The Eight Limbs of Yoga

This week we will look at Sutra 2.28 and 2.29 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which bring us to a discussion of the “8 Limbs of Yoga.” You will remember that we began our discussions in the Fall with an in-depth look at the Yamas (external disciplines or restraints) and Niyamas (individual disciplines) — the first of these eight limbs. We will look at each of the eight limbs review the Yamas and the Niyamas, before we move on to an in depth look at the sutras on asana in the weeks ahead. Please bring a translation of the Sutras is you have one as I would like to go over pronounciation of the eight limbs — as a yoga practitioner, Sutra 2.29 is an important sutra to be familiar with or even memorize.

Here are some translations/commentary:

By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga, impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates in glory. Moral injunctions (yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture (asana), regulation of breath (pranayama), internalization of the senses towards their source (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption of consciousness in the self (samadhi), are the eight constituents of yoga. (Iyengar)

By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom leading to discriminative discernment. The eight limbs are abstinence, observance, posture, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, mediation and contemplation, absorption or superconscious state. The eight limbs seamlessly integrate selfless, active participation in life with introspection and contemplation. This exquisite balance is designed to encourage self-knowledge, expand and transform consciousness and culminate in Self-realization. (Carrera)

By the practice of yoga, Patanjali states, impurity is destroyed which consists of the five kleshas, obstacles to yoga (ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life)….When impurity is removed, the light of full knowledge, jnana-dipti, noted in this sutra can shine forth, like the sun after the cold season, says Sankara (ancient commentator/Sage). Another way of putting this is that as the impurities of tamas and rajas dwindle, the luminosity and clarity inherent in sattva can manifest unimpeded. An impurity is something that intrudes on or contaminates another entity, in the case, rajas and tamas covering sattva (of course, sattva is ultimately a covering of purusha). The more the eightfold path is practiced, the more this light can correspondingly increase. This increase culminates in the desired discriminative discernment, a feature of sattva. Just as the axe slices wood from a tree, so the practice of these eight limbs slices the impurities away from the citta, says Vyasa. (ancient commentator/sage).

The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga address all aspects of spiritual life, starting with social relationships and personal and mental disciplines, and culminating with perfection of knowledge (viveka khyati) and the realization of the distinction between undifferentiated consciousness (purusha) and the unmanifest reality underlying all aspects of manifest creation (prakriti). (Baba Hari Dass).