With its translation being “Eight Limbs Yoga,” Ashtanga Yoga’s series of breath synchronized Asanas or postures not only help detoxifying and strengthening one’s body but are also made up of parallel procedures that complement them and can guide us through a path of internal purification for revealing the Universal self. The eight limbs or spiritual practices are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama; Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi and in accordance to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ book Yoga Mala, they can be understood and practiced the following way:
The first limb is made up of Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha which stand for:
Practicing non-violence towards sentient beings in all word, thought, and deed.
Always telling the truth in all word, thought, and deed.
Not cheating or stealing from others; and not envying others.
Retaining of vital fluid, which makes reference to focusing the mind in Brahman without losing concentration or allowing the mind to wonder; as just the strong minds will be able to realize the Self. This non-wanted wondering includes all kinds of external and sensorial distractions from eating and playing to having sex or working.
Eating pure, untainted food that was acquired through righteousness; while just eating the amount your body needs to maintain itself.
The second limb or step is made up of the five sub-steps of Shaucha, Santosha, Tapas, Swadhyaya and Ishwarapranidhana:
Internal purification achieved by viewing every being as a friend and treating all with affection considering everything to be a reflection of God; and external purification achieved by washing the body’s surface with red clay and water.
Feeling content despite the circumstances.
Discipline the body and sense organs to destroy impurities.
The correct recital of Vedic verses and prayers to unite oneself to one’s deity.
Carrying out all actions for God and remaining detached of whatever results these actions may be aiming for.
This third limb consists of the yoga postures, through which first the body is purified and then the mind’s strength developed. It is important though to take into account the fact that body and mind are inseparably linked to one another, and that the body and sense organs largely depend on the strength of the mind; thus, the method for concentrating the mind is extremely important.
Once you have learned the asanas, you should learn how to bring your breath under control, this will help purify the breath and eliminate diseases of the body.
Directing our attention internally rather than externally for observing our inner world; the fifth limb of yoga means sensory transcendence.
Once we have achieved pratyahara, we seek to stop being distracted by the turbulence of the mind in order to achieve concentration or attention on a single point.
The seventh limb of yoga consists of meditation or contemplation, which could be described as a state of deep and uninterrupted concentration that ultimately leads to a complete condition of awareness, stillness and quietness.
The eighth and final limb can be understood as a state of trance in which the mind has reached a complete stillness that may allow the person to experience ecstasy and a connection to the universal Self.