Ancient Widsom for Modern Life: The Amazing 8 Limbed Path of Yoga

Ancient Widsom for Modern Life: The Amazing 8 Limbed Path of Yoga

Get to the heart of Yoga ~ the purpose & the process and how to apply this timeless wisdom to your life. 

The 8 Limbed Path of Yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written over 2,000 years ago, does not mention one yoga posture. 

No drawings of people in lotus pose, no specific anatomical instructions, no sun salutations, none of that.

Most people find that surprising. 

For many when they think of yoga – it’s what’s done on yoga mats, and asana {the physical postures of yoga} are mentioned in the Sutras, yet the only instruction given is regarding the feel of it. 

And of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, asana is only one.  So the stuff we do one the mat ~ it’s 1/8  or 12.5% of the whole.

So what is the rest of it? 
What about the remaining 87.5%? 
What’s it for?
How does it work?
What can it do for busy modern lives?

Well…the rest is freakin’ GOLD and absolutely something we can bring into our lives.

Let’s look at the 8 Limbed Path…  

Because it’s empowering, timeless & universal.  It’s a structured, progressive path anyone can use to feeling peaceful and at one with the universe.  They aren’t just for the deep meditative moments of rishis in caves, but for moments in traffic, moments battling with a difficult loved one, moments of confusion, overwhelm, moments when we are disconnected from ourselves.

By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment.
from the Yoga Sutras, Book 2.28

Notice the end result is discriminative discernment.  That’s the mind we are talking about.  Yoga is a practice to nourish our ability discern, our choices, our presence ~ not just to stand on one foot.

I have personally returned many times to the timeless teachings of the 8 Limbed Path and have found them to be both gentle and powerful ~ which is a favourite combo of mine.

{If you want to read them yourself – which I highly recommend – & for a bit of further on this topic, I have notes and resources at the bottom}

Essential to note is that this is a path. 

It is active, engaged and progressive.  One step leads to the next, prepares us for the next.  And the guidance is simplicity at its best – the type that is easily understood, yet rich in meaning with many facets to explore as we revisit them again and again.


Here’s a drive-by lesson for you on the 8 Limbed Path of Yoga with a few reflections on how the wisdom applies to our modern lives….


The 8 Limbed Path of Yoga

*worth noting: one & two have 5 sub-sections each so are longer than the rest



Yama ~

Yama means restraint so this is a list of no-nos or practices of restraint. 

There are 5:

Ahimsa ~

Non-violence or non-harm to yourself, others & your environment. 

Essentially do not harm.  Sounds obvious and simple but there are many ways to consider this, for example, the long hours people sometimes work and the pressure they put on themselves and perhaps also others ~ despite it being harmful, people do it.  So it’s useful to ask where our behaviours or even mindsets may be creating harm?  For instance, impatience in traffic never helped anyone, neither does negative self-talk…practice restraint around what you know to be harmful.  It’s OK if you aren’t perfect, just start with this clear intention, restart each day and doors of insight will open for you.


Satya ~


Be honest with yourself & others. 
This requires the courage to look and recognize where we aren’t being honest.  We all know lying is shitty but at another level ~ consider choices we make that aren’t rooted in our truth?  Are we doing what we think we “should” even though it feels sucky?  Are we wasting our time and others time by not being clear and honest about what we need or not being clear and honest about our boundaries?


Asteya ~

Do not steal.

Free yourself from greed or desire for something you have not earned, understand the connection between what you practice & what you reap.  This one speaks of process, do not rely on shortcuts. 


Brahmacharya ~

Do not misuse your body’s energy or become over identified with the experiences of senses as this can keep you caught up simply in the material world to the detriment of deeper personal & spiritual growth.    


Aparigraha ~

Free yourself from grasping and attachment. 

Letting go of expectations & outcomes enables a much richer process where steadiness & patience will naturally flow.  This relates to the type of pressure we put on ourselves that drains joy.  Better to explore, pay attention and work with what is in the now ~ rather than future tripping and control freaking.  Hold the material possessions in your life lightly.  Appreciate them, but don’t give your power away to them. 



Niyama ~

As yamas mean restraint, niyama means embrace.  These are the qualities we want to grow and invest in.  The qualities we can confidently allow to steer our choices and behaviours.  Qualities that bring us better connection to ourselves, others and our experiences.


You will probably notice the niyamas are closely related to the above yamas.  This is part of the design of the path.  Observance of the yamas create fertile ground for the niyamas


It’s not necessary that do everything perfectly, simply begin by allowing the concepts into your conscious awareness and from there you will progress.


The 5 niyamas:


Saucha ~

Purity, purity of the body and mind. 

Radiant physical and mental health requires treating yourself as a temple.  Nobody else can do this for you.  It’s all down to your choices.  Tend to your body mind and purify it with proper nutrition, hydration, breathing, cleanliness, yoga and so on.  Discern what goes within – from food to thoughts and even images from screens.  When your inner world feels mucky & not-so-pure, you can clean it out with things like yoga and meditation, time in nature, a bath or a great book.  You don’t have to be perfect, just start with awareness and intention.  The yama of ahimsa (restrait of harmful behaviours) will stop you from doing harm, the niyama of saucha is the good stuff you now have the space for.  See the relationship?


Santosa ~


Accepting and embracing things as they opens the door to contentment.  Knowing life is always unfolding & never “perfect” helps.  Stopping thought patterns that are telling you “not enough”, “not good enough” and choosing to embrace what is will empower you.  (note: this does not mean complacency!). Notice the opposite of santosa is standing in judgement, deciding what’s wrong, resisting, not liking.  Accept what is, then move forward.  {Santosa is a key element of mindfulness or Buddhist vipassana practice.}


Tapas ~

Literally, heat. 
Burning, refining, zeal, motivation. 

Tapas speaks to the drive that keeps us learning and keeps us practicing.  Discipline & commitment are powerful forces.  Most of the time we know what we should do…some of the time we actually do it.  Tapas creates the consistency we need to experience growth on a deeper level.  It is not about burning out, but answering the burning within and gifting yourself with consistent effort.  What one consistent daily habit would make a positive impact in your life?  Or what do you feel called to learn more about?


Svadhyaya ~


Reflective practice, intentional awareness of the self.  
Being willing to truly see yourself, your habits, your beliefs.  Creating that sacred space for observation and reflection on you.  This can feel like very heavy lifting if you are not ready for it.  Notice how the previous steps have created safe & comfortable circumstances to do this.  Svadhyaya is an absolute game changer, but it takes courage.  We do ourselves a big favour when we clear the path with the other steps


Ishvarapranidhana ~

Release of the ego.
An element of surrender to the greater. 

OMG so freeing.  It’s the egoic stuff that’s generally causing us our greatest pains.  Learning to surrender the crazy obsessions of the ego frees up so much energy and space in or lives.  Many times I have struggle-bussed because the ego was adamant I needed such and such to feel whole or worthy.  But once I chose not to listen to the fears of the ego and surrendered the condition I was putting on my happiness & satisfaction ~ the game was totally changed.  But this does not come easily and many people’s egos are running the show of their life most of the time.  Laying the groundwork with the previous steps makes this much easier and it’s a step to be returned to again and again particularly as we work through our limiting beliefs.



Asana ~

Literally seat.

This is the limb that relates to the practice we do on our mats, yet in The Yoga Sutras there is not one mention of a specific posture.  (These came to be written down much later in The Hatha Yoga Pradipika in the 14th century.). What the sutras do say is to be fully present in ones body with a balance of sthira & sukham or stability & ease. 
Poise and presence.  Body awareness.


If this quality is not present in your experience on the mat, you are not actually doing yoga. 


You may dip in and out of experiencing sthira & sukham and that’s OK, but to be clear ~ absolutely central to the physical postures of yoga is the balance between stability and ease. 


The mat practice shines a light on your experience of your body and the cultivation of proper asana.  We then take this off the mat into daily life making adjustments where necessary. 


For instance, iPhone neck is not proper asana, too much time hunched at a desk is not proper asana, yoga class if I am overly concerned about how I compare to others is not proper asana.  Walking in the park and noticing the experience of my body moving through space and aligning it in a manner that feels relaxed yet powerful is proper asana.  Checking in with my body after an hour at the laptop to stretch and reorganise my alignment is proper asana


You can practice asana anywhere, mat practice just makes it more accessible.



Pranayama ~

Intentional work with the breath. 

A controlled intake & outflow of breath within the conditions of stability & ease of the body (asana).  Pranayama is the delicate observation and refinement of the breath once numbers 1-3 of the path are (at least somewhat) established.  Again, Patanjali is quite clear about this process being progressive, if one engages in pranayama without proper preparation of the body and mind, it can be very agitating and produce tension.


During a busy day we can check in with the breath and slightly lengthen it as we adjust our posture, but jumping into any complicated pranayama practices before we are centred in body & mind is counter-productive. 


In our culture where there is a tendency to over-do things rather than trust the power of a gentle practice with full presence, I have seen many people experience adverse effects of poor pranayama technique including a friend who lost most of the feeling down one arm for several days (no joke)…the breath is a BFF and directly connects us to our nervous system but, like all of us, it will not respond well to being bossed around. 


Go gently, go respectfully and do honour the transformative nature of the simple practice of slightly smoothing out and lengthening your breath.  Pushing and striving will just backfire.



Pratyahara ~

Sense withdrawal

To draw the senses in rather than focus on the outside world.  The mind will often follow the senses and get caught up in interpreting and/or judging the sensory input.  When we practice pratyahara we allow the sensory stimulation to exist, but do not get caught up in it. 


For instance, perhaps you are laying down for a relaxing nap when you hear incessant dog barking.  The mind may want to say, “Shut up dog!..Tthat must be 20 barks…Why so high pitched?…What a horrible sound…Where is the owner?…I wonder what kind of dog that is…I loved my dog when I was a kid, he never barked like that…” and on and on.  With pratyahara, it is just a sound, allowed to come and go and you are not concerned with it, you are instead turning within.



Dharana ~

Focused concentration. 
One pointed concentration. 
You choose what you are going to focus on and you focus on that alone. 


This can be anything from meditation practice where you are focused on your breath to focusing on being with a loved one or writing or painting or looking at the sea.  The mind is not jumping from here to there, the phone is not being picked up, you are not interrupting, you are not paying attention to notifications.  You are doing one thing only.  Which naturally leads to number 7….



Dhyana ~

You are in flow.

You are utterly connected, utterly present.  You and the sea, you and the loved one, you and the writing or painting or book you are reading are somehow one and things are in a state of flow and ease, naturally.  There is no willfulness, there is no “doing”, there is being and connection and an expanded consciousness which naturally leads to number 8….



Samadhi ~


You know it, it arises when we “lose ourselves” in states of wonder and awe and love.  It feels f-ing great.  Our whole chest feels like it’s shining, we speak of being so happy, we “could burst”.  Our mind is concerned only with the present moment state of bliss.


And that’s it!


Hopefully you can see this isn’t just stuff for guys in loin cloths and no worldly belongings, but rather a progressive process that’s available to us in our daily lives no matter who we are.  It may require some consistent effort and practice, but these are all things we can do for ourselves.


And when we work within the structure of the path, we make it much easier for ourselves. 


Each steps creates the conditions for the next step to naturally arise or at least arise without much resistance.  This is such a gift. 


THIS is yoga.


A couple tips for bringing this wisdom into daily life:

> Start at the beginning.

> Reflect on the last 24 hours.  Where were you out of step with this process?  Where were you in step with it?  What parts of the path are you great at?  Which parts need a bit of practice?

> Give yourself a full day or even a full week with each of the yamas & niyamas (number 1 & 2).  In my experience this is where people need to give the most attention, the densest part.

> Remember it’s a process and not about perfection.  You do not need to perfect each stage to move on, you just need to engage and be open to the wisdom.

> Save the image I created, share it with a yogi friend & discuss, look at it, create time to consider it.

> Get a copy of the Sutras, it’s pretty readable // notes on texts below.

> Put questions and reflections into the comment box below.  I read them and reply regularly


If you want to go deeper into this topic and how to bring this wisdom into your life, I can help with one to one sessions. 

The 8 Limbed Path is a powerful structured, proven process that will better connect you to your centre and open doors to feeling more satisfied and more empowered in daily life.  To discuss options book a free chat with me HERE.  


Brief Guide on Reading Yogic Texts

Go ahead and do it! 

> The Upanishads & the Bhagavad Gita alongside the Sutras are generally regarded as the primary texts on yoga.

> People argue about how old these texts are but it’s reasonable to say that The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were written over 2,000 years ago and were likely oral tradition for much, much longer.

> Patajali is revered as a great Hindu sage around which is much myth as well as question marks including an argument that he was in fact many people.  Whoever, whatever and whenever he/she/they were, they have left us with one of the most widely read and loved spiritual books in human history – so yay Patanjali, I for one am very grateful.

> The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is actually quite short ~ and poetic and beautiful.  What yoga luminaries do is publish it with their personal commentary which makes it longer and perhaps more understandable or relevant.  Personally I like just the sutras themselves but I also love the one by Sri Swami Satchidananda, lots of people get the one by BKS Iyengar.

> The Upanishads is claimed to be mankind’s oldest work of philosophy (before the Greeks), they are Vedic texts.  Meditative and beautiful.  Ideas are broken down into small chunks and verses.  It’s older than the Sutras, reasonable to say about 4,000 years old and oral tradition for much longer.

> The Bhagavad Gita is more of a narrative, a story of Prince Arjuna and his conversation with his charioteer who also happens to be Krishna (God) – but Arjuna doesn’t know this.  They are on a battlefield and a dialogue ensues covering pretty much everything perplexing about being a human.  It’s beautiful and nice to read with others.  The Gita was supposedly first written down between 500 – 200 BCE.

> If you want to check out the oldest text with images and instruction on yoga asana, as well as pranayama and other techniques & yogic ways to understand the energy of the body ~ get the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.  V text like, matter of fact and possibly a bit overwhelming, but a great resource.


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