The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Patanjali is often referred to as the father of Yoga. An old sage, who wrote The Yoga Sutras – a detailed book on which how one can reach Samadhi (Spirital enlightenment) through a dedicated Yoga Practice. It is often claimed that Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutras 1,700 years a go, but some claim it to be even more ancient.
Little is known about Patanjali and some claim him to be a deity (god or goddess) thousand-headed Adishesha, the king of serpents, in which his avatar (a manifsetation of a deity) was sent to Earth to spread The Yoga Sutras, so mortals could find the path to enlightenment.
What we do know is that Patanjali wanted laypeople to really engage with Yoga and the benefits. However, this is not in the way it is often portrayed in the western world.
When we often think of Yoga, we think of Asana Practice, or the postural practice. However, if we only practice Asana, although we get a lot of physical and mental benefits, we are only practicing in 1/8th of the way Patanjali writes about. A lot is diluted in many ways and we miss the point of Yoga, as it was taught by the ancient Yogis.
There are many benefits to learning to balance on ones head, but if you learn to do it without learning, studying and practicing the other 7 limbs of a complete Yoga Practice, it is nothing more than a fancy gymnastics trick.
Our asana practice will vary through our lives, through periods of loss, sickness, injury. It will come and go. However, our meditation, gentle breathwork and our ability to tap into that peaceful, calm tranquil place within ourselves will only grow, develop and get stronger as we age.
It is important to have self study, to take the time to learn philosophy and apply it to our practice. This is Yoga.
Ashtanga – The eight limbed path
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras state that to live a meaningful and purposeful life, one should follow ‘Ashtanga’. Ashta translates to eight and Anga translates to limbs in Sanskrit, so the word Ashtanga means the eight limbed path.
There are eight limbs to Ashtanga Philosophy, which focus on self-control, self-discipline and moral and ethical codes we should live by as Yogis.
They give advice on staying healthy, cleanliness of self and environment, meditation and physical asana practice.
Let’s look at the 1st two sutras…
Yoga Sutra 1:1
‘ Atha Yoganushasanam’ – Now, the Discipline of Yoga / Now, Yoga can begin.
In this sutra, Patanjali is instructing that now you are aware of Yoga, he can pass down his knowledge to you. He doesn’t state that this is his knowledge, but that it has been passed down. It states that one should be disciplined and follow the instructions and teachings.
Yoga Sutra 1:2
‘ Yoga Chita Vrtti Nirodhah’ – Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. / Yoga is the dissolution of modifications which alter our consciousness.
In this sutra, Patanjali is stating how important it is to still the mind. We use the knowledge in the Sutras and the 8 limbs of Yoga to start to learn how to still the fluctuations of the mind. We learn how to dissolve the modifications that alter our state of being. Modifications are thoughts which disturb our consciousness. Emotions, perception all fall under this category. When we remove these modifications that cause fluctuations, one can reach inner peace.
The 8 limbs of Yoga: What are they?
- Yamas – the five ethical and moral codes Yogi’s live by. Ahimsa – Non violence, Asteya – Non stealing, Aparigraha – Non greed, Satya – Truthfulness and Bramacharya – being good with ones energy.
- Niyamas – Five self disciplines. Saucha – cleanliness, Santosha – Contentment, Tapas – Austerities and heat, Isvara pranidhana – surrenderin.g to a higher power, Svadhyaya – Study of the self and Yogic Scripts.
- Asana – The physical postural practice of yoga. The most common perception of Yoga, where we focus on the physical and mental well-being.
- Pranayama – Gentle breathwork and breathing exercises, designed to help pranic energy (life force energy) flow and nourish the body, as well as helping to calm and still the mind.
- Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses through meditation practice.
- Dharana – One point focus, removing all other distractions, focusing on inner awareness.
- Dhyana – Contemplation and meditation. Quieting the mind, unbroken flow of meditative state for long periods of time.
- Samadhi – Union with the divine and self, deep sense of peace and stillness.
Beginners Philosophy, where is best to start?
It’s best to start with the physical asana side of practice and focus on bringing the Yama’s into your practice. There are many Yama’s we can incorporate into our lives both on and off the mat.
Often, Yoga is practiced for fitness reasons and the essence of the practice is lost. Incorporating the eight limbed path on and off the mat helps us to benefit from the philosophical and meditative sides to the practice.
A good place to start with asana practice is learning Surya Namaskar – The Sun Salutations. They help us learn proper breathing techniques within the practice. It also helps us build strength and flexibility, as well as teaching the foundations of building a lasting practice.
For example, incorporating the Yamas – Ahimsa and Satya into practice.
Ahimsa – No harm in thought and action.
Ahimsa translates into Non-harm/Non-violence in Sanskrit. We can start to incorporate this into our practice both on and off the mat.
It becomes obvious to not harm in action, but how often do we do this in thought? Especially to ourselves? are we kind to ourselves on the mat? Do we practice with ease, or do we force ourselves?
could we modify our diet to practice Ahimsa? Could we look after ourselves, or others, mentally and physically more?
All of these pointers will help us practice Ahimsa both on and off the mat.
Satya – Being Truthful
– What is Satya? –
Satya translates to truth in English.
When practicing Satya – Our thoughts and actions should be true, whilst not causing harm and being positive. How truthful are we daily? How many white lies do we tell? To ourselves, to others?
See an article I wrote on the subject of Satya here.
We can all benefit from learning and practicing the eight-limbed path along side the more physical asana practice.
Do you incorporate philosophy and meditation into your practice? I’d love to hear from you! Comment or like below.
About The author:
Aimee is a Yoga, Meditation and Chair Based Yoga and Exercise teacher in located in Middlesbrough, England, UK.
To find out more, visit www.amalateesside.com
10 thoughts on “The 8 limbs of Yoga: Philosophy for Beginners”
Ahimsa and Satya at great ways to achieve peace in our daily lives. I have learned a lot reading this post. I should start learning more about yoga and start this healthy habit for body and mental health.
This is really helpful and has helped me to learn a lot more about yoga. I didn’t know many of these terms before.
Thank for this reminder post about yoga philosophy. I always enjoyed the Sun Salutations. I bookmarked the image so I can start doing them again!