The eight limbs of yoga is define as yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption). These eight limbs form a sequence from the outer to the inner.
The five yamas
- Ahimsa (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): non-avarice, non-possessiveness
The five niyama
- Shaucha (शौच): purity, clearness of mind, speech and body
- Santosha (संतोष): contentment, acceptance of others, acceptance of one's circumstances as they are in order to get past or change them, optimism for self
- Tapas (तपस्): persistence, perseverance, austerity, asceticism, self-discipline
- Svadhyaya (स्वाध्याय): study of Vedas, study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self's thoughts, speech and actions
- Ishvarapranidhana (ईश्वरप्रणिधान): contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality)
Asana is a posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed, steady, comfortable and motionless. Any posture that causes pain or restlessness is not a yogic posture. Patanjali's sutra state that one requirement of correct posture for sitting meditation is to keep chest, neck and head erect (proper spinal posture).
After a desired posture has been achieved, the practice of consciously regulating the breath (inhalation, the full pause, exhalation, and the empty pause). This is done in several ways, such as by inhaling and then suspending exhalation for a period, exhaling and then suspending inhalation for a period, by slowing the inhalation and exhalation, or by consciously changing the timing and length of the breath (deep, short breathing).
Pratyahara is drawing within one's awareness. It is a step of self extraction and abstraction. Pratyahara is consciously closing one's mind processes to the sensory world. Pratyahara empowers one to stop being controlled by the external world, fetch one's attention to seek self-knowledge and experience the freedom innate in one's inner world.
Dharana, as the sixth limb of yoga, is holding one's mind onto a particular inner state, subject or topic of one's mind. The mind is fixed on a mantra. Fixing the mind means one-pointed focus, without drifting of mind, and without jumping from one topic to another.
Dhyana is contemplating, reflecting on whatever Dharana has focused on. If the concentration was on one object, Dhyana is non-judgmental, non-presumptuous observation of that object. Dhyana is uninterrupted train of thought, current of cognition, flow of awareness.
Dhyana is integrally related to Dharana, one leads to other. Dharana is a state of mind, Dhyana the process of mind.
Samadhi is oneness with the subject of meditation. There is no distinction, during the eighth limb of yoga, between the actor of meditation, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation. Samadhi is that spiritual state when one's mind is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind loses the sense of its own identity. The thinker, the thought process and the thought fuse with the subject of thought. There is only oneness, samadhi.