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Ashtanga Yoga
The Eight-Limbed Yoga
Page 1

Eight Limbs or Steps

While ashta means eight and anga means limb, we can say that these are steps as much as limbs. They are limbs in the sense that they all belong to the same body of teachings and each is essential but they are steps in the sense that there is logical order to them and to how they must be approached.

We will first list them with a translation and then define them.

  1. Yama - the five restraints or the "don'ts"
    1. Ahimsa - Non violence
    2. Satya - Truthfulness
    3. Brahmacharya - Control of the senses and celibacy
    4. Asteya - Non stealing
    5. Aparigraha - Non covetousness and non acceptance of gifts
  2. Niyama - the five observances or the "do's"
    1. Saucha - Purity, cleanliness
    2. Santosha - Contentment
    3. Tapas - Austerity
    4. Swadhyaya - Self study, study of scriptures
    5. Ishwara Pranidhana - Surrender to God's will.
  3. Asana - Posture
  4. Pranayama - Control of prana or life force
  5. Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana - Concentration
  7. Dhyana - Meditation
  8. Samadhi - Super conscious state

The Foundation

As building a foundation is an absolutely necessary phase to building any structure, the most important aspect of the construction of the spiritual edifice of raja yoga is constituted by the moral and ethical practices called yamas and niyamas.

For the majority of aspirants, the main focus of their sadhana should be the development of yama and niyama. More advanced practices such as meditation should also be pursued but one must understand that no substantial progress will take place until the 10 practices of yama and niyama are tangibly established.

The Five Yamas

It should be noted that all yamas should be practiced in the spirit and by the letter. Furthermore they should be applied in deeds, words as well as thoughts. Perfection in any of them is for the very few but much progress can be made in a given lifetime. Also they should each be practiced in relation to each other. Sometime they will seem to conflict and much soul searching will be needed to know how to act righteously (according to dharma). Example: to tell the truth may harm people.

Ahimsa is non-violence. This means trying not to harm any living creature. Please note that sometime you have to apparently hurt somebody (usually emotionally) in the short term in order to save them from bigger harm in the future (tough love). Sometime not to help someone may constitute himsa or violence.

Satya is truthfulness. It is more than just to tell the truth. One's actions should be in accordance with one's words and thoughts. God and man's true Self are truth and in order to tune in with that consciousness we need to live truthfully at all times. Furthermore lying creates many thoughts in the mind which go against the raja yoga objective of calming the mind.

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