The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Inner freedom and independence requires us to continuously and consciously deal with our afflictions and obstacles, called Kleshas of the mind on a daily basis. The eight limb system of yoga assists us in reducing their impact on one’s own perceptions and actions as a self-help guide to reaching our full potential in life. Following the path of yoga is to bring awareness of our Kleshas or obstacles that hamper us. Learning to deal with this consists of a series of specific practical approaches and patterns of behaviour to follow and assist us in our personal growth and understanding.
The five Kleshas that can be a block and hold us back in life from our full potential are;
- Avidya; Subjective perception or ignorance.
- Raga; Excessive or exaggerated attachment to pleasurable things.
- Devesha; Excessive or exaggerated aversion or repulsion under any circumstances.
- Asmita; The ego or egoism.
- Abhinivesha; Fear of the unknown or death.
How do we learn to recognise and deal with these things called, Kleshas to bring more balance and harmony into our lives? Following the eight limb path of yoga can help us to be more conscious and more self-aware of how we ultimately present ourselves to the world around us.
1 Yama; The Yamas consist of 5 moral and ethical principles which represent a code of conduct in the way you treat others and the world around you. Observing this code of conduct will lead you to personal well-being, harmony within yourself and with your surroundings. The less your mind identifies with life’s stresses the stiller the mind becomes and the greater the atmosphere of peace is generated within and around you. Therefore the greater your inner serenity is, the simpler your life is and the easier it becomes to deal with whatever comes your way.
- Brahmacharya: Moderation. The practice of moderation in all areas of life. Finding the right balance. As with all excess, dependencies and extremes, can lead us to thoughts and actions being completely controlled by these and direct us in an undesirable way.
- Asteya: Non-stealing. Freeing ourselves from possessiveness and envy and no distinction is made between material items, actions or thoughts.
- Satya: Truthfulness. Truthfulness in mind, word, action and the consequences the truth will hold. We aim to express the truth in the best possible way without harming anyone, either intentionally or unintentionally.
- Ahimsa: Non Violence; Non Harming. True non violence is a state of mind and heart and involves recognising not only destructive deeds, but also of words and thoughts. This includes the environment, other living beings and of course treating yourself with awareness and respect. Creating compassionate living.
- Aparigraha: Non-greed. Simplifying life by adopting an attitude of generosity and non-hoarding and focuses more on the inner attitude of moderation. To become free of expectations and the desire to possess which involves conscious reflection on what and how much we actually need of what is desired.
2 Niyama; The Niyamas are five observances or codes of conduct by which we find restraint to create inner integrity and by which we should all live our lives.
- Saucha: Purity. Purity and cleanliness of mind, body, heart and environment and being guided by consideration.
- Santosha: Contentment. The cultivation of inner contentment, in order not to hold others responsible for our happiness whether on a material, physical or intellectual level.
- Tapas: Self-discipline. The burning desire or inner need. Learning to control this fuel to enable us to tackle challenges with persistence and stamina, in order to reach self-awareness and our ultimate goal.
- Svadhyaya: Self-study, Self-reflection. Developing self-understanding of our inner nature and the ability to observe, analyse and reflect on ourselves and our behaviour.
- Isvara-pranidhana: Faith in a higher force. Acknowledging our own boundaries with realisation, devotion, dedication and surrender or letting go, to that higher force or presence within all life.
3 Asana; Generally it is thought of as performing the physical postures or asanas only constitutes as a yoga practice. Although we eventually learn through the asanas, the pranic flow or life energy restores mental and physical health, strength, well-being and vitality. Asana practice also reflects the tendencies, strengths, weaknesses and actions in our life. Asanas are the first step for most of us in training and disciplining the mind.
4 Pranayama; Breath Regulation. With practising controlled breathing techniques, the body and mind are relaxed and obstacles are removed, generating improved energy flow. Pranayama is the process of directing energy inward making the mind fit for Pratyahara or detachment of the senses.
5 Pratyahara; Sensory Withdrawal. The process of introspection and connecting to our inner well of contentment. Pratyahara also leads to self-understanding and acceptance. On one hand the senses create the contact with the outside world, on the other there is a constant risk of over stimuli and being distracted from concentrating on one task. Pratyahara teaches us to remain aware of the external stimuli although not respond to them and remain focused on one task.
Samyama; The Mind. Samyama deals with the mind and includes the last three limbs. The first five limbs of the yoga practice serve to still the mind in preparation for the path to inner freedom. Samyama leads us to the core of self-knowledge.
6 Dharana; Concentration. To focus and discipline the mind in order to move into a meditative state. The ability to have a single pointed concentration or focus on an object, action or question and remain there. For example one method would be to be completely attentive to the flow of the breath in harmony with the movement of the body.
7 Dhyana; Meditation. Dhyana is going beyond concentration where meditation will begin to follow naturally into an effortless presence. During meditation we begin to see things intuitively as they actually are, leaving behind the subjective notions of previous knowledge, thought patterns, values, beliefs, expectations and emotions. It is where we can go beyond time, space, conditions and limitations, allowing our individual core of consciousness to expand and connect with the infinite universal consciousness.
8 Samadhi; Inner Freedom. Inner happiness is a state of absolute freedom that is independent of outside circumstances. The final realisation of our true nature is sometimes called Enlightenment and is something that will happen of its own accord, if one is patient and disciplined. Once experienced, the eight limbs become a continuous life journey.
Yoga is learning how to return home, back to yourself. It’s the personal transformation of many areas, finding your limits, expanding your boundaries, discarding old unworthy habits and being able to truly relax into who you are.