Monday, April 6, 2020

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

What is your understanding of Yoga? I am sure that when I ask you this question, your mind brings up ideas of extreme flexibility, people doing handstands or putting themselves into uncomfortable-looking poses.

This idea that comes up in your head is called Asanas and though it is - a part - of yoga it is not everything there is to know about the practice.

There are 8 total limbs of yoga, all of which deserve some attention for development. The idea is that by developing all 8 limbs you are, in fact, coming into your actual sense of being - the true light in you. In fact, it's recommended to move through the limbs beginning with number one and working your way all the way up to number eight. Below I have laid out these 8 limbs to dive into the topic of what a Yoga practice is really all about.


Within this first limb of yoga, we break it down even further to 5 Yamas. These Yamas focus on a way of living in which we think about external factors that may impact our sense of peace. Ahisma - Non-harming, Satya - Truthfulness, Asteya - Non-stealing, Brahmacharya - Unity, and Aparigraha - Non-possessiveness. 

It is a very difficult task to not be affected by things that go on around us. Sometimes things happen in our immediate external environment that directly impacts our sense of peace. By focusing on these Yamas, we gain control of our own mental clarity.  


The Yamas, as we just learned, were focused on a way of living in which we looked at the external world; here the Niyamas focus on the internal world. This second limb of yoga can also be broken down into 5 sectors. Saucha - Self-clarity, Santosa - Contentment, Tapas - Self-discipline, Svadhyaya - Self-study, and Ishvara Pranidhana - Service to something bigger than yourself. 

Focusing on the Yamas and Niyamas are essential tools provided to us. They guide us toward living in a peaceful state of mind because we choose to let what happens, happen. So that as we focus on the betterment of ourselves, we may serve others with our light and positivity. 


Asanas, the physical practice that most are familiar with comes in as the third limb of yoga and rightly so. There is so much to be learned from the physical asana practice, but if we are not mentally or emotionally in a 'good' place then that can translate across the boundaries of our asana journey. Having a clear understanding of the Yamas and Niyamas prepares us to understand how we can get the most benefit from each pose. 

Knowing when you have reached your limit in a pose is key for safety which only comes from reducing our ego and allowing our asana to grow. If you're like me and you see all of the beautiful yoga pictures on social media, everyone has the perfect snap-shot of their pose. I even find myself trying to resemble this in my practice, but trying to do something I am not ready for is not going to benefit me and doing something you're not ready for certainly will not benefit you either.

The yoga journey, especially in regards to the asanas, is just that... A Journey. If you woke up and suddenly could "perfectly" execute any asana you wanted, what would be the point of practicing? The practice of the asanas shows us that there is always room for improvement, as is true in life. By choosing to work within our means and accept where we are today, knowing that we're working to improve towards our future, this mindset will help us navigate our lives off the mat as well.  


One of the very things that keeps our body alive, that allows us to wake up every day, that gives you a chance to read this post is our breathing! How often do we take such activity for granted, yet for even a few moments without it, we would no longer exist in this physical world?

The fourth limb of yoga focuses on the breathwork and helps us to develop a profound understanding of this life force within us. By learning the tools of breath manipulation we are given the opportunity to learn how breath can relieve us in a number of situations. Combining breathwork with our asana practice helps us to attain deeper levels of poses, and by integrating breathing techniques into our daily lives we are able to make our way through situations that may otherwise disrupt our peace.


The fifth limb of yoga is a journey inward, a drawing in of oneself. Pratyahara could be thought of as a practice of covering oneself with an imaginary blanket in which nothing from the external world is able to enter into our inner life. Allowing the senses to - seemingly - shut down so that there is no internal disruption. This meditative practice helps us to calm disrupting mental chatter and let the mind just be.
This is a strong skill and requires much practice. Remaining in a solitary place of stillness and working to clear your mind of chaotic mental chatter. Relaxing the mind and body so that no external or internal stimulus can disrupt you. 


The concentration and manifestation of thoughts we choose to have is our sixth limb of yoga. And I know you must be thinking didn't we just use Pratyahara to stop mental chatter, now we're going to create some? The answer is - yes! The mental chatter that we work to clear away with Pratyahara is random and unorganized, by clearing this out of our mind, we are able to open up space to bring in precise points of thoughts in which we intentionally focus on.

It is in this open space, once we've cleared the unnecessary clutter, that we can begin to create thoughts that DO serve us such as manifestations and affirmations. The mind is a powerful source, and where our mind goes, our body goes. So here in this cultivated open space, we are free to create the world we want to be in. 


The seventh limb of yoga is about the endurance of the mind and maintaining unbroken concentration. If clearing the mind and bringing ourselves to a single point of focus seems difficult, then holding onto that focus without wavering will seem like quite the mental workout. No reason to be alarmed though, there is a reason this is coming in at number seven and it is because it is not easy

It takes a continuous practice of the first six limbs before one is able to maintain unbroken concentration. And, even those who have attained a certain level of strict concentration still have thoughts pass through every once in a while. Just a reminder, these limbs are not set out to create a perfect being. They are here to guide us toward our best selves, our true selves.

Humans are not perfect, so working to attain perfection will set you on the wrong path to begin with. Go into these steps with the mindset that you are not perfect, nor will you ever be perfect - but - you can be great and loving and your best version of your imperfect self. 


In two words the eighth limb of yoga can be described as ultimate bliss. A sense of complete oneness with the self and of our absolute essence. The state of our being and having each moment be just that. What is thought of as freedom from the physical world may seem like a complete overstretch for us as everyday people, but this is why Yoga is called a "Practice" 

It was, what it was. It is, what it is. It will be whatever it will be. 

I hope you found these to be as interesting as I did when I began to learn about them. I certainly always thought yoga was getting bendy and wearing comfy yoga pants and drinking Kombucha, but as I've shown here it goes far beneath the physical surface. 

Take care my friends - Namaste 

No comments:

Post a Comment