Yoga and philosophy
Yoga originated in India and has been in existence for over 5000 years. Many tend to see yoga as a purely physical exercise. However, yoga traditionally refers to a practice involving the union of the mind, body and spirit. A foundational text of yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, reveals this by describing eight limbs of the yogic lifestyle.
Patanjali developed a style known today as Raja yoga and he is commonly referred to as the Father of Yoga. Although yoga has experienced many developments and evolutions in style and form, most schools of yoga still maintain the essential principles as taught by Patanjali thousands of years ago.
The eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga
The eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga as taught by Patanjali are known as Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. When practised together, the limbs offer a complete yogic experience that unites the mind, body and soul.
The first limb, Yama refers to five abstentions for self control. These act as principles or guidelines for conducting oneself in everyday life. They include Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (non-lying), Asteya (non-covetousness), Brahmacharya (non-sensuality) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
Niyama offers five observances. Together, Yama and Niyama act as guidelines for helping us relate to the external world. Niyama consists of a range of spiritual observances including the cleanliness of body and mind, contentment or satisfaction with what one has, austerity, study of the self and surrender to or worship of God.
Asanas, or physical postures, are the best-known principle of yoga. The Asanas emphasise alignment and posture and, with regular practice, can assist in increasing strength and flexibility, stablising weight, eliminating toxins from the body and contributing to an overall state of wellbeing. Asanas also work to prepare the body so the mind can peacefully practise meditation.
Pranayama refers to the control of breath and breathing exercises. Practising Pranayama can help you reach new levels of self-awareness and meditation. The deep breathing involved in Pranayama also opens up the chest and re-oxygenates the blood.
This limb refers to the withdrawal of senses. This prepares the body and mind for meditation through disassociation with external objects.
Dharana, along with Pranayama and Pratyaha, allow one to go into a deeper state. Pantanjali refers to Dharana as strong intention or concentration and steadying the mind.
Dhyana refers to meditation. Dhyana is an invaluable tool as it helps achieve deep relaxation and stress relief.
This final limb refers to profound contemplation. Yogic breathing, withdrawal of the senses, strong intention and meditation all work towards achieving Samadhi, which can be likened to a state of enlightenment.
The Yoga Lifestyle
The eight limbs not only cover postures, breathing exercises and meditation but also reinforce the view that yoga is a discipline or way of life with principles for conduct and reaching deeper self-knowledge. Practising the eight limbs of yoga works to unite the mind, body and spirit and provide countless benefits for overall health and wellbeing.