When you think of yoga, do you only think of the "poses"?  Yoga is so much more than the physical movement (Asana). Yoga has been around for over 4,000 years.  There are 8 limbs of yoga, and the physical postures are just one limb.

Yoga means union, and the goal of yoga is to find union with the Self, the universe, and all beings. Besides meditation and movement there are many aspects of yoga which help to lead a meaningful and purposeful life.  These universal ethics and moral codes are part of Patanjali's 8 Fold Path.

 

The 8 limbs are:

1. Yama

The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The five yamas are:

Ahimsa: nonviolence

Satya: truthfulness

Asteya: nonstealing

Brahmacharya: self restraint

Aparigraha: noncovetousness

2. Niyama

Niyama  has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Developing your own personal meditation practices, pausing in gratitude before a meal, taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.

The 5 niyamas are:

Saucha: cleanliness

Santosa: contentment

Tapas: heat; spiritual practices

Svadhyaya: self study

Isvara pranidhana: surrender to something higher

3. Asana

Asanas are the postures practiced in yoga. The body is a temple of spirit, and taking care of it is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.

4. Pranayama

Generally translated as “breath control,” this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.  You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily yoga practice.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal of the senses. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli to direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves.

6. Dharana

As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object. 

7. Dhyana

Meditation or contemplation, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration.  Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness, it produces few or no thoughts at all.

8. Samadhi

Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, samadhi, as a state of ecstasy or enlightenment. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things, and finds peace.