Introduction to the 8 Limbed Path & Meanings
In this blog, we will try to keep it as simple as possible as we discuss the Eight-Limbed path as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as they are the foundation of how Hatha Yoga is being practiced today.
According to Patanjali’s system, yoga is based on 8 spiritual practices:
Yama – universal ethical principles
Abstaining from harming others through wrongdoing, including non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, not wasting our energy, abstention from greed or hoarding.
Niyama – rules of personal conduct
Principles for our own daily lives, including purity or cleanliness, contentment, discipline, study, devotion
Asana – the practice of asanas
Seat or posture, yoga poses.
Pranayama – the practice of yoga breathing techniques
Mastering and enlivening the life force.
Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
Dharana – a willing concentration of the mind on one object
Focused attention, one pointed concentration.
Dhyana – meditation
Meditation, continuous flow, a natural state where the mind becomes stable on one object without any effort.
Samadhi – Spiritual absorption
Freedom, liberation, enlightenment.
These two first limbs are the very foundations and important limbs of Yoga and the whole practice, remember it is far beyond the asanas.Let's take a look how these can help you in your daily life, your relationship with yourself, others, and as a yoga practitioner or teacher.
Yama is your attitude towards others and the world around you. There are 5 Yamas:
Non-violence. This Yama does not only mean not doing harm to others in action, but thought and speech equally. Also it is not limited to non-violence against other human beings, but practicing kindness to other creatures (animals) as well as yourself.
Truthfulness. Satya is the Yama that is about living a truthful life without doing harm to others. Therefore, think before you speak and consider the consequences of your actions. If the truth could harm others, it might be better to keep silent. Also, it would entail living your own truth and not merely pleasing others throughout your life.
Non-stealing. Non-stealing here not only refers to material objects but also the stealing of others thoughts, ideas or other possessions.
Non-lust. Bramacharya means divine routine, to move toward the essential truth. Historically, it was (and sometimes still is) translated as self-control and abstinence regarding sexual activity. However, at the same time it is known that many yogis had families and children. Thus it might be interpreted as moderation regarding giving in to our excessive desires.
Non-possessiveness. This Yama is about living a life free from greed. It teaches us only to take what is necessary and not to take advantage of others.
Niyama is how you treat yourself or your attitude towards yourself. The following are the five Niyamas:
Cleanliness. This Niyama is concerned with inner and outer cleanliness. The practice of pranayamas, asanas, kriyas, and meditation are necessary to achieve inner cleanliness, of the body and mind. Also remain aware of outer cleanliness like the space you live in, the surroundings, and actually the whole of the environment.
Contentment. Santosha refers to practicing humility, modesty and being at peace with what you have and who you are.
Austerity. This Niyama teaches us to keep the body in good condition. Tapas is practiced through disciplining the body, speech, and mind like eating only when hungry and maintaining a good posture. Also, it is translated often as perseverance, not giving up too easily, especially on the spiritual path.
Study of the sacred text and of one’s self. This involves studying yourself and therefore anything that can help you on that path.
Living with an awareness of the Divine. This Niyama encourages us to let go of our false sense of the Self and control and to always be aware of a higher sense of consciousness that which gives us the sense of wholeness.
These are great foundational principles to read and read again, truly absorb and think carefully about how you can bring these into balance in your own body, mind and soul. In our next blog, we will get into more depth on these areas and what they mean for our practice!