2.03.2013

Mind & Body Wellness: Eight Branches of Yoga


In ancient India a guide for artful living was written down in the form of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are eight limbs or branches in the Yoga Sutras -- a prescription for taming a restless mind so as to experience more inner peace. I particularly enjoy how these eight limbs of yoga are reflective of the Buddhist Eight-Fold Path, which you can read more about by clicking here.

Here is a brief summary of the eight branches of yoga:

Yama

Yama is an ethical code of universal morality for how we deal with the world outside of ourselves. Integrating these five different behaviors will lead to more happiness and well-being.
  1. Ahimsa: Practice compassion and consideration for all living things. Ahimsa means everything not just the people you like but also the difficult circumstances that challenge your values and beliefs. Always try to do no harm.
  2. Satya: Make a commitment to being honest and speaking the truth.
  3. Asteya: Don't take what doesn't belong to you. Not only does this include material possessions but also developing awareness around demanding time or attention from people that is not freely given.
  4. Brahmacharya: Utilize sexual energy to reconnect with your spiritual self and refrain from using it to harm another.
  5. Aparigraph: Only take from life what is absolutely necessary. Let go the desire for future gain and hoarding material wealth or possessions.

Niyama

While Yamas are a code of conduct for dealing with the external world, the Niyamas are ways of living more soulfully by taking care of our personal selves.

  1. Suaca: Live clean inside and out. Keep your body healthy and take care of your outward appearance. Practice asanas and pranayama to keep your organs functioning properly and cleanse your mind of disturbing thoughts.
  2. Santosa: Feel content with what you have.
  3. Tapas: Pay attention to what you eat and body postures as a way to discipline your energy.
  4. Savadhyaya: Develop a practice of self-awareness that will minimize reactive behavior and create more balance.
  5. Isvarapranidhana: Give yourself over to Divine Providence each day.

Asanas

Asanas is the limb of yoga we are most familiar with because it involves the use of body postures. Asanas are designed to reconnect your body to the divine spirit found within and calm your mind.

Pranayama

Pranayama are breathing exercises that control prana (life energy). In deep breathing exercises, you strengthen your respiratory system and regulate your nervous system, reducing unnecessary cravings, and freeing your mind.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is severing the connection between your mind and senses. It is a practice of not using the external sense world to stimulate, distract, and feed your mind. This is best experienced through meditation where your senses naturally withdraw from their attachment to the external world because the mind is completely focused.

Dharana

Dharana is holding your fixed attention in one direction. This can be done through focused meditation on a single object.

Dhyana

Dhyana is contemplation on a single point of focus so as to meditate on the Divine. In this form of meditation you perceive the true nature of things and move beyond the illusion of reality.

Samadhi

Samadhi is state of union with the Divine achieved through meditation where there is no perceived separation.

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