The Yamas are rules of moral code. Think of them like you would the Ten Commandments in Christianity. Rules to live by outside yourself. These rules include: non-harm to self and others, truthfulness, and self-restraint.
The Niyamas are rules guiding personal behavior, including: striving for purity, working towards contentment, maintaining discipline and a constant devotion to your spiritual center—be it God, Ganesh, Buddha, or whatever you choose.
Asana refers to yoga postures. But these are supposed to be done to master the body so as to sit still for meditation.
Pranayama are yoga breathing techniques designed to control prana or vital life force.
Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. Blocking out any external influences that may keep you from focusing entirely on your practice.
Dharana refers to concentration.
Dhyana is the practice of meditation.
Samadhi is merging with the divine or a state of complete contentment or bliss.
Yoga can be a very personal experience. Perhaps you practice it to simply maintain or enhance flexibility. Or maybe you use the postures to help you alleviate stress. Then there are those who view yoga as a path to spiritual enlightenment and strive to incorporate all eight limbs of yoga into their daily lives.
Of course these are not hard and fast identities. You may fall somewhere in between the lines. In truth, however you practice is the right way to practice.
But what are the eight limbs of yoga?
Can knowing these limbs help you get more out of your practice? I would say, yes.
Let me explain: before getting certified to teach yoga, I fell into the first category of yoga practitioner. I mainly viewed it as a way to gain flexibility and compliment my fitness routine. But about half way through my study—which included learning and exploring the eight limbs of yoga—I felt a profound sense of peace. It was quite shocking. I didn’t even know I wasn’t already at an acceptable level of peace.
But there I was, looking through the same eyes, but seeing things differently. I was much more understanding of people’s faults, and much more patient with those in my personal life.
The eight limbs aren’t entirely responsible for this change. It was the whole of my studies, really. But it was learning and understanding them that started me towards that place of comfort with myself.
I have yet to, and may never reach, Samadhi. But I will keep trying.
If you have any questions about starting a yoga practice, or on where you might learn more about these eight limbs of yoga, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.