In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we learn about the eight limbs of yoga, the eight branches towards awakening and connecting with our true selves. As discussed in part one and two, the first two branches of the eight limbs of yoga are the yamas and the niyamas.
The remaining six limbs of yoga are as follows:
Postures. This limb refers to the physical postures practiced in yoga. By practicing asanas with the breath, one moves towards body awareness. Focusing on your drishti, your point of gaze, is more than just a general direction of where we look. It is rather a dynamic and acute awareness of your inner workings. Drishti requires presence. Therefore, together with your asanas, breath and drishti you develop inner awareness and focus. Creating a profound practice of active meditation, being fully engaged in the present moment. This limb not only engages the physical body but also the mind in turning inwards.
The breath. Pranayama is about controlling the breath. Breathing techniques as one might call it. Prana, or breath, is life force. It is voluntary and involuntary. In other words, as natural as it is for one to breathe consistently, we also have the capability to control it. The importance of breath is crucial in yoga. As emotions can control our breath, for example anger, fear, stress can elevate our breath rate, calm, ease and a relaxed state can lower it. Breathing techniques are tools to help bring ourselves to the present moment. It helps us calm down and return to our true selves. Pranayama is creating space for prana, life force, to flow.
Withdrawal of the senses. This limb translates into the withdrawal of anything that feeds the senses. When we withdraw from external stimulus, we turn inwards. When we stop distractions, we are forced to look inwards. This way we stop feeding into our egos and allowing the outside world to control us.
Pratyahara can be a difficult limb to practice, as many people need the senses to ground themselves. Withdrawing the senses means you are stripped from external stimuli, leaving you open and vulnerable. A scary place for some, but also a rewarding one as it turns you away from the outside world and its distractions and brings you closer to home.