The 8 Limbs of Yoga
When you take a yoga class in the western world, what you are typically doing is practicing asana (seat or posture). Yoga actually means “to yoke” or “to join”. You can’t actually “do join” or “do union” but you can do a posture. Most yoga classes focus on the physical aspect of yoga, which is a beautiful component of yoga. However, to enjoy a more complete experience of yoga, there are more limbs that you can integrate into your practice.
The true meaning of yoga is “the absence of pain and sorrow”. It is becoming aware of and connecting your finite everyday self with your infinite Self. We don’t actually have to find it anywhere, we simply do these practices consistently and your true self is revealed. It happens cumulatively and spontaneously.
Yoga is vast and there have been many evolutions over many millennia. One of the philosophies that have stuck with us in our modern yoga world are the 8 Limbs of Yoga. These aspects of yoga work together to help us learn how to direct our energies and control our restless mind.
The 8 limbs of yoga are a set of observances and practices that come from The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali
THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA
1. Yamas – (5 restraints) These are 5 observances on the way we treat others and primarily the world around us. While the physical practice (asana) of yoga will keep our body healthy, these other practices will help strengthen our relationship to our practice, ourselves and others.
2. Niyamas (5 individual disciplines) These are the way we treat ourselves, our body and mind. Tools to cultivate individual happiness. These will strengthen the relationship to self.
Svadhyaya (self study)
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion)
3. Asana – Postures for health and meditation.
which means breath restraint or control or Prana-Ayama. Prana means life force and Ayama means direction, redirection, expansion or freedom. There are hundreds of different types of pranayama (breath techniques) that can create many different effects. You can choose a more calming practice like Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or Kapalabhati (skull shining breath). Ultimately each way of breathing will bring balance to your current energy.
5. Pratyahara –
6. Dharana –
7. Dhyana –
8. Samadhi –
You may find many of these aspects in your yoga class or asana practice.
Beginning with an attitude or awareness, breathing a specific way, softening your senses, concentrating, meditation and then surrendering and feeling at one with your infinite self. They can also be studied and practiced independently of an asana practice.
Once you become aware of these aspects, your yoga practice and your life take on a whole new meaning.