The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.
In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:
You Can Transform Your Life
Rather than thinking of the yamas and niyamas as a mandatory “to-do list,” view them as invitations to act in ways that promote inner and outer peace and bliss. “They create harmony within you, and in relationship to your environment and to others. Where there is harmony, consciousness can expand,” says John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga. “They lead us to a natural revelation of insight into the nature of being, and joy naturally arises.”
They also provide a mirror in which to study your practice and your Self. Viniyoga teacher and Yoga Sutra scholar Gary Kraftsow says they represent the qualities of an integrated human being. You get there through practice, contemplation, meditation, and working to transform yourself. “The path of practice begins with understanding and refining the different dimensions of who you are, and it unfolds progressively, not all at once,” says Kraftsow. “The whole goal of yoga is Self-realization, which can also be called freedom.” The yamas and niyamas give you infinite opportunities to truly transform your life.
Patanjali doesn’t tell you how specifically to “do” the yamas and niyamas—that’s up to you. But if you align your life with them, they’ll lead you to your highest aspirations: peace, truth, abundance, harmonious relationships, contentment, purity, self-acceptance, love, and meaningful connection to the Divine—the essence of happiness.