The word “Ashtanga” in Sanskrit is made up of 2 words, “Asht” which means “8” and “Anga” which means “limbs”, thus translating to “8-limbs”, which is a central theory of Yoga Philosophy. Yoga Philosophy has its roots about 5000 years BC as described in Vedic Philosophy and Tantras. Patanjali, a great sage composed this path into a Darshan (Philosophy) in his Book Patanjali Yoga Sutra. In this Sutra, he has also formulated Yoga as an Eight Limbs or Eight-Fold path.
According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
1. Yama [moral codes]
2. Niyama [self-purification and study]
3. Asana [posture]
4. Pranayama [breath control]
5. Pratyahara [sense control]
6. Dharana [concentration]
7. Dhyana [meditation]
8. Samadhi [absorption into the Universal]
The first two stages are ethical preparations. A Don’ts and Do’s guide.
1. Yama (restraint) denotes abstinence from causing injury (violence), falsehood, stealing, and lust.
2. Niyama (discipline) on the other hand denotes moral culture and cultivation of good habits such as the cleanliness of body, contentment, the study of the Vedas, and devotion to God.
The next 2 stages, i.e., Asana and Pranayama are considered to be stages of physical preparations.
3. Asana is the adoption of steady and comfortable postures that are intended to condition the person’s body and make it supple, flexible, and healthy. Asana is accepted to be mastered only if the person is able to hold one of the prescribed postures for a long period of time without involuntary movement or physical distractions.
4. Pranayama or breath-control is regulated inhalation, exhalation, and retention of breath. It aids in stabilizing the rhythm of breathing that encourages complete respiratory relaxation.
5. The fifth stage, Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) involves control, or the ability to withdraw the attention of the senses from outward objects.
Although the first five stages are said to be external aids to Yoga, the remaining three are considered as purely mental or internal aids.
6. Dharana (holding on) refers to the ability to fixing one’s mind to one particular object for a long period of time. For e.g., the tip of the nose or the moon.
7. The seventh stage, Dhyana, which is similar to Dharana in some sense, refers to meditation that is a steady contemplation of an object without any break.
8. The last stage, Samadhi (total self-collectedness) or concentration is that stage in which the contemplative consciousness if lost in the contemplated object and one has no awareness of itself. Thus, the meditator perceives or experiences the object of his meditation and himself as one. This is also the stage where the individual gets released from samsara and attains moksha.
Although the eight limbs do not rank any order of performance, all 8 limbs are integral and mutually inclusive of one another and are required to be followed strictly in order to gain liberation from suffering and self.
If you simplify these 8 limbs paths to one that can be easily integrated in your life, your life will become better, healthier and happier.