Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means "eight limbs" (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one's health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.  Each limb relates to an aspect of achieving a healthy and fulfilling life, and each builds upon the one before it. You may be surprised to hear that only one of the limbs involves the performance of yoga postures.

1. yama (moral restraints) – how we relate to others

2. niyama (observances) – how we relate to ourselves

3. āsana (posture) – how we relate to our body

4. prāṇāyāma (breath extension) – how we relate to our breath or spirit

5. pratyāhāra (sensory withdrawal) – how we relate to our sense organs

6. dhāraṇā (concentration) – how we relate to our mind

7. dhyāna (meditation) – moving beyond the mind

8. samādhi (meditative absorption) – deep realization and inner union

Each of these limbs, known as ashtanga in Sanskrit, helps us shift our internal reference point from constricted to expanded consciousness. As we move from local to non-local awareness, our internal reference point spontaneously transforms from ego to spirit, which enables us to see the bigger picture when facing any challenge.

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