This site is for learning and sharing about Yoga. Topics include teaching, asana, meditation and a nurturing forum for questions about your Yoga practice.

Growing the 8 Limbs of Yoga

Written By:
Ananda Prema Shakti (Felicia Case)
© EarthStar Publishing, Inc.

Redwood Tree Photos

Our core is the bridge that we engage to unite our will (Manipura chakra) with the Heart (Anahata chakra). The beautiful and ancient posture Vrksasana (Tree Pose) is a wonderful example of bridging from the core to shine our Light and bring feelings of sweet joy, peacefulness, unity and truth as we grow the 8 limbs of yoga.

There are many hidden mysteries contained within Tree posture (Vrksasana). One of the most dynamic of these mysteries is the magnificent interplay of yin, yang and opposites at work. The balance of counter energy manifests and is what grounds us in this, and all postures.

There are actually 8 energetic markers at work to attain and sustain the tree posture (much like the 8 limbs of yoga). 1: Gravity – the energy of the south pulling the “tree” of the body downwards to ground with the earth; 2: The rooted foot; 3: the isometric east/west energy of the lifted foot pressing into the inner thigh; 4: the isometric east/west energy of the push of the inner thigh pressing into the foot; 5: the east/west/north/south/front/back core contraction gathering prana and sending it through the limbs of the body; 6: the east/west energy of the left palm pressing into the right; 7: the west/east energy of the right palm pressing into the left; 8: Centrifugal force – the energy of the north pulling the ‘tree’ of the body upward towards the sun.

If we attempt to balance on our right leg with no sense of our midline, our weight will fall on the outer leg and outer foot. Before we know it, we’ll begin to feel a sense of falling to the right like a felled tree. Just as pulling in from the eight energetic markers of tree posture grounds us, the 8 limbs of yoga provides the grounding to form stability in not just our practice, but in our lives. We will sustain and endure, like the ancient redwoods left standing through life’s most tumultuous storms.

What are the 8 limbs of yoga? Compiled by the Sage Patanjali Maharishi in the Yoga Sutras, the 8 limbs are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment.

There are sometimes questions about how to practice the 8 limbs of yoga and if they should be practiced in order. The 8 limbs are lived daily and grow at different rates and at different times.

Though these limbs do not necessarily have to be practiced in precise order, the order listed below is the Divine order in which they have been handed down, therefore there is wisdom in this approach. The 8 limbs are:

Limb 1: The five Yamas

The first limb grows closest to the ground and is comprised of sturdy offshoots called the five Yamas, which are considered codes of restraint, abstinences and self-regulations involving our relationship with the external world and other people. They are an ethical and moral foundation in line with the Ten Commandments of the Bible, and are as follows:

1. Ahimsa: non-violence, non-harming, non-injury

2. Satya: truthfulness, honesty

3. Asteya: non-stealing, abstention from theft

4. Brahmacharya: walking in awareness of the highest reality, continence, purity of body, mind, spirit, remembering the Divine, practicing the presence of God

5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-holding through senses, non-greed, non-grasping, non-indulgence, non-acquisitiveness

Limb 2: The five Niyamas

The second limb and its offshoots are built upon the foundation of the first limb and grow higher on the tree shooting into buds that lead to leaves, flowers and fruit. These are the five Niyamas, which are the observances or practices of self-training, and deal with our personal, inner world:

1. Shaucha: purity of body and mind

2. Santosha: contentment

3. Tapah: training the senses, austerities

4. Svadhyaya: self-study, reflection on sacred words, mantra

5. Ishvara pranidhana: surrender; (ishvara = creative source, causal field, God, supreme Guru or teacher; pranidhana = practicing the presence, dedication, devotion, surrender of fruits of practice)

Benefits come from removal of identity and obstacles

As one practices the Yamas and Niyamas, the leaves, flowers and fruit come. However, it is important to note that, while these are attainments in one sense, they result from the unfoldment of what is already there, by the removal of obstacles. For instance, one who becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa) becomes a lighthouse of peace. Other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility. Others will sense and gravitate toward the fruit of Light in this person and feel warm, safe and inspired.

Limb 3: Asanas

Asanas are dynamic internal dances in the form of postures. Asanas help to keep the body strong, flexible, and relaxed. Their practice strengthens organs, skin, glandular systems, muscles, skeleton, cells and the nervous and energy systems to refine our process of inner perception. Yoga postures were created for health and fitness, and as sacred geometries for awakening and becoming aware of spiritual energy. Yoga asana prepares the body as a temple of the soul, to be fit for higher yoga practices such as meditation and tantric transmutational practices.

Limb 4: Pranayama

Pranayama is roughly defined as breathing practices, and more specifically defined as practices that help us to develop control and constancy in the movement of ojas Shakti (prana), or the life force. Areas of the body must be purified and chakra centers opened to be able to carry the additional and more potent spiritual energy that is generated by the gathering of increased prana in a full practice of yoga. Pranayama purifies our nerves and chakras and heals us of depression, anxiety and lethargy. Pranayama leads us to develop self control. When we are able to breathe in deeply into the belly, and into the full body, retain the breath for periods of time, balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and the nadis through alternate nostril breathing, as well as moderate the exhale and the gaps between the breaths, we then begin to master the more subtle workings of the body and thus our minds.

Limb 5: Pratyahara

Think of a turtle withdrawing into its shell. Pratyahara is withdrawing the senses, taking our attention inward, toward silence rather than outward toward things. Pratyahara has less to do with depriving our senses, and more to do with focusing on one sense at a time, removing the onslaught of inputs and finally moving deeper into stillness of the inner self. Pratyahara can be supported by cutting down reading and listening to the news, television programs, movies, music, large portions of food, sex, conversation, not acquiring material possessions, clearing clutter objects in the home, and ultimately, lessening thought/feeling traffic in the mind.

Limb 6: Dharana

Dharana starts with focusing our attention and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. After cutting down inputs we can begin to enter into dharana by being in the simple beauty of a single moment. Such a moment could be experienced in watching a raindrop begin its gentle descent down a windowpane…. feeling the wind lifting the locks of our hair and the ensuing coolness on our scalp and brow. Dharana is also being fully present to our mate, or child, student, teacher, and to a moment, neither in the past or the future. When alone, to sink fully into dharana is to then take all focus back to the primordial beginning: straight into the heart of the breath

Limb 7: Dhyana:

Dhyana is sustaining that concentration and awareness under all conditions. Dhyana is the ability to OBSERVE ourselves, and to correct course by giving our minds a ‘mental jerk’ to come back to the present moment and back into our inner awareness, even while distracted with noises, heat, cold, and discomfort. Dhyana is achieved by being an observer without judgment of one’s own reality; observing without judgment when we are becoming anxious, agitated, negative, tired, hungry, discontented; noticing and observing without judgment when we are playing samskaras, such as playing out repetitive behavioral interactions with our mates, children, friends. As we become adept at detached self observance, we begin to learn to self-correct and come back to our center of stillness and silence in the mind within shorter periods of time. We begin to experience full integration and oneness.

Limb 8: Samadhi

Samadhi is the return of the mind into original silence and Oneness with God. Samadhi is often portrayed in yogic circles as an almost impossible end to a goal of true enlightenment. Yet in viewing Samadhi this way, we are actually displaying rajasic tendencies (accomplishment-oriented striving and competitiveness) ultimately defeating the true meaning and experience. The word “Samadhi” comes from sam (together or integrated), a (towards), and dha (to get, to hold). Thus the result might be seen to be to acquire integration or wholeness, or truth. Ultimately Samadhi is the state of being aware of one’s existence without thinking in a state of undifferentiated “Beingness” or as an altered state of consciousness that is characterized by bliss (ananda) and joy (sukha). After our minds have tired of our thoughts and feelings, and focusing on the breath, we surrender and then take flight, soaring above the tall limbs of the redwood tree. We approach the high jagged peaks where the air is cool and crisp, and where mated eagles fly. Samadhi, that full yielding of our hearts and souls into Oneness with God, at last occurs.


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