8 Limbs of Yoga

An introduction to the 8 limbs of yoga from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a potentially ancient yogic text oft referenced in contemporary western yoga that outlines some of the philosophy, psychology and practices of yoga. The exact origin are of some question yet the teachings can be useful nonetheless.
The 8 limbs, or Ashtanga, are the path, the method, or what to do, to access yoga – simply put, the state of being in balance, or perhaps, to live in harmony. Sutra means to sew, or stitch together complex ideas into concise, easy to remember statements, so that we may practice these principles in all our affairs…
It is customary to have commentary on the sutras to delve into their deeper meanings, and there has been, and still can be, much said on these few words. What follows is my attempt at a simple distillation to introduce these guidelines.
Remember, they are ideals to work towards, not harsh standards to judge ourselves by.
Each limb leads into the next and they all co-arise simultaneously.
        yamas – guidelines or principles for how you treat yourself and others. Yama means death, or restraint. The yamas are the end of certain behaviors that keep us disconnected.
ahimsa – non-violence, with the connotation of helping rather than hurting
satya – truthfulness – giving up dishonesty
asteya – non-stealing
aparigraha – non-hording – sharing, not holding on to more than you need
brahmacharya – respect in every act and interaction, giving up selfish behavior. This is oft translated as celibacy yet not confined to this.
2.     niyamas– guidelines for how you approach your life and your work
saucha – purity, purification,        cleanliness
santosha – contentment, implying an acceptance of where you are so you can work from there, rather than resenting your circumstance and fighting it
tapas – intensity, devotion to your work, to your practice
swadhyaya – self study, getting to know yourself so you can work from where you are
ishwara pranidhana – selflessness, working for the benefit of all and not just yourself, offering the fruits of your actions
3.     asana – mindful physical practice, usually yoga postures. A laboratory to experience yourself, aware of what you are doing while you are doing it. Literally your seat, to help you sit still in meditation longer, as well as to stabilize your connection with the physical world. Fine-tuning the physical body, making you more grounded and effortless in your actions.
4       pranayama – means both breath control and energy stabilization. Breathing exercises that focus the mind and regulate your physical energy.
5.      pratyahara – turning your awareness inward, away from external sensory distractions. Eventually – harnessing your senses as the tools with which you interact with the world around you, rather than you being controlled by your senses. Regulation of reactionaryness. Impulse control. Peace in the face of circumstance.
6.     dharana – concentration, focusing the mind
7.     dhyana – meditation, when you stop having to bring your mind present and you just are present, clear undistracted awareness, even if briefly. The concentration of dharana leads to the meditative state of dhyana, which leads to…
8      samadhi – absorption in the moment, spontaneous presence, direct felt experience of interconnectedness, awakening.

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