The Eight Limbs Of Yoga
Yoga is not just about physical postures - it has a whole philosophy that goes along with it. The following is a rundown of the eight limbs of Yoga.
A QUICK SUMMARY OF THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA:
Limb 1: YAMA, the five universal ethics for living in harmony with the world:
Limb 2: NIYAMA, the five personal disciplines of body and mind:
Limb 3: ASANA, the physical poses.
Limb 4: PRANAYAMA, breathing exercises.
Limb 5: PRATYAHARA, withdrawal of the senses.
Limb 6: DHARANA, concentration.
Limb 7: DHYANA, meditation.
Limb 8: SAMADHI, the settled mind.
A MORE DETAILED EXPLANATION OF THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA:
Limb 1: YAMA
Yama means 'restraint' or 'control', and this limb of Yoga is about our relationship with the world. According to Yoga philosophy, these are the laws of life - the five universal ethics for living in harmony with the world. They are:
Ahimsa is non-violence towards ALL living beings. That includes both human and non-human beings, so being vegan (and that's living vegan, NOT eating vegetarian) is essential to living a truly non-violent life.
To read more on non-violence towards all living beings, you can click on this link: Animals, and following are some pertinent quotations on the subject from the Yoga Shastra:
There is one exception to this first and most important precept of non-violence, and that is self-defence. Ahimsa means that in our everyday lives under everyday circumstances we should practice non-violence towards all living beings. What ahimsa does NOT mean is that we should placidly allow someone else to beat us to a pulp, or that we shouldn't call the police if we're the victim of violence. So you could say that ahimsa means: non-violence towards all other beings, except in situations that call for self-defence.
Satya is truthfulness in thought, word, and action, to both others and to oneself. The following is from a photo of some graffiti which summarises the notion of truthfulness nicely:
However, while in almost all situations the truth is best, there are
some situations where telling the truth is unwise. Below are two
So you can see that certain situations are an exception to the rule. However, the overarching idea is to be truthful to oneself and others.
Asteya is non-stealing, or not taking what's not willingly given. This is not just about not robbing banks and not mugging people in the street - although it is about those things too. It also includes giving back borrowed items (including money) and being mindful of people's time (eg. not being late, and asking if it's a good time to talk on the phone before launching into a conversation).
Asteya also extends to non-human beings, as is summarised nicely in the following poem by Al-Ma’arri (973 to 1057):
Brahmacharya is positive sexual conduct. The following from Yoga With Amey Mathews gives an explanation of brahmacharya:
Aparigraha is non-grasping. That is, not desiring more than what's needed, and letting go of what no longer serves us.
To put aparigraha into action, identify something that you can let go of in your life to make room for the future. It can be clothes that you never wear, unhelpful negative thoughts, meaningless relationships, detrimental emotional patterns, baggage from the past - anything that can potentially be released.
And while considering this, keep in mind what Mildred Lisette Norman (aka Peace Pilgrim) said:
Limb 2: NIYAMA
Niyama means 'observances', and this limb of Yoga is about our relationship with ourselves. These five personal disciplines of body and mind are, according to Yoga philosophy, the rules for living soulfully. They are:
Saucha means cleanliness, and refers to purity of the physical, mental, and emotional.
Start from the outside by keeping your physical surroundings neat and clean.
Next, the physical body: look after it, wash it regularly, and purifying it through asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). Keep the body clean by not ingesting poisons such as drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, or consuming disease-producing animal-based products such as meat, dairy, and eggs.
Next, go inward to cleanse mentally. Purify the mind by avoiding getting bogged down by negative thinking. Regularly clear the mind of of its relentless stream of thoughts through one-pointed concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana).
And finally emotional cleanliness. You can purify yourself on this level by keeping your conscience clear. Practice pure action - that is, acting in a way that will not hurt others. Pure action includes ahimsa (non-violence) towards all beings, both human and non-human; asteya (non-stealing), both actually and energetically; and bramacharya (positive sexual conduct). Pure action also includes pure speech, and that means satya (truthfulness).
Santosha is contentment - not to be confused with happiness or complacency.
The following quotation by Donna Farhi from her book Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit is a very clear explanation of this often-misunderstood aspect of Yoga philosophy:
Confucius put santosha very succinctly when he said:
Tapas is self-discipline, but can also be described in many other ways: zeal, fire in the belly, burning desire, motivation, dedication. No matter what term is used, tapas is all about hard work: doing what needs to be done by overcoming distractions and keeping your eye on the goal.
It’s easy to ride the wave of enthusiasm when something is new, but once the novelty wears off what keeps you going is self-discipline or tapas. Tapas propels you into action at work and at home when you’re dragging your feet and making excuses to avoid doing a task. Tapas also gets you to Yoga class even when you’re exhausted and it’s cold outside and other responsibilities await your attention.
Svadhyaya is self-study. Meditation is considered to be the primary method of svadhyaya because it’s the practice of watching the mind. Through svadhyaya we can live honestly, come to know ourselves better, and therefore able to refine and improve ourselves.
Ishvara pranidhana is about surrender. TKV Desikachar summed up ishvara pranidhana in the book Heart of Yoga like this:
So ishvara pranidhana is about not trying to control everything (after all, we can’t!). This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about the future or prepare - one would be foolish not to. But once plans are made it’s important to act with a sense of surrender so as to be open to what comes.
Limb 3: ASANA
Asana literally means 'seat' and refers to the physical postures of Yoga.
This limb of Yoga is the one most people are familiar with - to the point where many think that Yoga is all about asana and nothing else. But, as you can see, asana is only one aspect of Yoga.
The following two quotations from Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life explain a very important aspect of asana:
Asana practice also gives us the opportunity to observe our emotional and mental habits. Each pose we do can reveal a great deal about ourselves because we get to see how we respond emotionally and mentally to the difficulty each Yoga posture presents. Even in cases where we find a particular pose effortless, it’s still not easy to stay motionless for an extended period of time. So if we carefully watch our own responses to challenge, to ease, and to stillness we can learn a lot about who we are. And acting on the insights discovered through asana practice can immensely improve our lives.
Last, but not least, asana prepares the body for relaxation and meditation. The Yoga postures tire us out to help keep us still in relaxation, and they make us strong to help us sit in meditation for long periods without fatiguing. Also, by focussing on the breath during asana practice we prepare our minds to concentrate while in meditation.
Limb 4: PRANAYAMA
Prana means 'lifeforce', and yama means 'control'. Therefore pranayama means 'controlled lifeforce', and it refers to breathing exercises that are done as a part of Yoga practice.
Examples of different types of pranayama are:
Pranayama is practised in a seated position, and can be done on its own, before asana practice or afterwards.
NOTE: The next three limbs - pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana - go hand in hand. They're typically associated with relaxation (Savasana, or Corpse Pose) and meditation at the end of a Yoga class. However, they can be done on their own as part of a meditation practice.
Limb 5: PRATYAHARA
Pratyahara refers to the withdrawal of the senses - drawing yourself away from the world and turning inwards. The use of music and closing the eyes helps to foster pratyahara.
Limb 6: DHARANA
Dharana is concentration. It involves focussing the attention on one thing, rather than letting the mind wander about randomly. Doing this calms the mind. The focal point used can vary: for example, it can be the breath, a chant, or a mantra.
Limb 7: DHYANA
Dhyana is meditation, or the emptying of mind. The idea is that dhyana happens spontaneously when you practise pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and dharana (concentration).
Limb 8: SAMADHI
Samadhi refers to the settled mind, living completely in the moment, and being in union with all around you. It's the ultimate goal of Yoga, and what following Limbs 1 to 7 lead to.
SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!
Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance
It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.
Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.
Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.
Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.
Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.
If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.
All information and photos are copyright © Despina Rosales.