guide which is a roadmap for a balanced life and finding purpose and self mastery. It also gives us tools for managing and transforming the busy chaos of the mind and moving consciousness from being outwardly focused to exploring the inner landscape.

The 8 limbs are called Ashtanga yoga:

1. Yamas – 5 ethical guidelines to follow in relationship with others and the world (including non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, right use of energy, and non-greed)
2. Niyamas – 5 personal practices to use to cultivate growth and self discipline to follow the yogic path (include cleanliness and purity of mind, body and environment, contentment, discipline and acceptance of discomfort, self reflection and surrender)
3. Asana – practice of yogic postures
4. Pranayama – techniques of breath control
5. Pratyahara – transferring the awareness of the senses from the outside world inwards, temporarily quietening them and using that energy instead for meditation
6. Dharana – meditation through directing attention to the breath, a repeated mantra or an object of visualisation
7. Dhyana – complete absorption into meditation so there is no longer any fluctuation of awareness
8. Samadhi – union with the universal consciousness

In the west we tend to emphasise the asana – posture – aspect but it is important to know that this is only one piece of a bigger system of interrelated concepts and practices.

Asana and pranayama are forms of tapas (the 3rd niyama -which is translated literally “to burn”)–physical practices that are done for the purpose of purification.

Purification of body and mind by following the first 4 steps prepares the yogi practitioner for steps 5-8. Sitting in meditation becomes a less challenging task in order to be able to reach the ultimate goal of total contentment and complete present moment awareness.

As you can see… yoga is a greater ecosystem and has a deeper context that might meet the modern eye!

Enjoy your practice 🙂

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