The Eightfold Path of the Yoga Sutras
Ashtanga, or the eight-step path to enlightenment, has a central place in the philosophy of yoga. It’s comprised of Eight Limbs of Yoga, each representing a different stage in accomplishing the ultimate interconnectedness with one’s self, as well as with all living things. Created by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, ashtanga remains an ideal of mindfulness and transcendence for every yogi to strive towards.
Here’s how to practice it one limb at a time.
Nonviolence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), nonstealing (Asteya), continence (Brahmacharya), and non-covetousness (Aparigraha) are the five Yamas that urge us to live our lives with integrity and to hold ourselves to the highest moral standards. Yama also teaches us to be kind and forgiving toward others.
The second limb, Niyama, is fivefold as well, imparting the importance of self-discipline through cleanliness (Saucha), contentment (Samtosa), spiritual austerities (Tapas), the study of sacred scriptures and one’s inner self (Svadhyaya), and surrender to the almighty God (Isvara Pranidhana). Niyama is highly spiritual by nature.
After Niyama’s introduction to the spiritual realms of yoga, Asana offers practical instructions on postures that can help you transcend your Self through the ancient art of meditation. The third limb thus teaches concentration but also puts an emphasis on your body, which is the temple of the spirit.
The importance of breath control in yoga goes beyond its basic benefit for your bodily health. Pranayama literally means the “life force extension” and it sees breathing exercises as both a rejuvenation technique and the extension of life – the reciprocity of your breath, mind, and emotion.
Pratyahara offers you a unique opportunity to hone your senses and withdraw from external stimuli at the same time. By observing yourself and nothing but yourself, you gain an objective perspective on who you are, what limits your personal growth, and how to overcome that.
After reflecting on all these past 5 limbs, you enter Dharana. The sixth limb of yoga works with your senses and attention too but in a different way. It teaches you to silence both external and internal distractions and concentrate on a single mental object, which can be a sound, a deity, or simply energy.
The absolute concentration of Dharana leads you to the seventh stage of ashtanga – meditation. The two are not to be confused for one another, as Dhyana is a higher form of contemplation, the one that is one step away from focus-less awareness. Dhyana introduces complete and uninterrupted stillness and quietness.
Only with a fully aware and quiet mind can you arrive at the final stage of Ashtanga, marked by a state of ecstasy, transcendence of Self, and interconnectedness with the Universe. Samadhi is the ultimate enlightenment that all people strive towards, but rarely anyone has the patience to achieve.
Both spiritually and practically, mastering the Eight Limbs of Yoga requires the utmost commitment and self-discipline. At the same time, ashtanga is an immensely rewarding experience – it teaches us how to conduct ourselves in our everyday lives and allows us to feel the one true purpose of our nature.
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