Not to be confused with the Ashtanga style of yoga taught in studios, Ashtanga or the Eight Limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali are eight different aspects of yoga, including Hatha Yoga.
Each limb is seperate from the other but together they form the path of complete yoga.
The Eight Limbs:
1. Yama (Universal Values)
The five yama are nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), non- possessiveness (aparigraha) and restraint (brahmacharya).
These universal laws are essential for promoting harmony and peace in the world. Before we can become yogis we must first practice being good humans.
2.Niyama (Personal Discipline)
The five niyama are purity (sauch), contentment (santosh), austerity(tapas), study of one’s own self (swadhyaya) and surrender to the Divine (ishwara pranidhana). This is mental and physical discipline necessary to walk the path of yoga.
3. Asana (Postures)
According to Patanjali’s sutras, ‘Postures bring about stability of the body and poise of mind.’ Asanas strengthen and tone the physical body to prepare it for further yoga which is meditation.
4. Pranayama (Breath Control)
Pranayama is a set of breathing exercises which work on the energy body by relaxing the nervous system and balancing the energies.
5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal and Control of the Senses)
Withdrawal of senses from objects of desire is the link between the first four limbs and the last three. Having established ourselves firmly on the path of yoga by practising the yamas, niyamas, asanas and pranayama can we now turn our attention inward to find calm and quiet. As Patanjali says, yoga is chitta vritti nirodha, the cessation of thought.
6. Dharana (Concentration)
Once the mind is quiet we can hold it in single pointed focus. As the mind remains longer and longer in the state of concentration, the thought patterns begin to fall away like the sky clearing up when the clouds disappear.
7. Dhyana (Meditation)
Uninterrupted periods of concentration lead naturally to a state of meditation where not only the thoughts but the mind too falls away. The mind, body and breath merge into a single state of being.
8. Samadhi (Self-realisation)
This is the culmination of yogic practice. When the observer and that which is being observed becomes one. When the ‘I’ falls away and the individual consciousness merges with the cosmic consciousness. The true experience of Oneness and Bliss.
Patanjali says, ‘The study of the eight limbs of yoga leads to the purification of the body, the mind, and the intellect; the flame of knowledge is kept burning and teh discrimination is aroused.’