The 8 Limbs of Yoga

1) YAMA. The yoga journey begins with the five universal moral commandments, or true ethics:

(i) Ahimsa – not-harming, nonviolence

(ii) Satya – truthfulness

(iii) Asteya – non-stealing or misappropriating

(iv) Brahmacharya – sexual self-control

(v) Aparigraha – non-covetousness, modesty of life

We learn in this way to develop control over our actions in the external world.

2) NIYAMA. The journey continues with five steps of self-purification:

(i) Sauca – cleanliness

(ii) Santosa – contentment

(iii) Tapas – sustained practice

(iv) Svadhyaya – self-study

(v) Ishvara pranidhana – humble surrender to god (or the great spirit which is in everything)

These relate to our inner world and senses of perception and help us to develop self-discipline. These ethical precepts are always with us from the beginning to the end of the yoga journey, for the demonstration of one’s spiritual realization lies in none other than how one walks among and interacts with one’s fellow human beings.

3) ASANA. Maintains the strength and health of the body and opens the whole spectrum of yoga’s possibilities. One of the key purposes of asana is to enable us to develop the ability to comfortably maintain good posture whilst sitting for pranayama etc. Self-cultivation through asana is the broad gateway leading to the inner enclosures. We all possess some awareness of ethical behaviour, but in order to pursue yama and niyama at deeper levels we must cultivate the mind. We need contentment, tranquility, dispassion, and unselfishness, qualities that have to be earned. It is asana that teaches us the physiology of these virtues. When an asana is correctly performed the dualities between body and mind, mind and soul, have to vanish.

4) PRANAYAMA. Breath is the vehicle of consciousness. By its slow, measured observation and distribution we learn to still the mind and develop awareness.

5) PRATYAHARA. By drawing our senses of perception inward, we are able to experience the control, silence, and quietness of the mind. This ability to still and gently silence the mind is essential, not only for meditation and the inward journey but also so that the intuitive intelligence can function usefully and in a worthwhile manner in the external world.

6) DHARANA. True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness. Yoga is about how the Will, working with intelligence and the self-reflexive consciousness can free us from the inevitability of the wavering mind and outwardly directed senses.

7) DHYANA. Meditation, in its purest yogic sense, can only be achieved when physical and mental weaknesses have largely been eliminated. Often people think that sitting quietly is meditation. This is a common misunderstanding. Meditation is not something that can be taught, it must be directly experienced in one’s life.

8) SAMADHI. In samadhi, the individual self, merges with the divine self, with the universal spirit. Yogis realize that the divine is not more heavenward than inward and in this final quest of the soul, seekers become seers. In this way they experience the divine at the core of their being. Samadhi is an opportunity to encounter our imperishable Self before the transient vehicle of body disappears, as in the cycle of nature, it surely must.

Most of this hand-out is copied from:

Light on Life

The Tree of Yoga

Both books by B.K.S Iyengar and highly recommended.

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