The Eight Limbs of Yoga

 “What is being taught (in America today) under the name of Yoga is a minute part of this great tradition, a microscopic focus on the physical. Yoga in its completeness is a way of life that allows for total transformation. But the physical postures, or asanas, can serve as an introduction to this distinguished wisdom tradition. Asanas reintroduce us to our bodies. Once we become friends with the physical, going inward to the spiritual becomes easier. Yoga in its completeness is a way of life that allows for total transformation.”

  ~ Nischala Joy Devi, author of The Secret Power of Yoga

 

The application of yogic wisdom is found in eight facets of practice, (also known as Asthaanga Yoga (astha meaning eight and anga meaning limbs). The one that most people today are familiar with, as stated above, is “asana” or postures. However it is the interconnection of all eight that leads us to a place of inner peace and joy. It is said that through these eight limbs, intuitive wisdom dawns and we may realize our inner radiance.

These practices are described in the Yoga Sutras, the sacred texts which describe the nature of consciousness and the path to liberation. It is assumed that these were compiled by the sage Patanjali over 2500 years ago in India. They offer us myriad possibilities for improving our state of being.

There are many translations of the Yoga Sutras. One that I find most beautiful is  The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi, a venerated yogini that I had the blessing of sitting with in May, 2007. Her approach is full of joy, like her name, and compassion for the challenges we all face on the “path.” The reason I especially like this translation is it does not, as many do, lay out the first two limbs, (the Yamas and Niyamas) as commands, but rather as affirmations of our Divine beingness, and ways that we can honor our lives as such. What follows is a summary of Devi’s writings on the 8 limbs.

Coming from whatever religious background and experience you do, I hope that you can accept that when in Yoga, we speak of the “Divine” it means that which is greater than the small “self” – however you wish to name this – Source, Spirit, the Oneness, the Creative Force, Universal Consciousness, God. It doesn’t matter. The Yogic teachings offer us a non-sectarian path which we can travel to find freedom from suffering and reach a tangible realization of the Divine as Self.

 

The eight limbs of the Yogic path are…

 

Yama.  –   reflections of our true nature – qualities we must embrace to know Self
 
Niyama  –  evolution toward harmony – practices that align us with our highest nature
 
Asana  –  comfort and steadiness in our physical being
 
Pranayama  –  control of life force energy (prana)
 
Pratyahara  –  encouraging the senses to draw within
 
Dharana  – focusing of consciousness inward
 
Dhyana  –  meditation –  the continuous inward flow of consciousness
 
Samadhi  –  bliss, the union with Divine consciousness

 

© 2008 Jennie Lee reprints by permission