Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path

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At the end of last year, we looked at the true meaning and purpose of yoga: a spiritual practice that invites us to still the mind in order to connect ultimately with the divine.  In order to achieve Samadhi (pure consciousness), Patanjali, who is often described as the founder of yoga, explains an eight fold path that assists the yogi on this ultimate realisation of consciousness.

 Patanjali presents a system called Ashtanga Yoga (ashto meaning “eight”, anga meaning “limb”), the Eight-Limbed Yoga, also known as the Eight Fold Path, where the practice of yoga as a spiritual discipline is organised into eight limbs or parts.  This practical guide to living presented by Patanjali is what distinguishes yoga as a spiritual practice, not simply another form of exercise.  The limbs, according to Patanjali are the various areas which one should observe in order to clear the mind of impurities so that the Atman (the Self) can be revealed which leads to samadhi, the realisation of pure consciousness.

 The first two limbs that Patanjali begins with are the fundamental ethical precepts called yama and the niyama.  These first two limbs apply to one’s behaviour towards others and to one’s personal development respectively.  The third limb is asana, which is the physical discipline of yoga, which is often called posturePranayama is the fourth limb and refers to breath control followed by pratyahara which is the practice of controlling the senses from external distraction.  Dharana is the process of concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness followed by dhyana which is the devotion and mediation on the divine.  Finally, the ultimate goal is the eighth limb – samadhi which is absolute consciousness and can only be arrived at as the result of a dedicated practice of all other seven limbs.

In the next GRACE-MAIL we will take a close look at each of these limbs and highlight the emphasis and expressions provided by them.

 “It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed” ~ Patanjali, Yoga Sutras