Pantajali: The Eight Limb

By Kate Duncan. 

This is our final blog post in our Why You Don’t Need a Mat to Practice Yoga series and in it we will explore the end goal of yoga: Samadhi. 


Samadhi; bliss or enlightenment, is the final destination. It is said to be the natural result of a disciplined practice of the other limbs. 


Most people on earth right now have not (and likely will not) experience Samadhi in this lifetime. Since I, too, have not personally experienced this state, I will draw from the precious explanations given to us by Pantajali, the father of the eight limbs of yoga.


Let’s review…


The eight limbs are:


  1. Yama (ethical standards or integrity)
  2. Niyama (self-disciple and spiritual observances)
  3. Asana (postures)
  4. Pranayama (breathing techniques, or breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (contemplation, or meditative absorption)
  8. Samadhi (liberation, bliss or enlightenment)


In Sanskrit, Samadhi literally means “to put together”. As discussed in or last post on Dhyana, the first six limbs are an active process. This means we consciously cultivate them in our life. Dhyana and Samadhi, on the other hand, are a result. They cannot be forced to arise, instead we can only put in the work, and remain patient for the reward.


In Dharana, we used effort to keep bringing our mind back to the object of concentration. In Dhyana, we became absorbed, clearly contemplating, and free of any effort. In Samdhi, we become completely in union with the object. By doing so, we realise there is not a separate us and them, and all limiting concepts drop away.


It is said that those who actively seek Samadhi are eluded by it, as the seeking itself is a form of clinging or desire that cannot be present in oneness. When one achieves Samadhi, all sense of self and other is removed. We realise that we are in the world, but not of the world. We realise that we are the all, and the all is us.


Like me, you may have experienced small glimpses into the divine at times in your life. You may have suddenly found yourself completely in union with a spectacular sight. At the height of lovemaking, at the brith of a child, or at the peak of an intense sporting event, you may have experienced momentary bliss. These small moments of wonder are called lower samadhis. They aren’t the abiding state of bliss that is the end goal, but they are a guiding light to show us the way.


There are also false samadhis. These bring us pleasure, but then lead us to more clinging and desire, taking us away from real liberation. You may know some of these false samadhis well: intoxicants, gambling, excessive eating or shopping, video games, or pornography. They bring us quick hits of sexual pleasure, but leave us lower when they’re gone.


The eight limbs that Pantanjali laid out for us are a roadmap to real, lasting freedom. They free us from the confines of the ego: both the collective and the individual. We need constant discipline to break out of our deeply ingrained habits, and a strong sense of forgiveness for our selves. It is likely that our efforts will sometimes waver. That we will fail and forget. The key is not to give up, but to forgive, and to begin again.


Though you may not be perfect, any effort you make is better than none. Though you may not reach samadhi next week, next month, next year, or even in this lifetime, the eight limbs of yoga give us a map to live a happier, more peaceful life.

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