Sutra of the Month: September 2015
Moral injunctions (yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture (asana), regulation of breath (pranayama), internalization of the senses towards their source (pratyahara), concentraton (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and absorption of consciousness in the self (samadhi), are the eight constituents of yoga.
In the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali addresses the important elements of yoga practice, or sadhana. In this sutra he names the eight limbs (or angas) of classical yoga. In the sutras which follow he addresses each of the eight in more detail.
The fact that there are eight limbs in the yoga of Patanjali are why B.K.S. Iyengar referred to the yoga he taught as ashtanga yoga. These eight limbs, or eight constituents of yoga, are in some ways sequential and cumulative. For example, deciding to follow the five social (or ethical) injunctions and five personal (or self-disciplining) observances establishes the foundation needed in order to practice posture and breath control. These first four limbs together support the practice of the final four.
However, in other ways the eight limbs can also be experienced wholistically, as B.K.S. Iyengar frequently advised. While practicing asana and pranayama, for example, we must be conscious of at least some of the social and individual practices (non-violence and truthfulness come easily to mind). Becoming absorbed in the asana practice can also become meditative.
The eight limbs set out a path for learning and practicing restraint and withdrawal through body, mind and senses. By restraining the pull of the outer, material world on the senses we improve our chances of turning away from external and material objects toward a more internal and perhaps more spiritual path.