While many of us know ‘yoga’ as a physical activity involving stretching, breathing, and occasionally meditation, the practice of yoga encompasses far more than this. The practice of each component, or each limb, of yoga, is designed to help you live in the present moment. So what are these limbs?
Yamas: These are the first limb of yogic practice, and are the ethical guidelines for one’s behaviour and way of interacting with the world. They include Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (non-excess), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
Niyamas: These are guidelines designed to help with the development of self discipline, and include Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender).
Asana: Perhaps the most well known limb, this is the physical practice of postures and poses (Asanas) that we typically think of as ‘yoga’. This practice is designed to increase strength and flexibility in preparation for the later limbs of yogic practice.
Pranayama: This is the practice of breathing to influence the flow of Prana (life-force), improving control over your breathing, and developing an awareness of the effect of your breathing on your mind and emotions.
Pratyhara: This is the practice of withdrawing the senses, and is part of the meditation training that is central to yoga. By intentionally withdrawing your awareness from the external world, you are able to observe your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour in order to better understand them.
Dharana: This limb is best understood as intense concentration, combining with the practice of Pratyhara to withdraw the senses and focus on a single sound, image, or thought to reduce distractions in the mind.
Dhyana: This is the practice of meditation and contemplation that is usually achieved through long periods of practicing Dharana. Where Dharana encourages your focus towards a single point, Dhyana is the achievement of a state of awareness without direct focus.
Samadhi: This is the eighth limb of yoga, which translates to enlightenment. It is achieved through the practice of the other seven limbs, and can be described as a state of mindfulness.