Yamas are the moral qualities necessary to reconnect us with our Soul nature. They include peacefulness, truthfulness, generosity, self-control and appreciation. Foundational to our well-being, these practices make our lives more comfortable and spiritually fulfilling.
The second limb is comprised of the niyamas, observances that help us to integrate our inner and outer experience and create a more harmonious life. They include purification, contentment, right effort, self-reflection and devotion. As a result of cultivating these, we can expect to feel more whole, balanced and free.
Asana is the practice of right posture to create a stable physical body that can sit at ease in meditation. Although the most accessible of the limbs, asana was never meant to be practiced alone as simple exercise. Designed as a means to an end, asana creates health in the physical body enabling it to be quiet and support the mind in doing the same. When body and mind are quiet, consciousness can transcend identification with the physical and remember its divine nature.
The control and management of the subtle life force currents is pranayama. After stilling body and mind, we are meant to direct the prana, or life force, at will and move into subtler realms of awareness.
The practice of internalizing the senses is pratyahara. By unplugging from outer stimuli, giving the senses some down time, we overcome attachments and desires and move closer to the inner domain of pure awareness. This is an essential step toward the ability to meditate.
Dharana is the practice of single-pointed concentration. Once the senses have been controlled and withdrawn, we choose an inner point of focus. Dharana is the practice of training the mind toward a point of devotional attention that envelopes our whole being.
Once the mind and body have been stabilized and focused, then the state of stillness or meditation can be achieved. Here, consciousness flows continuously inward rather than outward, and peace is experienced. This is dhyana, or meditation.
The ever-present, ever-fresh bliss that is experienced when individual consciousness is reunited with the Universal Consciousness is samadhi. There are many levels to samadhi, some lasting only momentarily. When the final stage is reached, consciousness has been mastered and the soul merges again with its Source.