The 8 limbs of Yoga
The eight limbs of yoga are guidelines that help us live a more meaningful and purposeful life. Following the practices helps to purify our human nature and contribute to the health and happiness of society.
The yamas illustrate that our natural state is one of compassion, generosity, peacfulness, and honesty. Yamas are suggestions on how to deal with others outside of our self. There are 5 yamas:
How we relate to our self inwardly is niyama. The 5 niyamas refer to the attitude we take toward ourselves as we create a more meaningful way to live.
Asanas are the poses practiced during yoga. By regularly practicing asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
Pranayama are breathing exercises that are designed to gain mastery over the respiratory system. By regularly practicing pranayama we are able to recognize the connection between the breath and the mind.
Pratyahara means sensory withdrawal. During this stage we make a conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world. Looking inward we are able to examine our cravings that interfer with our spiritual growth.
As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara paves the way for dharana, or concentration. In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound.
Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be the same. The distinction between the two is that dharana (concentration) practices one-pointed attention and dhyana (meditation) is a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all.
Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage, samadhi, as a state of bliss. At this stage, the meditator transcends the self all together. We realize the profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things.