Ashtanga yoga literally translated means 8 limbed yoga ashto = eight and anga = limb. This structure has its origins in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, where the practitioner is initiated into an all encompassing system involving physical postures as well as other techniques of control, dictating a method for living in every aspect of life.
Pattabhi Jois was always clear that his system was firmly rooted in this tradition. He started with the third limb, asana, and once this most easily graspable aspect of the practice had been mastered, the rest of the limbs would more naturally flow in increasingly subtle abilities towards the practice.
Being exclusively material and physical posture and breath were always deemed easier to control than mind and deeper energy, which would gradually become available to be mastered through developing capacities firstly on the more external level.
The Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga are as follows:
- Yama – ethical conduct and self-control for social harmony, there are 5 tenents under yama.
- Ahimsa = non-harm/non-violence. This is mental as well as physical, also to be thought of in the positive, as regarding living in accordance, not against the natural-principles of life
- Satya = truth. The attempt to live through a sense of personal integrity.
- Asteya = non-stealing. Often thought of literally, there are many ways we tacitly enter into this, such as the purchasing of cheap, in-ethically produces ingredients. It’s, therefore, a task demanding a consistent vigilance in daily life.
- Brahmacharya = conserving one’s energy so it is there to focus on the path of yoga. This was traditionally defined as celibacy, in modern-terms more liberally translated as sexual-continence, rather than complete abstinence. On the other hand, ancient Indian texts do point towards a more literal definition.
- Aprigrahah, = non-greed. Accumulating more than is needed is endemic in modern-life. A true yogi should live as simply as possible, trying not to become attached either to physical possessions or even the preservation of certain favourably considered circumstances.
- Niyama – the personal code of discipline. The responsibility of the management of our inner-life.
- Saucha = cleanliness. An attempt at simplicity in living, avoiding complicating life with unnecessary additions, spoiling the attempt at a one-pointed flow of energy in body and mind.
- Santosha = contentment. The consistent attempt to refrain from the restlessness that defines human experience which is so easily defined through what it lacks.
- Tapas = discipline. Literally to heat, this is the effort, to keep to consistent principles of daily living, involving a method and structure to conduct with a thought towards a more encompassing goal than short-term pleasures.
- Svadhyaya = self-study. The inquiry to what we are on a deeper-level to the more superficial sense of existing as a specific personality in a separate body. The intention being that a more substantial and profound basis for existence is discovered beyond being defined by the changeable preferences and desires often taken as defining us.
- Isvara Pranidhani = devotion to a higher principle. To dedicate, devote, or surrender to something larger than ourselves is an essential part of our wish for living. We all seek a sense of significance and meaning, and this is always sought as something outside The Self, self-existent and evident, providing a source of inspiration for a higher purpose in life other than the purely personal task of daily comfort.
- Asana – the physical postures of yoga. As was originally taken to mean ‘seat’, the idea that stability in the body first needed to be achieved, before the subtler stability of mind; imperative for the deeper-objective of meditation, could be sought. This belief was the rational used by P.Jois in his method geared towards the almost exclusive instruction of asana in his practice.
- Pranayama – breath control techniques. The breath more tangibly grasped through physical practice, the classical-instruction generally graduates towards the isolated manipulation of breathing-patterns. There are many different techniques involved within this method, all of them take ability and a strength in the physical-system provided through asana, in order to be able to efficiently assimilate the more profound energetic demands on the nervous system through these exercises.*The fifth to the eighth are generally said to be experienced as fruits of effort in the proceeding five limbs. For this reason they are generally known as the inner-limbs, ‘bahar-anga’, to the previous antara-anga’.
- Pratyahara – sense withdrawal. In detaching one’s senses from their habitual outward-look, worldly objects and concerns are forgotten, turning the mind toward internal elements of consciousness that normally remain hidden by these distractions.
- Dharana – concentration. The ‘one pointed’ focus, ekagrata, absolutely imperative for any deep level of inquiry to take place. This is the particular objective of most of the instruction on yoga, which is pre-eminently through the sage Patanjali known as mind control; yoga citta vritti nirodha; (the objective of yoga) is to still the turning mind.
- Dhyana – meditation. There are many specific techniques of this. Although they initially demand focus, meditation transcends this particular requirement in the attempt to facilitate the higher-understanding of certain, more widely-encompassing, mental or energetic states of being.
- Samadhi – enlightenment. This has many possibilities within the scope of its definition. Variously, it has been defined as absorption in the spirit (Patanjali), although, laterally, more pragmatically, to do with a greater awareness in life, or unity of experience.