To enter the eight limbs or state of Samadhi, a practitioner need perfect control of mind and body by crossing seven limbs of ashtanga yoga. It moves from outer to inner.

Patanjali was a yoga philosopher-cum-spiritual scientist. He simplified the complexity of yoga in his yoga sutras. He advocated that yoga can be incorporated in human life for connecting societies from different parts of the world. He defined yoga in his eight limbs theory comprising cleansing, discipline, physical movement, awareness, concentration & absorption. By turning his attention inward, a yoga practitioner reaches to the stage of meditation & divine ecstasy.

He authored 196 aphorisms (Sanskrit Yoga Sutras). Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word where ‘Ashta’ means eight and ‘Anga’ means limbs. He formulated refined ethics for the beginners to make him suitable to start his spiritual journey to the path of Self-realization. The first two limbs revolve around purity in body & thought. The higher limbs culminate in deep meditation & absorption of mind (Samadhi).

These are eight limbs of ashtanga yoga:

  • Yama : means non-violence
  • Niyama : signify self-discipline
  • Asanas : for physical stability
  • Pranayama : control of yogic breath (life force)
  • Pratyahara : controlling the five senses
  • Dharana : one-pointed concentration
  • Dhyana : purely meditation
  • Samadhi : connecting to higher consciousness

Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

“Ashta” means digit eight, and “anga” denote limb. Patanjali exhibited the eight limbs of yoga initiating from external yoga (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama & pratyahara), and culminating in inner yoga (dharana, dhyana & samadhi). It is a timeless yogic way to balance your spiritual and worldly life. It is a complete yogic science for mental, physical, emotional & spiritual growth. Swami Vivekanada considered this as another form of raj yoga (yoga of royalty). Eight-limbed paths of yoga contributes in discovering inner world.

1 – Yama (Pure Conduct)

Yama is the first limb of yoga course. Discipline is the key to success. There are some impurities in human which obstruct its path to higher goals of spirituality. By keeping strict vigil on your habits, you purify your feelings & emotions. By managing your daily routine, it becomes effortless to learn yoga in true sense. There are five do’s or yama or restraint which every yoga-seeker should avoid during the practice of ashtanga yoga. These are:

The five Yama (Pure Conduct) are:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence): Avoid violence of any type—mental, physical and emotional. When you become harmless creature, you advance on yogic path.
  • Sathya (truthfulness): Truth is the highest form of spirituality. Whatever is in your heart should come to your lips. Keep silence in critical situations.
  • Asteya (non-stealing): Be content whatever little you have. Never entertain the thought of possessing other valuables.
  • Brahmacharya (Controlled sexual life): Don’t try to cross the ethical boundaries of married life. Never see another woman as an object of pleasure.
  • Aparigrahya (non-possession): Life is ephemeral. Live in present and never accumulate objects for future use. Break the bond of all attachments.

2 – Niyam (Self-Discipline)

Niyam is the second limb of ashtanga yoga school. These are done for your own inner observation. It develops inner strength and enhances the clarity of thoughts. You can be the master or slave of your own body, thought and senses. By practice and regular obervation, you control your habits and develop noble virtues.

The five “niyam” (discipline) are:

  • Shoucha (Cleanliness): Purification of thought is shoucha. Inner purity enhances your clarity of thoughts and leads you to the noble path of yoga.
  • Santosha (Contentment): Be satisfied whatever little you have. Contentment is crucial wealth. A satisfied hermit is better than unsatisfied king.
  • Tapas (Self-discipline): Where there is a will, there is a way. Self-discipline in practice brings fruitful results and strengthens your focus and determination.
  • Svadhyaya (Self-study): Make a habit of self-analysis of your actions and thoughts. Study classical texts for sharp understanding of spirituality.
  • Ishvara Pranidhana (Total Surrender): Dissolve your ego & desires to the will of supreme consciousness and see how the life bloom to its fullest.

3 – Asana (Yogic Posture)

Asana means seat in Sanskrit. It is third limb of ashtanga yoga. These are connected with the breath. It is element of external yoga which focuses on sitting in any comfortable pose for an extended period. You can master any fundamental pose to mold your body fit for meditation. It starts with basic asana series to enhance mobility and strength in your muscles. The spiritual journey begins with “dhyana”, a seventh limb of yoga

These are basic steps to higher awareness with the right coordination of mind, body. Asana are basic for Hatha Yoga teachers training course. Mind energy can be sharpened by controlling the physical reactions inside our body. With the practice of asanas, you develop the habit of discipline. By alignment and adjustment while doing asana, you maintain the stability of body.

4 – Pranayam (Yogic Breathing)

Pranayama is the fourth of ashtanga yoga, and the last element of outer yoga. It is composed of two words—‘Prana’ which stands for subtle life force and ‘Yama’ mean control. It is more than a merely deep breathing control. Breath is the outer manifestation of your “prana” (life force). By yogic breathing, you control the life force and consequently control the body & mind.

Breath is the outer manifestation of your “prana”

5 – Pratayahara (Sense withdrawal)

Our five senses are fickle in nature and love to indulge in sense satisfaction. In outer world, you remained distracted due to sensory observation. For self-realization, you need complete pulling out of senses and focus on single focused goal of self-realization. Even a single sense, like perception of beautiful face in outer world is enough to create stumbling block in your ultimate goal. Control your senses to control your mind.

6 – Dharana (Perception of Object)

Attention and focus of mind for a longer period uninterruptedly leads to concentration. You have to concentrate single-pointedly. It helps in taming of your mind for the final stage of ashtanga yoga. It is the first element of inner yoga to connect with your consciousness.

Either, we are living in past or future. Seldom, we live in the present moment. It also created distraction to attain single-focus concentration. Like an aimless creature, we wonder here and there, with no fixed ultimate goal. Dharana is practiced before meditation for refining your concentration power. The single-focused concentration develops with regular practice.

7 – Dhyana (Meditation)

Meditation is one-pointed concentration for a prolonged period of time. There are various levels of meditation course, which can be passive & dynamic. The mind is stilled by non-activity of thought process in the passive type. In dynamic form, the mind is supplied with such divine thoughts that subconscious mind crosses all barriers to reach super-conscious state.

You elevate yourself from all the dimensions of mundane life. The purity of life reaches at its zenith. You go into the stage of out of body experience and know your true identity. You cultivate your relationship with self-illuminating light. You can experience more by undergoing yoga & meditation course.

Yoga connects you to higher consciousness

8 – Samadhi (Self-Absorption)

It is the peak of meditation. As you enter into this supreme state of awareness (Samadhi or absorption of mind), you lose your ego and false identity. There is union of your limited conscience with infinite conscience. You feel ecstasy and highest bliss as your conscience united with supreme conscience. It is the realization of Brahama (supreme soul), and is the union of Lord Shiva and Parvati. It all happens when kundalini reaches to sahasrara chakra after piercing all three knots. We get the oneness with the universal consciousness.

Written by : Yogi Simant

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