What are Patanjali’s Eight Limbs?

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, he defines eight limbs or the eightfold path called ashtanga. These eight steps serve as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.  They are defined as follows:

  1. Yama.   This principle defines our moral actions or interactions with others. Primarily broken down into five characteristics that tell us about our fundamental nature. This includes our ability to be compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.
  2. Niyama.  This principle defines the moral actions or interactions with one’s self.  The Niyamas are more than an attitude or theory.   These directives include principles on internal and external purity, contentment, and self-surrender to God, just to name a few.
  3. Asanas.  This is the practice of physical postures and is what is most commonly known about yoga. These postures, like downward facing dog or mountain pose, help to improve overall health, strength, balance and flexibility. On a deeper level, the practice of asana, refers to calming of the mind and moving into the inner essence of being.
  4. Pranayama.  This is the measuring, control, and directing of one’s breath. It can provide perfect relaxation and balance of body activities when realized.
  5. Pratyahara.   This term implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. It is most commonly known for sensory inhibition.
  6. Dharana.  The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. The mind needs to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption.
  7. Dhyana. This focuses on Meditation. It means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation that involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it.
  8. Samadhi.  The final step in eight-fold path of Yoga. Samadhi means to bring together or to merge. Here the body and senses are at rest, but the mind is alert.

Clearly the art of yoga is more than a popular exercise outlet.  And while the physical benefits of yoga offer tangible results, the spiritual and psychological realization of self are key contributors to achieving ultimate personal enlightenment.

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