The eight limbs of yoga are central to Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras. They are called Ashtanga, literally ashta = eight, anga = limb.
They are, stated simply:
- Yama – moral code
- Niyama – self-purification and study
- Asana – posture
- Pranayama – breath control
- Pratyahara – sense control and/or withdrawal from senses
- Dharana – concentration and creating focus
- Dhyana – contemplation and sustaining focus
- Samadhi – meditation and integrated consciousness
Why limbs? Originally the metaphor was for a tree. Think of a tree branch, and how each branch grows more branches, and twigs, and leaves. Each principle looks simple at first glance, but branches out into many aspects of life. Also, think of the many-limbed Hindu deities like Siva and Kali. Siva is traditionally depicted with four arms instead of two, because each limb holds or signifies something important – for instance, one hand holds a trident that symbolizes destruction of ignorance; one is held in a posture that means “fear not,” and so on – ultimately, he symbolizes more than can be held in two limbs, and each item he holds means more than can be defined in one sentence.
We’re going to devote a post to each limb, starting with Yama.