The Eight Limbed Path is an integral part of yogic philosophy. We see the idea of the eight limbed path in the second book of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Sadhana Pada, or the Portion on Practice, is the second of four books that comprise the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The eight limbed path is essentially a set of instructions to aid the practitioner along their path to self realization. Patanjali believed that through following the path, the practitioner could achieve liberation. They are meant to be practiced holistically, each part playing an equal role in the process. Rather than looking at the limbs as a ladder, it might be more helpful to see them as the spokes of a wheel. We are not meant to leave one behind as we move onto the next. We are meant to incorporate them altogether to cultivate a pure connection with the world.
The eight limbs of the path, in order, are as follows:
The first limb is Yama, which can be translated to abstinence. This limb can be understood as the ways in which we interact with the world around us on a larger level, and ways to interact with ourselves on a more subtle level. There are actually five yama that are listed for us in the sutras that are intended to bring about harmony. They are as follows:
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (moderation)
- Aparigraha (non-hoarding)
The second limb is Niyama, which can be understood as observances for us to make in support of deep and authentic connection with ourselves. The five niyama are as follows:
- Saucha (purity of being)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (commitment to practice)
- Svadhyaya (self-study)
- Isvara Pranidhana (devotion to a higher power)
The third limb is asana, which is the physical practice of yoga that most of the West associates with yoga. This limb is a tool used to cleanse the physical body which underlines the importance of holding a clean container as a yoga teacher.
The fourth limb is pranayama, or connection to the breath. The purpose of this practice as viewed by Patanjali is to still the mind. When we actively control the breath, which is an automatic function of the autonomic nervous system, we are able to calm the mind and find stillness for observation and regulation.
The fifth limb is pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses. By withdrawing the senses, the practitioner can focus more intently on the internal landscape of the mind and experience to tap into the energy of the final three limbs.
The sixth limb is dharana, or concentration. We utilize concentration on different parts of the experience to tap into the seventh limb, dhyana, or meditation. The difference between these two limbs comes from the ease found in the seventh limb. The lack of effort needed to stay concentrated on a single object. Rather, meditation is the ability to effortlessly observe the thoughts as they come and go but not follow them or hold onto them.
The eighth and final limb is samadhi and can only be reached through the previous two limbs. This is the stage of union, of ultimate connection to the divinity that is within all things. Once the eighth limb has been reached, it is safe to say that we most likely won’t stay there for the rest of our lives. It might be that we fall out of samadhi and reuse the same tools to return to the sattvic state of self realization. The key is that we continue to try each time that we forget. The practice is a life-long journey, there really is no destination.
I invite you to check out our newest author course in the My Vinyasa Practice catalog: Beginner’s Intro to Yoga to start your yogic journey step-by-step. You can find different options to start practicing the eight limbs in our live stream yoga classes on the MVP App (available on Apple TV & App Store, Google Play Store, Roku, and Andriod TV).