The practice of yoga as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali encompasses exercise, meditation and ritual for the whole body and spirit. The eight limbs of Classical Yoga address our relationships with others, with ourselves and with the Divine. The eight stages of the limbs of Classical Yoga are known as Ashtanga Yoga (ashta = eight and anga = limb) beginning with ethical conduct and progressing through asanas, breathing exercises; and finally meditation practices that lead to spiritual ecstasy and consciousness through self-realization and union with the divine. The eight limbs are described below:
These five virtues govern our relationships with others and with our environment:Ahimsa - non-injury or non-harming
Satay - truthfulness
Asteya - nonstealing
Brahmacharya - Godlike conduct
Aparigraha - non-clinging/non-attachment
These five practices address our own appearance, deeds and thoughts, and govern our relationship with ourselves:
Shauca - cleanliness, purity, hygiene, grooming
Santosha- happiness, contentment
Tapas - yearning for reunion with God
Svadyaya- introspection, self-examination
Isvara Pranidhana- surrender and devotion to the Divine
Coupled with the Yamas and Niyamas are the following practices for the mind, body and spirit:
Asana - The practice of postures is the most widely recognized form of yoga in the Western World. In the East, asana is a smaller part of the complete yoga practice. The series of postures firms the body, focuses the mind and cools the spirit in preparation for meditation.
Pranayama - This practice of breathing exercises steadies the mind and cools the body in order for the yogi to master prana (life energy).
Pratyahara - The practice of Pratyahara engages the yogi in a meditation practice wherein the yogi withdraws their thoughts and senses from the outside world and focuses their gaze inward to the Self.
Dharana - The practice of Dharana exercises the mind in focused concentration; asanas quiet the body and pranayama quiets the breath and mind to bring the yogi through pratyahara to the practice of dharana.
Dhyana - Meditation. The yogi withdraws their consciousness from the outside world; the consciousness enters the soul.
Samadhi - Samadhi is englightment, self-realization combined with union with the Divine. The yogi experiences ecstasy, joy, complete openness and consciousness. The experience of Samadhi is outside the mind.
NamasteEight Limbs of Classical Yoga