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What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

Ashtanga is known as the eight limbs of Yoga. They are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahar, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Read on as we discuss what these terms mean and how they influence the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.

Yama

Yama is the foundation for Ashtanga Yoga. It refers to your morals, ethics and beliefs, and how you behave in life. 

The key area of yamas in yoga is to behave with self restraint to be able to channel your energy for good use.

By remaining truthful to yourself and others around you and living life with honesty and integrity, you ensure your actions or words cause no harm to anyone or anything. 

Niyama

There are five Niyamas of Buddhism which represent the basic philosophy of yoga, or the right way of living.

Saucha

The first niyama Saucha, means purification or cleanliness. To look at this in a literal sense, saucha means to keep a clean body, mind and environment in which you live.

To delve a little deeper, the meaning of saucha is to live without excess and to behave in a manner which affirms purity through diet, lifestyle and actions.

Santosha

The second niyama Santosha, translates as contentment. This is often a huge psychological struggle for some people, who are never happy just as they are.

In the practice of Santosha in yoga, you are encouraged to look at what you have in your life now, how far you have come or what you have achieved and be content with those achievements.

It doesn’t mean you can’t continue to set goals to learn, achieve and grow, but rather than using negative thought patterns such as “I’ll be happy when…” reflect on the great things you have in your life now, and be content with that. 

Tapas

The third niyama Tapas, refers to self discipline or austerity. This can be adopted in every area of your life, but if you find this overwhelming, break it down into small pieces.

For some, self discipline might mean holding that yoga pose a few more seconds, for others, simply making the time to practice yoga, meditation or mindfulness on a daily basis.

In a holistic view, tapas is about taking small steps each day to achieve your overall goal.

Svadhyaya

The fourth niyama Svadhyaya is the study of ones self. This is the time to reflect upon ones actions, both on the yoga mat and off.

During your asana yoga poses, think about how the position of your body makes you feel, the rise and fall of your breath and the control you have over your body.

Don’t let your mind wander off thinking about the long list of other things you have to do, focus on yourself and your yoga practice and embrace the emotions that may arise for the good. 

Ishvara Pranidhana

The fifth niyama Ishvara Pranidhana translates to self surrender. This is not to be confused with losing, or being without power, but having belief in the universe and letting go in the spiritual sense.

What in  your life might you believe has power over you? Food, alcohol? Trashy tv programs? To self surrender in the spiritual sense is to let go of the things that you believe have power over you. You will soon find they were an illusion after all. 

Asana

Asana is the Sanskrit name for yoga poses and positions. In Yoga, one’s mind must be coordinated with the body’s movement. In this manner, the body experiences a harmonious activity that results to a forcible and healthy life.

Some of the types of asanas are standing, sitting, twisting, lying and balancing. These positions are made to achieve alignment and balance as well as improve strength both in the body and in mind.

The beauty of yoga is you can vary your position and the time you hold your pose, based on your flexibility, age and strength.

Some of the basic poses or yoga asanas are downward facing dog, child’s pose, tree pose and mountain pose. I’ll cover yoga poses for menopause in another post. 

Pranayama

Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling ones breath. It is not always as easy as it sounds!

In yoga, breathing techniques are simultaneous and synchronized with movement of the yoga pose. Most of us find ourselves forgetting to breath and holding our breath as we try to hold a yoga pose.

It is important to use one single breath for one movement. After you’ve mastered pranayama, you can begin to apply a prolonged technique of holding your pose and your breath.

This is an amazing breathing exercise that will increase your internal fire and strengthen your nervous system.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is often described as a turtle retreating back into its shell.

Whilst the turtle isn’t really hiding, it is simply blocking out any negative stimuli in the outside world and being one with itself.

When was the last time you did this?

In a world when our phones are with us each and every moment, we are bombarded with notifications, social media and awful reality television, we never really switch off.

Pratyahara or as translated, withdrawal of the senses, is about giving your senses a break from the constant overload of the busy world we live in and choosing to filter our external stimuli to create peace within yourself. 

Dharana

Quite simply put – concentrate! Dharama is about learning to focus on one single direction at a time so you can channel your energy in that direction.

In today’s busy world our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

By practicing Dharama, we are learning to block out external stimuli, calm our thoughts and focus within.

Dharama is closely linked to Dhyana, the art of meditation.

Dhyana

Dhayama is the practice of quiet contemplation, concentration and ultimately, meditation.

Stilling your mind to draw from within your body and giving your body the opportunity to merge with the thought within your mind.

Dhayama takes practice but can be achieved. Practice daily in small increments as part of your yoga routine and experience the benefits of yoga and meditation. 

Samadhi

Often referred to as the state of Samadhi, this is the ultimate goal of combining yoga and meditation to achieve equal states of consciousness between yourself, your object of meditation and the universe itself. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my take on the eight limbs of yoga.

I’ve created this infographic below also. Feel free to save to your Pinterest account, print it out and put it on your wall or come back to this page to visit anytime.

8 limbs of yoga infographic

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