The “eight limbs of yoga”

ashtanga-yoga-eight-limbs-shaktianandayoga-gurudevi

Ashtanga Yoga means “eight limbs of yoga.” These limbs are defined in the the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and comprise the foundation of the Ashtanga Yoga philosophy.

Asana is the 3rd limb of the 8 limbs, however today, when many people say “Ashtanga” they are often simply referring to Asana, which is the physical sequence of postures as taught by Sri. K Pattabhi Jois.

The following are the 8 practices or limbs:

1. yama  / or moral restraints / how we relate to others
2. niyama / observances / how we relate to ourselves
3. āsana / posture / how we relate to our body
4. prāṇāyāma / breath extension / how we relate to our breath or spirit

5. pratyāhāra /sensory withdrawal / how we relate to our sense organs
6. dhāraṇā /concentration / how we relate to our mind
7. dhyāna /meditation / moving beyond the mind
8. samādhi /meditative absorption / deep realization and inner union

What are the Yamas?

The Yamas or the first limb, consists of five parts:

  1. ahimsā / non-harming
  2. satya / truthfulness
  3. asteya / non-stealing
  4.  bramacharya / focus of energy towards the divine
  5. aparigraha / greedlessness

What are Niyamas?

The Niyamas also contain 5 aspects:

  1. śauca / purity
  2. santoṣa / contentment
  3. tapas / purifying practices
  4. svādhyāya  / self study and the study of sacred texts
  5. Īśvara praṇidhāna / surrender to the divine

What are Asanas?

The Āsanas we practice and teach have been given to us by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois called Guruji.  He believed it was necessary to enter into the eight limbs of yoga through the physical postures, the third limb.

External and Internal Yoga

The first four limbs are referred to as “external yoga,”and the last four limbs are called “internal yoga.” The fifth limb, pratyāhāra, acts as a bridge between the external and internal limbs.

As students of yoga we are able to actively practice the external limbs, while the internal limbs are the fruits of a sincere and continuous practice.

The final limbs of our practice are manifested through Divine Grace and arise spontaneously. They are not mental states that can be brought about by our own individual efforts. They are the result of fully understanding what it means to completely surrender to something greater then oneself.

The eight limbs of yoga are interconnected, and not separate steps along the path. Whether one starts by practicing the physical postures, breath awareness, or mindfulness in the daily practice of the yamas and niyamas, each limb encourages growth in the other.

As the body becomes steady and at ease, the breath starts to come under control, and the mind begins to experience moments of clarity, and essential peace.

Post by: Francisco Neri Bonilla

 

Opening and Main Sequence for Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series

Opening Sequence

The sun salutation is like the preface of a book. This fundamental series is performed five times at the beginning of the Ashtanga yoga practice. The aim is to condition the mind for the session as well as to warm-up and strengthen the back and hamstrings.
There are two sets of sun salutation sequences. The first sequence has nine asanas (postures or positions) while the second sequence has seventeen asanas. The second sequence is just an extension of the first sequence. The sun salutation is then followed by a series of six standing postures that aim to strengthen the core. Mastering the opening sequence will provide a good base for anyone who would like to be a practitioner.

After executing the opening sequence, the yogi chooses from one of the six fundamental series of Ashtanga yoga poses. The primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy. This series is composed of movements that aim to purify and restore physical health. It is performed only after warm-up to prevent injuries. The overall effect of this series is the progressive strengthening of the body.

ashtanga primary series

Main Sequence

In the primary series, the movements are arranged in such a manner that each asana (posture or position) builds on the previous one. Postures in this series are primarily twists and forward folds that prepare the spine for back bending poses performed in the finishing sequence and intermediate series. Doing the opening sequence is strongly advised before proceeding with the primary series execution. Doing so will ensure that the yogi is protected from injuries and that the flexibility needed to smoothly transition to the next pose, has been developed.

The intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga poses is called Nāḍī Shodhana or Nerve Cleansing. The purpose of executing this sequence is to open and clear the subtle energy channels in the body. Proper execution of the poses in this series requires a higher level of strength and a sufficiently cleansed body. Therefore, mastery of the first series should be attained to maximize the benefits of nerve cleansing.
The advanced series of Ashtanga yoga poses is called the Sthira Bhagah or Steady Strength. This sequence of postures aims to strengthen the inner spirit of the yogi. Hence, advanced ashtanga yoga practitioners have more intense focus and a great degree of humility. They are also able to have a characteristic steadiness of the body and mind.

Post by: Francisco Neri Bonilla