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The eight limbs of yoga, a path to freedom

Yoga is a very complex and broad subject with immense knowledge. Once we start getting into it, we understand how deep it can go. As we explained in our last articles, many yogic schools and philosophies exist. Yoga is constantly redefined and explored to create new practices and thinking.

Patanjali's yoga philosophy is one of the most popular philosophies. As we have already explained in some of our previous articles, it is the most accessible philosophy for people who are just starting their journey about yoga. It contains eight limbs or steps one needs to achieve to reach yoga's union.

We have previously described each of those steps deeply. This article will focus on the spiritual path of the eight limbs as a whole.

The eight limbs, briefly

First, Yama is meant to harmonize our relationship with others. It is like a social code, teaching us to act in a non-violent, truthful, and non-possessive way and use our energy and resources positively and constructively to bring good to the world. It is a principle about being in a healthy relationship with other human beings, but also with animals, nature, and non-living things.

Second, Niyama is a personal code. It teaches us to live per our internal feelings by keeping our mind and body clean, cultivating contentment and discipline, and practicing self-study and surrender. It harmonizes our actions with our authentic selves.

Third, Asana allows us to find balance in pain and pleasure, heat and cold, and other opposite bodily sensations. By that, it helps us gain control over our mind to maintain the prolonged sitting posture necessary for Samadhi.

Fourth, Pranayama aims to give us control over our Prana, or cosmic energy, by retaining our breath. It allows the energy to steady itself and flow freely through our body and mind so that we can expand our consciousness.

Fifth, Pratyahara allows us to get less affected by our sense's perception of the outside world to focus on our inside world. It gradually removes distractions until the mind becomes unaffected by the outside.

Sixth, Dharana is about getting us to withdraw from the distractions our mind creates. It allows us to concentrate on a specific idea without getting distracted by other thoughts. It gives us the ability to look into ourselves with focus.

Seventh, Dhyana is an extension of Dharana as it is a prolonged and uninterrupted concentration. It is a state rather than a practice. In Dhyana, our mind becomes absorbed by the idea, which is the object of our attention. We are aware that we are experiencing Dhyana and that awareness is prolonged for an extended period without interruption.

Eighth, Samadhi is the final liberation, the state where we attain the union wanted by yoga. In that state, we become absorbed by our point of focus, and we become one with it without any more effort. It is the final state, where we become one with the global consciousness and attain knowledge of the universe.

A structure

The eight steps described by Patanjali are displayed in a particular and structured order. The practitioner has to start with the first limbs before being able to practice the others. The steps are divided into two categories: external and internal limbs.

The external limbs are practices that allow the yogi to harmonize his relationship with the world and himself and prepare his body and mind so that he becomes able to focus on his inner world entirely. The external limbs include Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara.

These practices can be done simultaneously, as they complement each other. It is thus possible to implement the principles of Yama and Niyama while doing the physical exercises of the Asanas, gaining control over our breath through Pranayama, and removing the outside distractions with Pratyahara. Practicing the first steps will make the others easier to achieve, so the order described by Patanjali is important and simplifies the process.

Once the external practices are mastered, the yogi can start practicing the internal limbs. Those will allow the yogi to look into himself, concentrate, and meditate until he reaches Samadhi, the Union with the Global Consciousness. The internal practices include Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

It is essential to note that to practice the internal limbs, the external steps must be mastered. We often hear that we do meditation in our yoga classes. These meditation classes generally teach the practitioner to withdraw from his senses' inputs and concentrate on a focal point. They are practices of Pratyahara and Dharana, leading to meditation, but are not Dhyan practices.

It is also essential to know that the internal limbs are always practiced in the specific order of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (liberation) described by Patanjali. The practice of Dharana for an extended period leads to Dhyana, which in turn leads to Samadhi.

A continuity

The eight limbs of Patanjali's yoga are a way of living. As seen in our recent article about Samadhi, it takes continuous effort and time to reach liberation and self-realization. Thus, those steps must be practiced regularly if one's goal is to achieve the union.

The doors will progressively open through the regular practice of those limbs, and the yogi will find the path to his liberation and self-realization. Thus, the eight limbs are a path to freedom.

In Japam, we teach and promote a way of living according to Patanjali's yoga philosophy. Don't hesitate to visit us at the studio to discuss more about yogic culture or to take classes with us.

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