Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga

I think by now (I hope…) most yoga practitioners and readers of Lila are well aware that asana is merely one limb of a whole system that makes up “yoga” as laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra. These 8 limbs work together to form the science and practice of yoga. Asana can appear to be separate from the others, and it’s true that this separation occurs in an unfortunate number of modern “yoga” practices. But, in my practice and experience, asana is inextricably entwined with the other limbs and this is why yoga is more than just gymnastics. In Ashtanga Yoga, we utilize asana as the tool to experience and practice the other limbs.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I would like to use this space to discuss each individual limb and each yama and niyama. I will share the meaning of each Sanskrit term, link interesting articles and talk a little more in depth about yoga philosophy. But, I don’t want this to be merely an intellectual pursuit, because all the talking about yoga isn’t really enough…we have to practice it! These tenets of yogic philosophy relate to our lives in very practical and tangible ways. I like to think of the Yoga Sutra (along with the Bhagavad-Gita) as the original self-help book! Both texts come from an authoritative place from which they present in a very linear and clear fashion the goal and the steps necessary to reach it.

Please stay tuned and join me in this discussion on the 8 limbs of yoga and how we can learn from these practices and experience the philosophy and meaning of yoga profoundly in our day to day lives.

Thanks. Blessings.

Love Frances.

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11 thoughts on “Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga

  1. I think it’s a great idea. Everyone should spend more time with yogic philosophy…and I totally love the Yoga sutras = first self help book idea, because it’s true…
    I’m very interested in this series 🙂

    • Thanks! Agreed 🙂
      Please keep visiting and sharing your comments with me as this series progresses. I truly believe the yoga is practical and practicable and I look forward to sharing with my readers why and how!
      Blessings.

  2. Excellent!

    The image above has puzzled me for a while… I don’t understand the distinction of “things you do” and “things that happen to you.” The only way to make it make an even minor amount of sense (and sense that seems to counter Patanjali’s system) is to have a shifting conception of “you.”

    I realize that it’s not your chart, but I thought I’d say it nonetheless, since you’ve put it up.

    • Hi Isaac,
      You raise a good point. I agree with you that this is not the best demarcation. The way I personally understand it is that the first 6 limbs are behaviors/practices etc.,that an individual can do, whereas the last 2 are really up to the grace of God or the grace inherent in the system. You can’t make yourself achieve samadhi or the deepest state of meditation….all you (the little you) can do is practice to the best of your ability with extreme focus, discipline and faith and then you must surrender and those final 2 limbs can be experienced but not because of your effort to make them happen….makes senses? Thanks for your comment. I would love to hear what you think of that.
      Blessings.
      F

      • Perhaps, given the you/You distinction (i.e., prakṛti-you vs. puruṣa-You). There is a shift, though really there is only a shift at the level of asamprajñāta-samādhi, when there ceases to be any object in the phenomenal world, no matter how subtle, upon which consciousness is focused. As for grace, it seems to be given as the most efficacious way to get to samādhi (I’m not sure why dhyāna is in there, though), especially for the later commentators. But it is not the only way: hence the “vā” in sūtra 1.23.

  3. Hi Frances, i look forward to this discussion as at present I am reading The Upanishads, have studied some Sutras and The Gita. I have Prabhupada’s Gita and have read through a lot of it:) I always bring the connection to the other 7 limbs in teaching my asana classes and questions are always asked:) I know it gets in there at some level. Be well.

    • Awesome! I think it’s great that you share yoga philosophy with your students. It’s important that we honor the many dimensions of yoga and this can be done really easily and “non-invasively” even in less than traditional yoga environments, in my experience. Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. Stay tuned. Blessings.

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