Home 🡆 Ashtanga: The Real 8 Limbs of Yoga – Shubhanshu Rawat

Ashtanga: The Real 8 Limbs of Yoga – Shubhanshu Rawat

It’s a bummer seeing misinformation spread through authoritative websites like Wikipedia. Unfortunately, those who truly want to use yoga to transform their lives are often left misguided. So, I decided to put out a complete guide on ashtanga yoga in its complete glory.

If you live by these, you’ll not only become a vessel for spiritual enlightenment, your very presence will become a manifestation of the divine. You’ll truly discover the bliss of being a human. So, let’s quickly go through the 8 limbs of yoga, after which, I’ll elaborate on each in detail:

  1. Yama (Internal abstinence)
  2. Niyama (External abstinence)
  3. Asana (Attaining internal relaxation through external yogic poses)
  4. Pranayama (Exercising your life energies with breathwork)
  5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the senses to raise your energy)
  6. Dharana (Concentration of mind)
  7. Dhyana (Development of Dharana)
  8. Samadhi (Assimilation of Dhyana into the self)

Yama

To follow Yama, you need to keep your mind very disciplined. There are 5 aspects that you must be vigilant with:

  1. Ahimsa
  2. Satya
  3. Asteya
  4. Brahmacharya
  5. Aparigraha

#1. Ahimsa or non-violence

Unlike many would think, ahimsa doesn’t just mean sticking by non-violence in the outside world, but also the inside world. But the problem with life is, you very physical existence is a manifestation of violence. As I’ve explained in depth before, the world is a battleground, your body is continuously fighting the environment to keep itself alive. Where there is movement, there is battle between two forces. Your physicality is pure manifestation of violence (himsa).

To really walk on the path of non-violence, you must be aiming to transcend the physical/temporal realm every moment! The desire to progress through spiritual journey is the one and only act of non-violence you can conduct. That desire must be continuous. When you practice yoga every morning with discipline, you’re truly walking on the path of ahimsa because the first thing you do in the morning stays with you throughout the day.

#2. Satya or Truthfulness

Satya isn’t about being truthful to the world and yourself. It’s much deeper than that!

90% of what most people live by are lies created by society and social conditioning. Everyone has an internal measuring stick they use to measure others and the world around them. To put it bluntly, all mental states are lies, and the satya (of the Sat-chit-anand) is the only truth.

Another word for Satya is Dharma, or that which is eternal law. Our ideas, beliefs, and perception are all manifestations of the projection we call mind. The outside world is causal, and what we experience is too bound by the law of causality. Our bodies aren’t designed to reflect the external world as it is. The physical body just projects the world in a way that “enforces” the body to survive and reproduce.

Seeing all experiences as nothing more than mental states, is the true path to Satya.

#3. Asteya

This means not being crafty/cunning toward your desire. It’s hard to make sense of this when you read it. So, let me elaborate further. If you want something, whether it’s spiritual enlightenment, knowledge, or some material object, and you know you don’t deserve it, you may naturally want to deceive others/yourself to have it. This is against Asteya.

To practice asteya, you must stay sincere and truthful to your desires. And if you don’t deserve something at the moment, you must desire to become deserving.

#4. Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya is made of two words. Brahma + Acharan, which means you behave and think like Brahma or the divine. Anyone who is brahma is free from all evolutionary compulsions within them, which means they’re no more compelled by sensory pleasure. Instead your mind and body are completely dedicated toward attaining spiritual enlightenment.

#5. Aparigraha

Aparigraha means withdrawing yourself from all of your old samskaras (or old habits/compulsions). When you’re practicing brahmacharya, you may naturally feel compelled to move back to your compulsive ways because they feel familiar and safe. The familiarity comes from a possessiveness, which you must let go.

Niyama

Niyama incorporates all the external aspects of Yoga that you must stick to through discipline. You have to follow these 5 rules to successfully embody this limb of yoga:

  1. Shaucha: internal and external purity/cleanliness. You may maintain hygiene on the outside, but what about your mind and emotion? To become free from mental garbage, you must only consume positive knowledge. There are two types of knowledge: good and bad. Good knowledge detaches you from the world. Bad factual knowledge entangles you with the world and its people. Stop acquiring bad knowledge and your mind will automatically become pure.
  2. Santosh: Contentment. If your body is nourished, there’s nothing more you need. You’re on the divine path and so, you’re only longing is to know the divine. Accept who you are and where you are. And then into worldly activities with a sense of dispassion and ease.
  3. Tapas: Persistently keeping your focus still on the object that you find pleasing. When you do this, you’ll feel a sense of heat/intensity in your awareness. This is tapa.
  4. Svadhyaya: Studying yourself, analysing your meditative experience, seeing how much you can concentrate, and for how long you’re able to stay in meditation.
  5. Ishwarapranidhana: Contemplation of the Ishvara (Brahman, true self, that which is unchanging and eternal).

Asana

Asanas are specific yogic poses that are allow your spine, muscles, and organs to stay in the most comfortable and alert way. When you’re able to sit in an asana for more than 2.5 hours, you attain asana-siddhi, which means, now, you can attain Samadhi in that position.

The practice of asana is purely a preliminary exercise to get your body accustomed to sitting in cross-legged posture. In addition, there’s also mental asana, a mental state of alertness but with absolute ease. This mental state is where you can sit still for eternity without being afflicted by anything.

Pranayama

The word pranayama is made from two, prana + vyayam, which means exercising your life energy. Our breath is very closely linked with our life energy, so pranayama mostly involves a variety of breathwork exercises. These involves Bhastrika, Anulomvilom, Mulbandh, and KapalBhati.

Exercising pranayama increases energy in your body, and raises the intensity of your activities and meditation practices. I often recommend law of attraction practitioners to practice Pranayama, because with it, they’re able to learn to imbue their life energies into their manifestation.

Pratyahara

This practice involves withdrawal of the senses and mind from the world, and turning inward. Many people in meditation retreats lock themselves up in small rooms and disengage from the world (of course with their mobile phones too) for 3, 9, 18, 21 days. This practice also allows them to gather all the energy they keep spending on useless activities.

When you gain more and more energy, the intensity of your yogic practice skyrockets and so does the progress.

Dharana (Concentration)

Concentration of the mind. It’s as simple as chanting one small mantra or visualizing a static image, for as long as you can. When you do this, the energy that’s spread throughout various channels in the body gathers up and starts getting accumulated between your eyebrows.

Dhyana (Absorption)

Dhyana is an advanced state of Dharana where the picture of your mind has actually become static and continuous like a steel ball slipping through an ocean of oil. This is where you may experience bliss and immeasurable mental relaxation.

Samadhi (Dissolution)

This is the final limb of yoga, Samadhi, where the act of Dhyana has dissolved into the self. And now you’re sense consciousness, mind consciousness, intelligence consciousness has assimilated with the self, which is Parambrahma.

So, these were the 8 limbs of yoga. We can definitely go deeper into them and elaborate a whole book’s worth of content, but that’ll take too much time on your side. So, I tried to sum everything up in short. Share this with someone who loves yoga and wants to learn more about it!

Thanks for reading!

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