We are going to leave behind the cultural obsession with our yoga mats, props, leggings and postures, to open up to find the deeper wisdom and teachings. To find the true magic. To find the authenticity. To find a way to approach our practice that respects to its origin and to honour its wholeness. I introduce to you the 8 Limbs of yoga.
What is the 8 Limbs of Yoga?
Here we are going to introduce to you a fundamental part of the practice of Yoga. This is a structured route of progression through your practice, starting with your relationship to yourself and others, moving onto what happens on your mat, all the way up to the blissful state of enlightenment. Basically, some might argue the 8 Limbs is the best set of directions you might every receive! We have Patanjali to thank for these directions which he recorded in the Yoga Sutra's.
As I mention regularly: Yoga is a journey and a relationship, by exploring the 8 Limbs we can begin to deepen our understanding of this epic and expansive journey. There is a lot of information, concepts and Sanskrit words weaved into the 8 Limbs, so take in what resonates with you, don’t try to overwhelm yourself by taking it all on board at first. Maybe read the following descriptions and take just one concept to reflect on during your time on the mat for the following week. Or if you join me in class, we are going to weave these teachings into our class themes over the coming weeks and months.
1.)Yama. The first limb describes 5 social ethical concepts which creates the foundation of all practices. They all encourage self-restraint and consideration of others. These are more your every-day practices that can be applied to all aspects of life, fairly easily. So, we have: Ahimsa non-harming, Satya truthfulness, Brahmacharya moderation, Asteya non-stealing, Aparigraha non attachment.
2.) Niyama. Here, we shift from the ideals of our relationships with others, to our relationship to ourselves. This second stage describes another 5 teachings to lead us to developing a quality relationship with the self, as we observe our mind, body and habitual patterns. You may or may not realise but during my yoga session I guide you through some of these ideas to consider on a regular basis. Sauche cleanliness, Santosha contentment, Tapas discipline, Swadhyaya self study, Ishwara Pranidhana surrender.
3.) Asana. The one everyone is most familiar with, the physical practice of postures and movement. With an endless amount of different ways to control the body, finding space, building strength, developing flexibility, becoming grounded, becoming centred and balanced. Asana translates as "seat", which is the original posture, the postures then developed to enable the body to sit more comfortable in a meditation position for longer.
4.)Pranayama. Some of you might be familiar with this word. Pranayama means “life-force extension/ expansion” which is a mystical yogi way of saying “guiding your breath and awareness”. There is a whole range of different practices that work with or control the breath, from simple observation to very strong and possibly dizzy-inducing practices. As always, only practice what feels right for you!
5.) Pratyahara. This is the practice of developing a withdrawal of the senses, withdrawal of external stimuli and taking your attention inwards. Becoming an observer of our mind and thoughts. This is where we begin to shift from more physical and tangible ideas to more conceptual and meditative practices.
6.) Dharana. The practice of learning to steady the mind, as we withdraw our senses by practicing Pratyahara we can begin to concentrate with a one-pointed focus. This practice includes focusing on a mantra, a word, or intention.
7.) Dhyana. Taking an extremely subtle shift from a meditation practice of focusing on either the mind or an object, as in the previous 2 limbs. Dhyana is an uninterrupted pure state of concentration, keenly aware, still, producing very little thoughts, free from distractions. Often a very fleeting moment for most of us.
8.) Samadhi. The wonderful Samadhi, the bliss state. This is where we begin to feel the oneness with all living things. If we are lucky, we may get glimpses of this notion, feeling a sense of pure harmony and peace within and without. However, easily lost once we continue with our day.
In the following few posts we will take a closer look into some of the aspects of the 8 limbs and how was can practically apply them. But hopefully this has given you some insight how yoga is not just in the studio but something we can practice anywhere at any time. We would love to know which aspect you would like to reflect on in your own yoga practice!