Ashtanga Yoga is known as the “Eight-limbed Path” for the eight stages of yoga practice that a yogi passes through to attain awakening. These stages were first written about in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The first five limbs are external practices, and the last three are internal practices.
The first limb is “Yama&rdquo which is Sanskrit for restraints, or moral discipline. The yamas are broken down into five elements of spiritual practice that we can utilize:
-Aparigraha is not acquiring. Basically this means to avoid being greedy, to simplify, to not accumulate or use more than you need.
-Asteya is not stealing. Respect other people and their boundaries and property. Do not take something that is not yours, whether it is in a material, physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional sense.
-Ahimsa is nonviolence. Practice peace in thought, word and deed, towards yourself and others.
-Brahmacharya is moderation. It also means we must be virtuous, to be loving and have compassion for others.
-Satya is truthfulness. Be honest, have integrity, understand the power of the spoken word.
Niyama is the second limb in Ashtanga Yoga. It means observances, and self-restraint. There are five inner practices we can follow to maintain moral principles:
-Samtosa is contentment. Be happy in the present moment. Know that everything you have, and everything you are is enough. Be satisfied and content.
-Tapas is a zest for life. Learn and grow every day, build strength and wisdom. Develop spiritual practices and be disciplined.
-Saucha is a purity of body and mind. Take care of yourself, body, mind and spirit, and also take care of your environment.
-Svadhyaya is self-referral. Practice contemplation and introspection. Get to know yourself so that you may then know others.
-Ishvara Pranidhana is devotion. Let go of the ego and embrace a higher source. Approach life with a sense of gratitude.
The third limb of Ashtanga Yoga is Asana, or yoga postures. This is the physical form of yoga that we are used to seeing. It helps us to attain stillness in both mind and body. The poses create strength and flexibility.
The fourth limb is Pranayama, or breath control. With these breathing exercises we can achieve a balanced state of mind. These are many different exercises that work to invigorate the system and calm the mind.
The fifth limb is Pratyahara, or controlling the senses. This is practicing detachment from the distractions of life.
Dharana is concentration. The idea is to fix our attention on one focal point. This helps us to gain equanimity, poise, and grace.
Dhyana is meditation. The purpose of meditation is to quiet the mind and open the heart. In this way we become aware of our connection with the Divine.
Samadhi is super-consciousness. It is also called bliss, union, or enlightenment. It is when we experience the presence of the Divine with our entire self, body mind and soul.