Yoga 101—The Eight Limbs of Yoga

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May 17, 2011

I’m starting to do another deep dive into the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. We read it during yoga-teacher training, but, like most students, I was in the throes of studying, learning, practicing, working, you know, all the stuff that life throws at you on a daily basis, and did not have the time to give the sutras the full attention they deserve. I told myself I would reread them when I had the time to fully let them soak in and digest in a way where I could teach, write, and share them, my goal being to demystify the practice of yoga and bring it to a level that is easily understood; kind of like how I relate the meaning of namaste to “You’re awesome, I’m awesome.”

I’m pretty sure that most Westerners think that yoga is just a bunch of funky stretches and poses that you have to be super flexible to do in stretchy, black yoga pants. I’m here to tell you that yoga is soooo much more than the asanas or yoga poses. In fact, most of what I really love about yoga is all of the spiritual aspects that come along with those yummy poses like downward dog and savasana.

Yoga is all about the union of mind, body, and spirit. It is about striking balance and equality so we can live in peace, awesome health, and harmony with the rest of the universe. Thousands of years ago (200 A.D. to be exact) the philosophy and teachings of yoga were written down by Patanjali and coined The Yoga Sutras. It’s a pretty heady book, delving into the inner workings of our minds but ultimately producing a kick-ass blueprint of eight steps to figuring it all out and finding inner peace along the way.

So, without delay, here is the list of the eight limbs that make up the practice of yoga, with a brief description to help you out.

1) The Yamas — five universal steps to living a moral life

a)      Ahimsa — nonviolence and compassion for all things

b)      Satya — being truthful (nuff said)

c)       Asteya — nonstealing or don’t take stuff that doesn’t belong to you

d)      Brahmacharya — living a life of moderation (don’t worry; it’s easier and more fulfilling than you think)

e)      Aparagraha — nonpossessiveness (we’re talking more than just cars and jewels here—thoughts, people, actions)

 

2)      The Niyamas — Diving into our attitude about life and how we feel about ourselves with these five personal observances

a)      Saucha — purifying your thoughts, actions, relationships, and even stuff like breathing; it’s all about purity

b)      Santosha — contentment and gratitude in the things you have (shifting away your focus on what you don’t have)

c)       Tapas — Do you really need that new shirt? Are you a hoarder? Austerity or discipline in thoughts, purchases, and also in how you take care of yourself.

d)      Swadhyaya — study or learning from our own lives, the continual pursuit of knowledge. What did you learn today?

e)      Ishvar Pranidhana — believing, asking for guidance, relaxing into your life, and surrendering to the needs of your body

Author’s note: I’m not a big rule person; in fact, I like to break the rules, so I don’t look at the yamas and niymas so much as rules, but rather a way to live life with a deeper consciousness.

 

3)      Asanas — the yoga poses that are practiced in most traditional yoga classes that will make you feel healthy, strong, balanced, and bring flexibility

4)      Pranayama — the yoga breathing exercises that help control our mind and our prana (energy). To me, breathing is one of the most important components of any yoga class.

5)      Pratyahara — control of the senses. This is a tough one to describe in just a few words, and there are so many ways to apply it (not just in a sensual way), so I’ll just tease you a bit and tell you that you’ll have to wait for my posts on this one.

 

6)      Dharana — this is one of my faves and one I’m working really hard on. It’s all about concentration, controlling our monkey minds, and getting in touch with our psychic abilities (yeah, baby , we all have a little psychic power in us).

7)      Dhyana — devotion and meditation, taking the time each day to give it up and let the mind shift out of overdrive for a little meditation road trip

8)      Samadhi — the ultimate reward, the big kahuna, utter joy and bliss, and the union with the divine

It’s really hard to give you the full flavor of each of the limbs in just a few words, so I’m planning to delve into each one over the coming months. I know I’m not the first to do this, so bear with me and know that this exercise is as much for me as it is for you. I’ll give an honest take on each, have a little fun with them, and speak from my heart as to what each one means to me and how it can enhance your spiritual well-being.

If you are a visual person, please check out this cool little flow chart that graphically displays the eight limbs courtesy of Alison Hinks.

Hope you enjoy the journey through the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as much as I will!

 

 

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