Yoga can seem like a pretty big undertaking if you don’t know where to begin. Or maybe this is stuff you already know and would benefit from being reminded. Maybe I’m the one who needs reminded. So, here goes
People have been practicing yoga for thousands of years. The term “Yoga” refers to a way of life that is connected through mind and body. “Yoga” means “union.” One of the most notable yogis, Putanjali, created the infamous Yoga Sutra. The Yoga Sutra outlines the eight limbs of yoga. These eight limbs of yoga are a guideline for living a life full of meaning and purpose. They are called ashtanga which literally translates to eight limb.
The eight limbs of yoga are as follows:
The first limb, yama, has to deal with the ethics and morals of self. These are ways in which we choose to treat others with respect, nonviolence and truthfulness. How we conduct ourselves in relation to the rest of the universe.
The five yamas are:
If you know the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Then you are already all your way to understanding yama.
The second limb is niyama. The five niyamas are about developing your own spiritual practice and about your reverence for a creator. The niyamas are:
Svadhyaya-the study of spiritual writings and also the study of self
Isvara pranidhana-the surrender to the creator
Asanas are the third limb. Asanas are what most westerners think of when they hear the term yoga. Asanas are the physical poses that are done to develop our bodies as temples. Some styles of yoga consist of doing many of the poses together in a sequence while other styles of yoga consist of only doing two or three of the poses and holding them and relaxing into them for extended periods of time. Before beginning any asana practice please check with your doctor to avoid injury.
The fourth limb translates to mean, “life force extension.” Yogis believe that the practice of pranayama will actually extend the life of the practitioner. Pranayama is the control of breath. Learning how to breathe from the diaphragm rather than using a rise in the shoulders to intake breath is where this begins. Making pranayama part of your daily practice will help you see the connection between mind and body. On days where we can’t seem to fit in an entire yoga routine, pranayama is a great way to feel connected to self even when done as the sole of your practice for the day.
Some benefits of a pranayama practice include balancing our hormones and stabilizing our mood. Pranayama is a sure way to improve your quality of sleep. Bringing about a greater self-awareness combats daily stress and anxiety allowing us to be more creative while improving overall brain function.
The fifth limb is pratyahara. This is the conscious effort to withdraw our senses and turn away from the external world and all the stimuli that comes with it. This is a fantastic step to uncover some of our addictions or cravings that we do not necessarily see moment to moment. When we practice pratyahara our minds lose focus on the busy of everyday life, and some of our internal struggles become clearer. The practice of pratyahara will improve mental clarity and the ability to manage challenging situations.
Dharana means concentration. Now that we’ve quieted the noise from the external world, Dharana has us quieting our internal world of racing thoughts and constant mental chatter. To slow down these thoughts, we are advised to concentrate on single thought or image. This is also where chanting or mantras come into play. Repeating a specific sound will help clear the mind so that we are ready for the next limb.
Once we have figured out how to quiet the mind, the natural progression leads us to Dhyana or meditation. This is a state where we can be aware of all yet focused on none. A lifetime of internal focus brings us to Dhyana. Do not get frustrated if this seems beyond your reach. Just remember that yoga is always, always about the process and the journey. Yoga is not a destination and therefore need not have an end goal in sight other than being better than you were yesterday. Dhyana takes years.
The eighth and final limb is the true transcendence of self. Described by Putanjali as a state of pure ecstasy. If there were such a thing as an end goal, this would be it. The absolute connection to the universe and the understanding that peace is always the way. Samadhi is the ultimate Christ-consciousness. True enlightenment only comes from trusting the process and experiencing life as one connected flow. This is where our bliss hides.