The Yoga Sutras dated around 300BC and attributed to the sage Pantanjali, consolidate yoga philosophy into 196 aphorisms.
Whilst the historical literature linked to Yoga is vast (and offers different perspectives), the Yoga Sutras are often cited as the guiding document to the practice of Yoga.
The sutras define the eight limbs of yoga, known collectively as Ashtanga Yoga.
Think of the limbs like eight spokes supporting a complete wheel. The eight limbs are:
1. Yamas – ethical precepts focused on moral relationships/characteristics.
These precepts include:
Ahimsa non violence
Bramacharya preserving creative life-force
Aparigraha non-grasping, non-possessiveness
2. Niyamas – ethical precepts for purifying mind and body/living soulfully. These include:
Tapas disciplined/inspired effort
Isvara Pranidhana service & dedication to life-force/Great Spirit…
3. Asana – Postures.
This is the limb (spoke) of physical postures to keep the body strong and flexible, relaxed and cleansed.
They aim to support the function of the organ system and energy flows in the body, strengthen the nervous system and refine our inner perception.
4. Pranayama – developing the movement of prana (life-force) through the body.
This is accessed through breathing practices and breath control.
5. Pratyahara – focusing the senses inward, or withdrawing the senses away from what they are experiencing (e.g. hearing or seeing) external to the body.
Though sometimes pratyahara practices actually focus on fully experiencing one or more of the senses in an externalised environment.
6. Dharana: Concentration
7. Dhyana: Meditation
8. Samadhi: self realisation, liberation, bliss.
When the mind rests in the original silence or space of creative energy that is oneness.