Yoga is often thought of as the physical practice/postures (asana) and a form of exercise, but it’s so much more than that.
Yoga is a philosophy, a way of life, a system created thousands of years ago. In the Yoga Sutras; a text compiled by Patanjali, (an Indian sage, and sometimes referred to as the father of modern yoga); 196 Sutras are described exploring the essential nature of yoga. The Sutras set out a systematic approach to life, to creating balance in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms, individuals and beyond.
The 8 limbs of yoga
Within the Sutras, Patanjali outlined 8 ‘limbs’ of yoga for creating harmony and balance:
1 Yamas-ethical and social guide: ahimsa (non-violence, satya (truthfulness), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (moderation), aparigraha (not hoarding).
2 Niyamas-personal observances: shaucha (purification), santosha (contentment), tapas (asceticism) svadhyaya (self-study), ishvara pranidhana (devotion).
3 Asana-practice of physical postures.
4 Pranayama-control of the breath; breath practices, breathing techniques.
5 Pratyahara-disassociating from sensory attachment, or turning inwards via senses withdrawal.
6 Dharana-concentration beyond either internal or external distractions.
8 Samadhi-concentrated meditation: everything is at ‘peace’ and in balance.
Do the 8 limbs of yoga resonate with you? How can you apply the 8 limbs of yoga to your life?
A starting point is to begin a physical yoga practice and by doing so you will be able to apply most if not all of the 8 limbs of yoga to your practise and in turn you will see how the benefits trickle into life.
1 Yamas-ahimsa, (first of the Yamas);applying non-violence to your practice by not judging yourself or others in class.
2 Niyamas- by maintaining your mind with pure thoughts, ie being non-violent,no competition with yourself or others, you are practising the first of the niyamas, shaucha or purification, in this case of your mind.
3 Asana-by performing the physical postures you are practising asana, moving the physical body.
4 Pranayama-incorporating breath practices and maintaining a focus on your breath throughout the practice, you will be addressing the fourth limb of yoga.
5 Pratyahara-one of the most challenging, however it can be achieved during a yoga class by fully withdrawing from all the senses and just focusing your attention inwards, fully immersed in the present moment, second by second, minute by minute…
6 Dharana- by being able to be fully present in the moment and concentrating on a single point of focus, ie your breath or mantra, you may then be able to let go of focusing on other internal/external distractions.
7 Dhyana- you may hopefully be able to achieve dhyana in your practice by the time you reach the final pose savasana, where you will hopefully be in on your way to achieving a meditative state whilst laying on your mat, by having a calm body and mind.
8 Samadhi- reaching Samadhi is the final and ultimate goal of yoga, to be fully at peace and at one with your true self and connected to ‘all that is’ but ‘disconnected’ from your physical form.
The power of yoga is truly amazing once you allow yourself to be present on your mat by fully immersing yourself in your physical yoga practice. Give yourself permission to be truly present in your life so that you can achieve the physical, mental, emotional and psychological balance you desire.