The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an ancient Hindu text of yoga philosophy and practice. Within the Sutras, Patanjali examines Ashtanga Yoga, or the Eightlimbed Yoga (ashta translates to eight, and anga to limb). The eight limbs of yoga are an ethical framework for a yoga practice that becomes much more than just a physical endeavor, bringing together body, mind, and spirit. Each of the limbs builds towards the next, together creating a holistic approach to life through yoga. The first limb of yoga are the Yamas, five universal principles focusing on our outward behaviors and integrity towards others. The five yamas (the same as the five vows of Jainism) are also called the abstentions:
Ahimsa: Nonviolence. Inflicting no harm on others or yourself through thought or action.
Satya: Truthfulness. Honesty in all that you do, say, and think.
Asteya: Non stealing. Not taking that which is not your own, extending beyond physical objects to things such as attention, relationships, and responsibility.
Brahmacharya: Non lust, or abstinence. Many view this not as a call to celibacy, but to refrain from meaningless sexual encounters.
Aparigraha: Non-covetousness, or non-possessiveness. Not desiring what does not belong to you, or what you do not need. Freeing yourself from material greed and the need to be the center of the attention.
Shaucha: Purity and cleanliness. This coms from practicing the five yamas, which clear away physical and mental negativity. It is also essential to be fastidious about keeping your body, clothing, and surroundings clean and consuming only fresh, healthy food and drink.
Santosha: Contentment. Finding tranquility by accepting and being happy with what you have and where you are. Learning to live in the moment and grow from there.
Tapas: Austerity. Self-discipline of body, speech, and thought. The purpose of self-discipline is not simply to develop ascetic control, but to strengthen the body and mind for higher spiritual purposes.
Svadhyaya: Education and learning. Study of the sacred Vedic texts, or whatever teachings and books that are relevant to your spiritual growth, in order to become more aware and mindful of our connection to the divine.
Isvara pranidhana: Surrender to the divine. Living in constant awareness and worship of whatever higher power or divinity you believe in.
The third, fourth, and fifth limbs focus on external, or physical aids to yoga practice:
Asana: Asanas are the physical postures most commonly associated with the practice of yoga in western cultures. In true yogic philosophy, however, the asanas provide the physical discipline, energy, and concentration necessary to prepare the body for long and focused meditation.
Pranayama: Prana is the the universal life force that flows through us as breath. Pranayama are focused breathing exercises with a basic rhythm of inhalation, retention, and exhalation. Pranayama strengthen the connection between breath (body), mind, and emotion, which builds the concentration necessary for meditation.
Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses. Removing sensory awareness from world around us through asanas, pranayama, and meditation. Pratyahara allows us to detach from our senses and examine ourselves without distraction.
The sixth, seventh, and eighth limbs are internal aids to yoga, and achieving divine awareness.
Dharana: Concentration. The final step in preparing for meditation is through developing and sustaining intense, concentrated focus on one physical point or object. Practicing asanas, pranayama, and pratyahara, prepare you to free your mind from superfluous thought and distraction and develop uninterrupted concentration.
Dhyana: The act of concentrated and undisturbed meditation. When concentration moves into meditation the mind is no longer aware of distractions and can achieve a stillness and awareness without thought. When practiced and achieved, the tranquility experienced in Dhyana will translate into other, everyday parts of your life as well.
Samadhi: Transcendence through oneness with the divine object of meditation.
This ultimate goal of the eight limbs of yoga brings you into a higher consciousness and awareness of one’s connection with the universe and the divine. Samadhi is enlightenment, ecstasy, bliss.