The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Last month on the 21st of June 2019 we celebrated International Day of Yoga for the fifth time. Every year I’m more and more impressed with the amount of people that are practicing Yoga all around the world and their diverse cultural backgrounds.
Throughout the centuries, the discipline of Yoga has gained popularity in the world. Mainly because many people have experienced the many benefits Yoga has to offer in terms of physical and mental health. Hatha Yoga was introduced around the year 800, which focuses mainly on physical and mental health.
Nowadays, Yoga is as popular as ever. However, there seem to be three general misconceptions about Yoga.
One is that Yoga is limited to physical exercises, including difficult postures and body stretches. This raises a false idea that Yoga is only for those who have flexible bodies. Another general misconception is that Yoga is only for those who have mental problems. The third misconception is that Yoga is bound to a specific religion.
These misconceptions are, as the word indicates, not true. Physical exercises are actually just a part of Yoga. Yoga is not bound to any religion, on the contrary, it unites people with different cultural and religious backgrounds all around the world. Just have a look at impressions of the International Day of Yoga.
Maharishi Patanjali is seen as the forefather of Yoga by many. He was the first scientist to write down Yoga in a structured way. This became the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, written a little over 2200 years ago. He explains that Yoga is about controlling the activity of the mind, such that you can establish in your true nature.
Now, how to control the mind?
Patanjali says, only by practice (‘Abhyāsa’) and dispassion (‘Vairāgya’) you will be able to control the activities of the mind. He goes on to describe what he calls ‘Ashtanga Yoga’, the eight limbs of Yoga. An overview of these limbs or parts of yoga is given below.
Yamas - social ethics
Niyamas - personal ethics
Āsana - postures
Prānāyāma - breath control
Pratyāhāra - turning the senses inwards
Dhāranā - focus
Dhyāna - meditation
Samādhi - equanimity
Maharishi Patanjali consciously calls them the limbs of yoga, indicating that they are all connected. These are not levels to be reached in Yoga. For instance, take a chair with four legs. If you pull on one leg, all the others will follow in the same direction. Pleasant daily activities will make it easier to concentrate and meditate. The other way around also seems to happen. Practices of concentration and meditation also have an impact on the types and quality of activities that you undertake.
The physical part of Yoga that is very popular nowadays is āsana. It is worth noting that there is not even one āsana mentioned in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, but nowadays Yoga is mostly known for all these postures. Also, it is not necessary to practice Yoga in this order. For instance, you don’t need to master āsanas to be able to meditate or experience samadhi.
In the coming months we will be going more into depth in each limb of Yoga, so keep following the blogs.