What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?
Welcome to Part 13 of The Seeker’s Story, where Namit continues his exploration into yoga philosophy. This week, he discusses the eight limbs, or branches, of yoga.
Chapter 1 & 2 – Yoga Sutra – A Seeker’s Story Part 1.
Chapter 3 – What is Yoga?
Chapter 4 – Yoga’s Theory of Creation
Chapter 5 – Happiness and Oneness
Chapter 6 – Does Magic Really Exist?
Chapter 7 – Who is God?
Chapter 8 – What is Karma?
Chapter 9 – What is Spirituality? What is Spirit?
Chapter 10 – What is Prana? Is it the Same as Breath?
Chapter 11: Why do We Do Postures in Yoga?
Chapter 12: What’s the Point of Meditation?
Chapter 13: Why a State of Balance is Important for Enlightenment
Yoga Sutra – The Seeker’s Story
What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?
I came across yogi ji the following day and he had his back arched and this time one hand in the air. He must be really strong I kept thinking to myself. I waited patiently and allowed him to finish his exercises. I had decided by then that my yogi friend had a great sense of balance in everything in his life. Yogi ji finished his practice in due time and came down and sat beside me.
‘Did you sleep well?’ he asked.
‘Yes I did yogi ji thank you.’
‘Good’ he grinned. ‘Okay so your question for today?’
‘What is this ashtanga that people talk about in yoga.’
‘Okay Jake it means literally the eight limbs or branches of yoga. In yoga there are guidelines for how to live a life of happiness and by following these eight limbs you are following the guidelines.’
‘Okay so what are these guidelines.’
‘You have quite the inquisitive mind don’t you Jake?’
‘Hey I just want to learn how to be happy.’
‘I will tell you a secret Jake. So do most human beings.’
‘Ha ha’ I giggled. ‘Yes I guess it is obvious most people really just want to be happy. So what are these eight limbs yogi ji? I am really curious to find out.’
‘Okay so the first branch of yoga talks about moral codes for living in society such as not stealing, being honest, not being greedy. These are things that we have already talked about.’
‘The things that lead to good karmas?’
‘Yes Jake exactly.’
‘And the second branch?
‘The second branch talks about personal moral codes such as being content, having good wishes for others and having faith in goodness. It is said that by just following the first two branches you can achieve enlightenment because of the good karma you create.’
‘But are these moral codes like laws that you have to follow?’
‘Not at all Jake they are just guidelines to help you find happiness.’
‘Good’ I replied. ‘I have always enjoyed living an honest life but I just don’t like being forced to do follow anything.’
‘Nobody likes being forced to do anything Jake. Okay so the third branch talks about the asanas, about postures. We have said that these prepare you for meditation and help you become relaxed.’
‘Yes’ I said.
‘Control of prana is the fourth branch. This is the life force we talked about. We use special breathing techniques to control the prana within us.’
‘I will learn these one day.’ I snapped.
‘I am sure you will’ giggled the yogi back ‘but for now just being aware of the prana or vital energy around us in the universe is enough.’
‘And the next branch?’ I asked abruptly.
‘Patience Jake. The fifth branch is about learning to withdraw from the senses, from the sense of sight, from the sense of sound and from the other senses. It teaches you not to be influenced by the world around you. It teaches you to find happiness from deep within yourself.’
‘Wow this fifth branch sounds nice yogi ji. How do I withdraw from my senses?’
‘Jake it is just something that will happen with time. You will find that the more you practice the postures and meditation, the more you will find peace within. Then rather than looking to the outside world for happiness you will look to the contentment you have found within and inside yourself.’
‘I really am going to make an effort to learn the yoga postures yogi ji and also I am going to learn the breathing techniques and I will practice meditation every day.’
‘Good for you Jake’ said yogi ji. ‘Okay so now the sixth branch is about concentration. We have said before that when you concentrate hard on something then all other thoughts disappear. You relax because any distractions leave your mind and you can simply focus.’
‘Yes I think I need to learn to focus more. Thank you for telling me all this.’ I replied.
‘I am glad that you understand it Jake. Okay now the seventh branch is meditation. We talked about this a couple of days ago. As we said, in meditation your thoughts slow down. Now what we did not say was that when your thoughts slow and all useless thoughts stop, then inspiration can really enter into your mind. When you have a lot of clutter in your mind you can never find deep inspiration. Calm your thoughts Jake and you will really see the world as it truly is.
‘I will yogi ji I found the meditation that you taught me very calming and I really want to carry on practising it.’
‘Good’ replied yogi ji. ‘Okay this leads us to the eighth branch. So the eighth and final branch is about overcoming your ego and achieving enlightenment. We have yet to talk about this Jake. For now just understand that when we realise the eighth branch we truly realise that we are all connected.’
I have to admit that this last branch did seem a bit complicated at that time but I was really starting to appreciate that there is a connection with everyone and everything. I was happy to patient in order to be able to understand it more fully.
‘I will wait until my lesson on this final topic then yogi ji. That is fine. What really surprises me though is that according to this eight branches theory, postures are only one eighth of yoga? Is this correct?’
‘Yes Jake. It is my fear that as the world modernises people will forget the real meaning of yoga. I am scared that people are only focusing nowadays on the physical exercises as if yoga is some type of gymnastics. They are forgetting the deep philosophy beyond the exercises.’
‘I hope that people will never forget the meaning of yoga. I hope that people always remember that yoga is a philosophy more than it is an exercise’ I replied. I had really felt that everything that I had learnt was for my mind more than for my body. Maybe it is because of this that yogi ji was using our time together to talk rather that teach me asanas.
[Stay tuned for Chapter 15: Philosophy next week]
About Namit Kathoria
Namit currently teaches yoga retreats in Spain at Yoga Sutra Shala in Sayalonga. He is a healer and yoga master. To read more please visit www.retreats-yoga.com.
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