In Sri Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he describes 8 limbs or principles of Raja Yoga, which lead to greater self-awareness. The more I learned about the 8 limbs and reflected on my life, the more I saw each as part of a daily practice of refinement rather than specific goals to achieve. I did not see a linear ladder composed of 8 steps that each needed to be attempted and completed in a chronological progression. Instead, similar to a tree, the limbs are growing and progressing at different speeds, either simultaneously or independently, and all are playing an important part of the tree’s development throughout its lifetime. Each limb, at whatever stage of its growth, adds to the balance of the entire tree. The 8 limbs described by Patanjali serve as guidelines to help us navigate through our life mindfully.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga:
Yama – the practice of committing our energy to create positive relationships with those around us, with our environment and also to create a positive relationship with ourselves. *
Niyama – the practice of committing and disciplining ourselves to lead a life of mindfulness. We are also encouraged to open our heart to what exists past our personal experience. *
*Please see An Introduction to the Yamas and Niyamas
Asana – the practice of physical postures of yoga. The diverse postures and movements of yoga can prepare us to maintain composure, focus, and to remain disciplined through the diverse challenges we are faced with in life. Our bodies are a means to connect to our mind and spirit.
Pranayama – the practice of connecting to our breath; connecting to our life force (prana). Practicing mastery over and using the breath to affect our body and our mind.
Pratyahara – the practice of consciously and intentionally guiding our focus away from external stimulus and towards inner stillness.
Dharana – the practice of quieting the mind. Guiding the mind away from internal distraction or ‘mind chatter’ (chitta vitta) and into silent focus.
Dhyana - the practice of remaining focused and centered on your inner stillness. The uninterrupted flow of a quiet mind.
Samadhi – the practice of connecting with the divine, understanding and accepting the interconnectedness with all living things. Opening your heart to peace and sincere contentment.
Again, rather than approach the limbs in a sequential order, remember that there are days when one may feel more accomplished in one area than another, and this is the true essence of life. Life is truly a practice where we are offered the opportunity to experience continual growth and development.