Did you know that the physical aspect of yoga (the asanas, or poses) is only a very small part of the practice? When most people think about or hear the word, "yoga", they immediately visualize the postures...ie...triangle pose, warrior pose, tree pose, etc... however, as I mentioned, the physical poses and postures are only a tiny piece of what yoga intends to achieve and encompasses.
In this particular post, I'll plan to present the 8 Limbs, or aspects, of yoga. Beyond this posting, we will break down and examine each limb, branch by branch and leaf by leaf. Are you ready for the big picture? Okay, let's do it.
In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eight fold path is called, ASHTANGA which literally means, "eight limbs" (ashta = 8, tanga = Limb). These 8 steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.
1.Yama | 5 Social Ethics
a. Ahimsa - Kindness
b. Satya - Truth, Essence
c. Asteya - Non-Stealing
d. Bramacharya - Moderation
e. Aparigraha - Generosity
2. Niyama | 5 Personal Practices
a. Saucha - Purity
b. Santosha - Contentment
c. Tapas - Austerity,
d. Swadyaya - Self Study
e. Iswara-Pranidhana - Surrender
3. Asanas | Postures
- Easy and comfortable positions of the body that are intended to connect the mind & spirit to experience stillness and infiity
4. Pranayama | Mindful Breathing
- Honoring the breath to uncover the light within
5. Pratyahara | Turning Inward
- Providing alternate inner point of attraction (like breath, chakra) to the senses to go inward
6. Dharana | Concentration
- Refers to concentration of the mind. Practicing dharana involves fixing the mind on a particular object
7. Dyhanan | De Concentration
- Dropping all the efforts and letting go
8. Samadhi | Pure Bliss | Nirvana
- Constant & complete harmony of the Self with the Universe
Which of the limbs are you most curious about? The aspects of what intrigues me has changed over time. Initially, the postures and physical side of yoga is what drew me to the practice. At the time, I wanted to get into shape, be more mindful of my body and better understand those around me. However, as time went on and I found myself in my first-ever yoga teacher training, where I discovered so much more about the topic.
I am grateful to have begun with a very traditional style of yoga called Sivananda yoga. Throughout my 3 month long training, I was still able to work, go to school, and enjoy other social things. However, in order to get the very most from the training, I had to adhere to some strict guidelines.
The intention behind the following guidelines was to introduce and immerse us into a peaceful, or sattvic, way of living, feeling, eating, thinking, & being. These are some, but not all of the training guidelines: No television, radio or music other than calming, yogic music similar to what you'd expect to have playing in a yoga class. We were asked to NOT watch the news or read the newspaper. We followed a sattvic vegan/vegetarian diet by eliminating meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, and drugs of any type. Every day of the 12-week training, except on Sundays, we met at the studio at 6:00 a.m. to meditate as a group. On Sunday mornings we arrived at 8:00 a.m. for 30 minutes of pranayama (breathwork) followed by 90 minutes of traditional Sivananda yoga. Each week, I was expected to participate in 7 yoga classes and offer hands-on assistance in 3 additional classes.
The training was intense, but worth every bit of it. I learned in three months what would have taken me a lifetime to learn. On the surface, I became skilled in leading practitioners through their practice, assisting them while in poses, and much more about the human body. I experienced and found value in living peacefully, eating more mindfully, and became a better human overall and in all aspects of my life. Yoga is a way of life. It teaches us present moment awareness and encourages self exploration through meditation and time spent on the mat. Over time, it helps to find ways to minimize stress and gives the tools to better handle stressful situations and moments in time. Yoga asks us to live our lives while being considerate of others, it teaches empathy, honesty, self love and compassion, and overall, it asks us to be a good human.