The 8 Limbs of Yoga: A Guide to Living

Paul Salopek is a journalist who is on a very long walk. In fact, it’s so long he expects to be walking for at least seven years. Salopek began his trek four years ago in Africa and plans on following the migration of Homo sapiens to South America, relying solely on the generosity of people to feed and shelter him. In a New York Times article titled “Exploring the World on Foot,” Salopek says that “walking as a lifestyle is a moment-to-moment intellectual exercise.” The details of his adventures are endlessly fascinating, but what strikes home as the epitome of his experience so far is his assertion that he is “awake.”

Not everyone can quit their jobs and hike for 1,000 days, but isn’t being awake a state of mind everyone would like to be in? A place to feel calm, energized, mindful, alert and whole. There is another way to achieve this lofty goal without selling worldly belongings and trading in high heels for hiking boots and a compass. This other way is yoga. Not just the physical exercise of yoga, but what are known as the eight limbs of yoga.

Yoga Journal describes the eight limbs of yoga as “eight steps that act as a guideline on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.” They serve as a guidebook for health, spirituality, ethics and self-discipline. Here they are, limb by limb:

  1. Yama: This limb focuses on “The Golden Rule” – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  2. Niyama: The second limb focuses on spiritual observances and self-discipline. In other words, having a regular practice of contemplation, be it saying grace before each meal or meditating daily.
  3. Asanas: The third limb is the most well known of all the limbs. It is believed that through the asanas, or poses, a “habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate” develop, both of which are necessary for meditation.
  4. Pranayama: Breath control is the fourth limb and vital to connecting the mind and the emotions.
  5. Pratyahara: Withdrawing from the external world to focus on intention within is the fifth limb. This internal focus is to observe habits and lifestyle choices that may inhibit and interfere with internal growth.
  6. Dharana: The sixth limb is a preparation for concentration. Separate and different from meditation, dharana focuses on a single mantra, deity, sound or specific energy center in the body.
  7. Dhyana: Meditation or contemplation, the seventh limb, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration.
  8. Samadhi: This last limb brings it all together in a final and complete package. Following the eight stages will successfully bring abot a point of ecstasy, a place of peace, and enlightenment.

Anyone can find the state of awakeness that Paul Salopek has found. With effort and discipline, everyone can move through the limbs of yoga and achieve peacefulness.

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