The eight folding limbs or paths that describe Ashtanga Yoga are discussed in this post.

Yoga is often misunderstood to be limited to breathing exercises or physical postures and alignments. It is also misinterpreted to be an individual form of transformation, often ignoring relation of the self with the universe.

Yoga is a union of inner and outer self. In simple terms, Yoga is about connecting the inner and outer and merging into the universe.

To relish the completeness of Yoga its important to understand and imbibe these values in the learning and practice of Yoga. There are a total of eight phases to the Yogic experience, each phase focus on a set of collective values and provokes one to examine his/her relation to others, himself, body, mind, breath, and the inner self.I try to present here the eight limbs of Yoga and some personal experiences while imbibing them in life.

We shall divide the 8 phases into two groups Group A that focuses on external orientation and Group B that aims towards inner transformation and deeper self-realization.

Group A: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Prayanam – Focus on self-correction in thought, action, and orients towards physical and mental well being by examining our relation with us and others.

1. Yama – (Principle). Our relation to others.

The purpose of Yama is to maintain balance in life. It consists of five main values that a person must integrate in life. Yamas are about restraints from certain immoral practices.

    • It foundation lies on Ahmisa (non-violence). This directly implies not harming any sentient beings. Veganism is a step towards practicing non-violence. Similarly being non-violent in thought and action is equally important. Hurting others as well as one self (physiological or psychological) is also a form of violence, the later one often remains unnoticed and deeply rooted. Hence, it was important for me to identify this inner violence in my life and embracing peace and forgiving myself has helped me immensely.
    • Another characteristic is Satya, its necessary to be truthful to others and to oneself. We may fool the world for sometime not our ownself. Fortunately, I did not  deal with this internal conflict.
    • Asatya meaning non stealing or not cheating. Not taking what is not rightfully yours is an essential to a morally sound life. Taking only what I deserve makes me at peace with myself.
    • Brahmacharya involves moderation and self-restraint in all that you do. Keeping a check on one’s needs and not taking more than my share is essential for harmonious relations in life.
    • Aparigraha is about not indulging in unhealthy competition, jealousy or envy. With the due course of life, I realized I was never a person of competition, I always liked the feeling of collective effort and team work, where everyone gets a place on the podium. Leading and guiding are the true forces. I have replaced competition with co-operation in my life.

2. Niyama -(Self Discipline) Our relation with ourself.

These are observances to attain wisdom and knowledge of the self. The niyamas are again classified into five main sub types.

    • Sauca meaning Purity and it relates to purity of thoughts and feelings for others. It also implies cleanliness of the body, surroundings,and home. So if earth is our home we need to be broaden the concept and accommodate the real meaning of cleanliness.
    • Santosha is Contentment, to do the best with what one has. Although perfection is what is preached, but real perfection cannot be isolated from the surroundings and uncontrolled situations. Satisfaction emerges from action with good intents and to the best of the person ability. So stop complaining and start accepting and thereby correcting.
    • IshawarPranidhana or Ardour means surrender to the supreme. It can be taken as surrender of the self to the divine will. When we realize the vastness of life and at the same time, how miniscule is our stay in the existence of the universe gives the realization to surrender and act in harmony with the universe.
    • Tapas is about cultivating self discipline, practicing simplicity and austerity in life. It aims towards shedding objects of desires in form of luxury or comforts that weaken the mind and body. It focuses on getting rid of rubbish from our body, and food forms an important role in bringing self discipline. Discipline is not about following timetable and running with the clock its about self regulation.
    • Svadhyaya is study of the Self or self study. It aims towards getting close to ourself and study yourself. It concentrates on moving from reactive behavior to that of observation and leave destructive tendencies. Personally, I observe a lot but similarly my reactivity index is also high 🙂 . I am yet to find the balance.

3. Asana – (Yogic Postures) How we relate to our body

Asanas are amazing, I have begun with Iyengar method of performing asanas and it quite suits me. The slow method blends well with me.

4. Prayanama – (Breathing Exercises) Relating to our breath or spirit

I am performing the Prayanama practices as part of the Yogasana learning. And keeping a check on the breathing pattern is slowly happening. Previously I was not able to come out of feeling the pain in the limbs but now as pain has turned into pleasure the mind is able to focus on the breath patterns too.

Group B: Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyan, Samadhi – Focus on self realization, attainment of universal truth.  This group is quite an alien territory to me yet, hence I just expand what these stands for. If some day in life I am able to practice these, I might share the experience.

5. Pratyahara – (Sense Withdrawal) Relate to sense organs

It is about non attachment of senses from external objects.

6. Dharana – (Concentration) Relate to our mind

One pointedness, concentrating the mind on a single point/object

7. Dhyana – (Meditation) Moving beyond the mind

Its an effortless way of meditation

8. Samadhi – (Self Realization) Inner union

A state of supper bliss and joy. In this state the body and senses are at rest, but the mind and reason are alert. Feeling of ignorance, egoism, likes, dislikes, clinging to mundane life dissolve.

Each one can have his own way to lead a life of fulfillment, awareness and reality. But it’s very important to shed blissful ignorance to begin with.

Happy journeying!