How To Live By The 8 Limbs Of Yoga – An Intro To Ancient Yogic Principles

Understand How To Practice The 8 Limbs Of Yoga To Enrich Your Overall Life

In the modern world, the term yoga is most commonly defined by the physical movement practice that we all love so much, the stretching and strengthening of our bodies. When the word yoga is said or heard it is likely presumed to be said or heard in relation to “doing yoga” or going to a yoga class. But did you know that there is actually more to yoga than that?! Understanding how to practice and live by the 8 limbs of yoga will help you to incorporate all aspects of yoga into your life.

The asana practice, or the act of practicing or doing yoga poses is only one of eight different components that define the yoga practice according to ancient Indian texts written by the Sage Patanjali. In other words, yoga is not just about fitness and the physical body, it encompasses much more. Think of it as yoga being a more broad concept than perhaps you may have first thought! 

Let’s take a look at how to practice the 8 limbs of yoga and deconstruct these facets to discover other concepts that are involved in a yoga practice, beyond what happens on the mat. We’ll be going back in time to do this, as the 8 limbs of yoga are ancient Sanskrit texts dating back centuries.

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What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

The 8 limbs of yoga can be summarized as mind-body disciplines to be mastered, or ways that we can enrich our practice and cultivate a good life. Means, methods, and tools that we can use to get to know ourselves better and empower ourselves to live our best lives.

Where did the 8 limbs of yoga come from?

The 8 limbs of yoga are part of ancient texts (called sutras) written by an Indian sage called Patanjali. The collection of the 195 texts is collectively called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These texts have been translated and interpreted from the original Sanskrit language in which they were written by numerous people. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are foundational philosophies to learn and study in modern-day yoga schools and yoga teacher trainings.

Patanjali infused his own theories about yoga into the proverbs, and he also passed along the teachings he had studied from sages before him. Despite the fact that there are 195 different sutras, the 8 limbs of yoga are the most popularly referenced texts from the compilation.

What is the purpose of the 8 limbs of yoga?

To put it simply, the purpose of the 8 limbs of yoga is to empower and encourage all people to live lives rooted in kindness and morality to themselves and other beings. According to Ekhart Yoga, the basic intention behind the 8 limbs of yoga is to serve as a guide to living a meaningful and purposeful life.

The 8 limbs of yoga in order

1. Yamas – these are a form of moral rules or goals. The Yamas are ways of being that serve as guidance on how to interact with the world more wholesomely. The Yamas are considered the “don’ts in life”, negative habits or concepts that a person should not participate in.

There are 5 Yamas:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (not stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (conservation/directive of energy)
  • Aparigraha (non possessiveness)

2. Niyamas – the Niyamas relate more to how we interact with ourselves, the divine, and how we care for ourselves. By caring for oneself, virtuously, and by keeping the following principles in mind, a person can come to a better understanding of themself and develop a greater love for themself.

There are 5 Niyamas:

  • Saucha (cleanliness)
  • Santosha (contentment)
  • Tapas (discipline)
  • Svadhyaya (self-study and spiritual study)
  • Isvara pranidhana (reflection on a higher power)

3. Asana – the third limb of yoga is what most people think of when they hear the word yoga. This is the part of yoga that involves practicing yoga postures. In Patanjali’s texts, the yoga poses themselves are in no way defined. In other words, any and all yoga postures that you may be familiar with (or not) are considered asanas. The asana component to the 8 limbs of yoga is the physical yoga practice that people participate in online yoga classes or in yoga studio classes.

4. Pranayama – Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga and the component of yoga that involves breathing techniques also referred to as breath control. In the Sanskrit language, prana means vital life-force and yama means to gain control, so Pranayama is essentially gaining control of your breath. There are multiple styles of Pranayama breathing that yoga teachers incorporate into their classes.

5. Pratyahara – Pratyahara relates to being present with the senses and living in the moment. This could be living in the moment with smells, sounds, breath, tastes, feelings, etc. It is to focus on something while blocking out other external stimuli. By doing so, a person can clear out the noise to achieve more self-realization without distraction.

6. Dharana – This area of study pertains to focus and concentration. It is one of the main components of the idea of meditation. This is a discipline practice of the mind – to solely turn your focus to one thing, or even one person.

7. Dhyana – This is a state of being absorbed in meditation, being one with meditation. Dhyana could be thought of as mindfulness, stillness, and detachment of all other things during the present moment of meditation.

8. Samadhi – The eighth limb of yoga is to be in bliss of what is, uninfluenced by our mind’s feelings, thoughts, or biases about the situation. It is to be in a state of acceptance and contentment.

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Heather is the visionary behind The Yogatique - her passion project. Heather is CYT-200 (with Aligned Yoga), a practicing yogi of more than 15 years, a global citizen, a life optimizer, and a lifelong learner. She created The Yogatique to assist yogis in finding premium online yoga teacher trainings & classes that are affordable and accessible to all.

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