Ashtaang Yoga

Aabra ka Dabra khul jaa Sim-Sim – Eight Limbs of Yoga –

The Ashtanga Yoga - 8 limbs of Yoga
The Ashtaanga Yoga – 8 limbs of Yoga

We all believe in miracles, rather we wait for one to happen. All of us want to be happy all the time and we keep looking for a magical key to unlock the treasure. Most of the time we are unable to find it as we are looking at the wrong place. We are searching it outside when it is there within us.

All the love, happiness, peace and abundance for which we keep looking outside is always there within us.

It’s just that we are unaware of it and hence not been able to connect with it. The moment we get connected we become awakened and start achieving everything in life. This is what Yoga is all about. It is the union of the body and mind, the mind and the soul and finally the union of the soul, the individual consciousness and the supreme consciousness. We don’t do Yoga rather we live it. It is not just doing some asanas and pranayam, it is about understanding life and then living it meaningfully.

Yoga is the method by which the restlessness of mind is calmed and energy is directed into constructive channels. When mind is controlled it provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for the human uplift. The right means are just as important as the end in view. Patanjali enumerates these means as Eight Limbs of Yoga for the quest of the soul. Each is equally important and crucial. The Eight Limbs can be described as-

1. YAMA : The Moral Virtues

They define all the things we should restrain from doing. Yamas refer to ethical disciplines or moral virtues, that are primarily concerned with the world around us and our interaction with it. If we are rigid, weak and stressed out in day to day life we cannot experience love and happiness. Yoga is a practice of transforming and benefiting every aspect of life. There are five Yamas as explained by Patanjali. They are :

a)  Ahimsa (अहिंसा) : Non Violence

Ahimsa not in actions but in thoughts and words too. While Ahimsa is certainly beneficial to the person to whom it is directed, the primary beneficiary is oneself.

To apply Ahimsa in our daily life we have to be kind to ourselves. We should know the limits of our body and mind and have to act accordingly. By not pushing ourselves too hard we practice Ahimsa. On a Yoga mat we need to find a balance between Himsa and Aalasya. Neither overdoing a pose nor not doing it at all. 

     b) Satya (सत्य) : Truth

It means to be established in the truth of who we are. Our true identity is divinity. Any thought, word or action that leads to an experience or expression of divine qualities is Satya. When we are loving, kind and compassionate, we are expressing Satya.

To practice Satya be true to your intentions and honest about where you are. If you are constantly switching between past and future you are avoiding the ultimate truth which is being present in the present moment.

c) Asteya (अस्तेय) : Not Stealing

It is recognition of the truth that the universe has enough resources for everyone and every being to experience abundance. Our way to happiness is not by possessing it, but by giving it away.

To practice Asteya we have to be mindful of not stealing someone’s confidence by putting them down or making them feel insecure. If we are copying someone’s style it is also a form of stealing. We should focus only on our self and try to develop our own style.

d) Brahamcharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) :  Right use of energy

Brahamcharya literally means moving in the Brahman. It is choosing to be in the space of divinity in every moment. Focusing on our divine qualities and restraining from the evil.

To practice Brahamcharya we should try to conserve our energy by using it to uplift ourself and then others.

e) Aparigrahha (अपरिग्रह) : Not accumulating

Fear of uncertainty in the future drives us towards accumulation. Aparigraha happens when one is at peace with the uncertainty of future and have faith that all will be taken care of.

To practice Aparigraha we should take only what we really need from planet’s natural resources. We should not crave attention and approval from others as it distracts us from  our path. We should try not to accumulate these.

All these five Yamas are universal in application, means should be applied in every situation and towards everyone.

Benefits of following Yamas :

1.  In the presence of a person who is well established in non violence all beings drop their violent tendencies.

2. For a person who is established in Satya, all his intensions come true

3. Asteya opens the door to abundance.

4.  A person who is established in Brahamcharya experiences true power.

5. When we drop the cravings to accumulate, the experience we accumulated in various past lives are open to us.

2. NIYAMA : The Lifestyle Principles

Niyamas are lifestyle principles. Necessary to support basic health and well being. When followed regularly they bestow one with clarity and inner strength needed to travel in the path of spiritual journey. Patanjali has defined five Niyamas. They are :

  1. Sauch (शौच) : Cleanliness

It includes inner cleanliness achieved by Kriyas , Pranayama and Aasanas, as well as outer cleanliness achieved by keeping a clean environment or surroundings. Cleanliness of mind is equally important which can be achieved by focusing the mind on important things and relaxing it through meditation and yog nidra. Sauch will remove all the clutter in and around us and give us more clarity and purity. 

  1. Santosh (संतोष) : Contentment

The practice of humility, modesty and finding contentment with what you have and who you are. Contentment ends all sufferings. It’s a secret to happiness and gratitude.

To practice Santosh in daily life you should realize your own ability and potential. Yoga is not a competition. Be content with the path that you are on. Enjoy your journey and stop thinking about the destination.

  1. Tapah (तप:) : Self Discipline

Setting intentions and sticking to them is considered as Tapah. It is the fire that purifies the body, mind and the senses. It fuels our will power and inner strength. It leads to external bliss.

To practice it you should make a commitment to yourself and to your practice of Yoga. To start with make easy commitments which can me met with ease like you can make a commitment to practice every day on your mat for five minutes. As you follow this persistently it can bring great results.

  1. Swadhaya (स्वाध्याय) : Self Study

It’s ability to know oneself. The importance of one’s own worth. We start mastering over our responses to various stimulants and temptations in life and to overcome them. It improves our ability to see our true divine nature. By knowing and accepting ourselves we start loving ourselves. It also includes studying epics and books and listening to great saints to improve our knowledge.

To practice swadhaya we have to observe and become aware of the mind and body during our Yoga practice. Gradually we realize we are neither the mind nor the body, we are the soul, the observer.

  1. Ishwarpranidhana (ईश्वरप्रणिधान) : Surrender To Divinity

Surrendering is a powerful mind tool to drop the ego. It is dedicating fruit of one’s practice to the supreme power, selfless action of Karma Yoga. It requires trust, belief and prayer.

To practice it we can start and finish our Yoga practice with devoted Mantras. While practicing surrender to the idea that we are not creating the movement but that the universe is moving through us. This is the joy to be found.

Yamas and Niyamas together guide us to practical ways to live life so we can access inner peace, bliss, love, joy and happiness in our day to day life Through regular practice they get interwoven in every fabric of our life and every moment becomes Sadhna.

3. ASANA : The Postures

The third limb of Yoga is Asana or posture. It brings steadiness, health and lightness of limbs. A steady and pleasant posture produces mental equilibrium. Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They reduce fatigue and soothes the nerves. Their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind. The major difference between any physical exercise and an asana is that while performing asanas all our attention is inside our body and we focus on our breath hence been able to control the mind. In every posture we try to find external as well as internal balance.

 Through the practice of Asanas  the dualities like gain and loss, victory and defeat, fame and shame, body and mind and that of mind and soul vanish.

4. PRANAYAMA : Controlling The Vital Force Energy

 Pranayama is the bridge between the body and the mind. While the action is physical the efforts make the mind calm, lucid and steady. Learning to watch the gaps between breaths will teach the mind how to watch the gaps between thoughts. Emptying the mind of the whole of it’s illusion is the true Rechak (Exhalation). The realization that I am Atman is the true Purak (Inhalation). And the steady sustenance of the mind on this conviction is the true Khumbhak (Retention). 

By focusing on the sound and flow of the Pranayama throughout the practice we bring mental steadiness. It strengthen the Respiratory system, soothes the Nervous system and reduce cravings. As desires and cravings diminish the mind is set free and become a fit tool for meditation. The covering of ignorance is lessened through Pranayama.

5. PRATYAHARA : Withdrawing The Senses

Withdrawing the senses is the link between the outer and the inner world. It is common of people to become slave to their senses. Yoga teaches us to be able to use our senses as tools, as and when we need them and not to be completely distracted by them. It is not the suppression of the senses but their right application, which includes the ability to put them to rest.

Pratyahara  assists you to direct all your attention internally while you are clearly aware of your senses but cultivating a detachment from these senses. It gives us lot of clarity.

6. DHARNA : Concentration

Each limb of Yoga prepares us for the next limb. In Dharna we concentrate on a single point. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve the state of complete absorption. A thought which is well guarded by a controlled mind  brings happiness. To control our mind we can do Tratak or chant any Mantra. Dharna causes extended concentration periods, which lead to meditation naturally. When we consciously concentrate on one thing and focus all our senses and Chitta on it everything can be achieved effortlessly. Gradually we start applying it to all aspects of life.

Dharna slows down our thought process. The quality of our thoughts improves and we start getting solution to many of our problems.

7. DHYANA : Meditation

It asserts you to have uninterrupted concentration moments. In Dharna we focus all our attention on one point but in Dhyana we are in a condition where we are aware but not focusing on anything. During this stage our mind is quietened and in those moments of quietness mind produces less thoughts. As we go deeper into this practice finally we reach a state where our mind stops producing any thoughts. It becomes thoughtless.

8. SAMADHI : A State Of Oneness

Here one realizes a deep link to the divine which connects us to all living things. This realization gives us peace that exceeds all understanding. In Samadhi our body and senses are at rest, at the same time we are fully conscious and alert. The soul within the heart is smaller than the smallest seed. Yet greater than the sky, containing all works, all desires. When the Sadhak enters into it then there remains no sense of “I” or “mine”. The state can only be expressed by profound silence. We transcend from the material world to the external world. There is no duality between the knower and the known. The Creator and the creation becomes one. This is the state of complete BLISS.

All these eight limbs co-exist, co-dependent and co-operate with each other. We cannot control the outcome of our actions, but we are always responsible for them. So we have to continuously focus on our Karma without getting attached to the outcome. Abhyasa (Practice) and Vairagya (Detachment) are the two magical keys to attain BLISS. When we take care of these eight limbs, we take care of our life. By focusing on Yama and Niyama we improve our relations and social conduct hence our Community Quotient (CQ) gets stronger. We are more responsible for our surroundings and outer world. We use our natural resources efficiently thus our Environment Quotient (NQ) is taken care of. We focus on knowing ourselves and increase our knowledge as a result our Intelligent quotient (IQ) gets strengthened. With the third limb Asanas our Physical Quotient (PQ) is improved. Practicing Pranayama and Pratyahara Improves our Emotional Quotient (EQ). When we are physically healthy and mentally calm we are able to focus better on our profession and derives ore satisfaction in terms of finances and satisfaction hence better Financial Quotient (FQ) and Occupational Quotient (OQ). Following Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi our Spiritual Quotient (SQ) gets a boost. We become a balanced personality completely in control. We start living and breathing Yoga in each and every moment. With these eight limbs we get the golden magical keys to unlock the spiritual gates of abundance and live a BLISSFUL life.


This article is written by Vandana Gupta Yoga Expert @CircleX

See the recording of Abundance Series Session #1 on Ashtaang Yoga here.
CircleX| Centre of Excellence for Holistic WellBeing Youtube Channel

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