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8 Limbs of Yoga

How you show up on your mat, is how you show up in life.

For me, when I first came across Yoga, I thought it was just about lycra and postures.

I had massive judgement about the spiritual arrogance and snobbery of the Yoga crowd. And especially in my little country town, it was viewed upon with massive scepticism, cult-like appearance and was even criticised in the newspapers as a ‘dangerous fad’ (although a generalisation, there are instances where certain people with injuries, hyper flexibility or other conditions is should seek a more specialised Yoga instructor).

However, as I experienced it first-hand, and started incorporating aspects of Yoga in my life, I realised how deep and rich its philosophy is. But also how misunderstood, or at least how under-represented much of the philosophy is.

Yoga means 'to unite', to bridge all aspects of life together. In its simplest representation, Yoga is an ancient practice of harmonising the body, mind and the breath using asanas, pranayama, and meditation. Each pose, breath and state of mind reflects moments in our everyday life. The Yoga mat is our training ground to maximise your potential within every aspect of this human experience.

Even deeper still, and this is my favourite part, there are 8 Limbs of Classical Yoga, a series of sutras, each of which offers guidance on how to live a life of freedom. When I read these, and understood their meaning in everyday practicality, they empowered me with a deeper respect of my Yoga practice, as well as more inspiration to continue on this path.

The 8 Limbs of Classical Yoga are:


The first limb, Yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and conduct in life. Yamas are best described as the universal practice of: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

The five yamas are:

· Ahimsa: non-violence

· Satya: truthfulness

· Asteya: non-stealing

· Brahmacharya: continence

· Aparigraha: non-covetousness


Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Examples of niyamas include but not limited to: a disciplined daily practice, religious study, self-development, observing healthy eating and regular physical exercise.

The five niyamas are:

· Saucha: cleanliness

· Samtosa: contentment

· Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities

· Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self

· Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God


The postures of Yoga: Asanas, comprise the third limb. In Yoga, the body is revered as the temple in which our God-like essence, Spirit, resides. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the discipline, capacity, and resilience to maintain centred in meditation, on and off the mat.


Pranayama, the fourth limb of Yoga, can be translated as 'prana' = 'breath' or 'life-force energy', and ‘ayama = 'control'. The breath is key to controlling the subtle energy within the body. The breath is the link between the body and the mind, both powerfully inter-connected.

Pranayama techniques can create powerful physiological, emotional and spiritual changes within us, and the benefits are limitless. Pranayama serve as powerful tools in our daily life, and as preparation for the other aspects of your Yoga practice.


Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is the bridge where our focus shifts from the external physical practices, to the subtler internal ones as outlined in the remaining limbs of Yoga. Pratyahara can be described as the beginnings of exploring our inner world, where we can discover more about ourselves, our behaviours, our habits and how we 'show' up in our daily lives.


Dharana is the first internal stage of the eight limbs that is focused on cultivating concentration at will using a variety of techniques. These techniques build our ability to draw all of our senses and bring one-pointed focus and concentration to what we are desiring. We become present, aware and our efforts are efficient to the task at hand, whether it is meditation, being with our loved ones or enjoying celebrations. This step of Yoga also prepares us for the final stages of Yoga, Dhyana and Samadhi.


Dhyana, the seventh limb, and is described as 'meditative absorption' . This is essentially the practice of concentrating long enough where it becomes a spontaneous meditation. It is not something that is 'actively' performed; it is where the mind drops away, and the concentration held absorbs into a state of pure experience of the present moment.

If Dharana is the more active concentration aspect of meditation, then Dhyana could be described as the passive concentration-like state of meditation.


The final limb, Samadhi, is translated into: ‘sama-’ meaning ‘same’ or ‘equal’, and ‘-dhi’ meaning ‘to see’. At this stage, the meditator transcends the Self altogether. The bliss-state synonymous with 'samadhi' is described as the attainment of freedom of attachment from the mind, coming into pure present awareness of all that is; there are no thoughts, no judgement, no analysis, a state of 'one-ness' and simultaneously 'no-self'. The 'self' is absorbed into the 'observed', becoming one.

In conclusion, life is like a spiral. We may find we reach a level of mastery, or even a moment of enlightenment at times, but at that moment, we start again. Imagine a video game, and suddenly you ‘Level-Up!’. Suddenly, you’re at the beginning of this level, ready to learn new life experiences and the lessons they learn. New, tougher, challenges, new environments, new experiences that bring new life lessons for growth.

One of the most beautiful moments I experience from time to time, is the embodied realisation of “Oh my God. I know NOTHING. I feel like I’m back at square 1”. But know that’s where I remain humble, open and ready to accept the new opportunities for growth I will receive. During those moments, I remember that I have the tools, methods, wisdom and knowledge that have taken me to previous levels, and that I can always fall back on them for support, and even improve them to face life in a totally new way.

As I write this, I have experienced this moment recently, and I keep challenging my old way of looking at things, to avoid being stuck in a pattern that needs to be broken to continue on my path of growth. Sometimes we need to de-volve to evolve. I remind myself of these 8 Limbs, and I assess myself, out of 10, of each sutra with total honesty and I start to revisit the areas that need attention. Sometimes I lose my meditation, sometimes I lose my asanas, sometimes I lose it all! Yoga, and its deep philosophy, has been a strong educational curriculum for my life when I need more masculine guidance and awareness in my life.

I introduce the 8 Limbs to you here today, so you can perhaps utilise them in your everyday life for more clarity, freedom and joy, on and off the mat!

See you on the mat,

Nina & Antosh

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