The 8 Limbs of Yoga - Patanjali
As we welcome the colder, darker days we leave our spontaneous summer self, and fall back into a familiar way of living. We get back to schedules, studies, to do lists, dreams, plans, purposes and so on. What are you getting back to this autumn? If you seek a new purpose, hobby, or something to get you through the winter months, a yogic lifestyle is a wonderful way to refocus, refresh, rejuvenate and transition into the less light, colder nights.
Yoga, (yuj) means to ‘unite’, the mind, body and soul to ignite a deeper connection within ourselves, and the world around us. We usually arrive to our mat feeling flustered and overwhelmed and somehow leave feeling calm, energised. So how do we maintain this level of connection throughout the day even after class and in-between practices? Philosopher Patanjali, teaches us how to live a yogic lifestyle by following these 8 steps in our every day life. I first learnt about Patanjali whilst I was in India on my teacher training course, the more I learnt about this yoga philosophy, the more sense life started to make. The 8 Limbs of Yoga can translate into 8 steps to a peaceful life, enlightenment, bliss, higher consciousness, or however you like to see it. Us Westerners can follow these steps in the pursuit of a leading a healthier, happier and more fulfilled life.
Step 1. Yamas / Social Ethics - Your vows, views, and morals. The first thing you can look at is how you show up in society and interact with the world around you, by practising the following:
Ahimsa - Kindness.
Satya - Truthfullness.
Asteya - Non- stealing.
Brahmacharya - Living within moderation.
Aparigraha - Practising Non-attachment
Step 2. Nyamas / Personal Ethics - Sometimes you cannot rely on motivation, so step 2 is the discipline of the self, and making sure you practice self care:
Saucha - Cleanliness
Santosha - Finding contentment
Tapas - Self discipline
Svadhyaya - Self study and self realisation - working on the self
Isvaraprandhana - Surrendering to what is
Step 3. Asana / Movement
Asana is the physical part of yoga, moving and creating space in the physical body, freeing the physical body of stagnant energy and blockages. Releasing a range of feel good endorphins, and hormones such as serotonin. Through holding postures, we develop the ability to concentrate, and gain self discipline. Both of which are necessary for meditation.
Step 4. Pranayama / Breathing Techniques
Prana (breath) is also known as the life force energy. When we breathe properly, we release 70% of toxins from the body, we naturally release stress, and tension from both mind and body, relieving us of brain fog, chronic pain, fatigue, gut disregulation and imbalances in the nervous system.
Step 5. Pratyahara / Sense Withdrawal
With the awareness built from movement + breath connection we can start to observe our cravings, urges, needs and wants, and switch off from them. This includes external distractions that do us no good, such as negative or unnecessary doubtful thoughts and limiting beliefs.
Step 6. Dharna / Concentration
Concentrating is something some of us often struggle with. Now, having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, we learn how to focus our attention on one single point, slowing down and decreasing the amount of thoughts, increasing our meditative state.
Step 7. Dhyana / Meditation
To be in a true mediative state, you are to witness all that is going on inside, and outside without any reaction, judgment, attachment or comment. The mind is quiet, and produces few or no thoughts at all. While this may seem like a difficult, if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a work-in and is a process, and through consistency, concentration and control of the senses, one day, dhyana may just happen.
Step 8. Samadhi - Enlightenment
You’ve let go of all you can’t control, and things don’t bother you like they used to, you know the depths of your worth and prioritise yourself. The meditator comes to realise they’re connected to their body, their mind, and their soul, they and you are connected, you and me are connected, and we and the world are connected, we are all one.
These steps teach us to live mindfully, be present, enjoy moments of joy and witness the moments of stress. For further reading on the 8 Limbs, you can delve deep into Patanjalis most traditional text ‘Yoga Sutras’ and go back as many times as you like!