The Eight Limbs of Yoga, and what they mean for my life and practice.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are the basic principals of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra providing a structural framework for yoga practice. It similarly follows the Eightfold path of Buddhism to achieve spiritual enlightenment.  

First we have the yamas and niyamas. The yamas things not to do, or restraints, while the niyamas are things to do, or observances. 

The five yamas are self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large,  providing a sense of universal morality.

  • Ahimsa: nonviolence – showing compassion for all living things always…Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu!
  • Satya: commitment to truthfulness – practicing what you preach, being true to yourself and to others.
  • Asteya: non stealing – never taking what is not ours.
  • Brahmacharya: sense control, non excess – acknowledging the difference between our wants and our needs in all aspects of our lives and being able to let go or refrain when necessary
  • Aparigraha: non hoarding, non possessive, non greed – taking only what is necessary to us and letting go of what no longer serves us or is no longer necessary

Second we have the five niyamas, or personal observances relating to our inner world. They are an intimate set of “rules” or “laws” to help us live soulfully.

  • Saucha: purity – freeing ourselves of guilt, anxiety, fear. emitting only good thoughts and good energy.
  • Santosha: contentment- being happy with who you are and what you have. contributing to my own satisfaction through self-love and appreciation of myself and those around me.
  • Tapas: self discipline – training your senses disciplined use of energy including asana, diet, pranayama
  • Svadhyaya: self-study, self-awareness, self-reflective, inner exploration- through a daily sadhana and practice, we learn about ourselves as we grow to new heights. spending time alone to meditate also allows us to reflect on the inner self. spending time with myself.
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: celebration of the spiritual, to lay all your actions at the feet of God, in any way that resonates with you. We can recognize that there is a force larger than ourselves, whether it is a god or many gods or a man or a buddha or the Sun or the universe or an elephant named Ganesha, and surrendering or offering ourselves to that greater force or being.

All of that and we’ve only covered TWO of the eight limbs of yoga! We learn right away that we are constantly opening new doors, learning new things. The eight limbs continue to develop further.

Third are Asanas: body postures, the physical poses most commonly associated with yoga. There are so many we can get into and their numerous benefits… balasana (child’s pose), virabhadrasana (warrior pose), utkatasana (chair pose) to name a few. 

Pranyama: breath control – it is important to connect the breath with the body because it assists us in connecting with the subtle energy within. It is through the breath that we are able to navigate different levels of consciousness. One of the best ways to ward-off the stress is through Pranayama, because breathing consciously has a proven biological effect on our mental, emotional, and physical state. Firstly, connecting with your breath allows us to be present. When you concentrate on each aspect of the breathing process, you let go of the past and future and are focused on the moment inside the breath. 

Pratyahara: control of the senses, being able to let go of anything that no longer serves you (feelings, cravings, distractions)

Dharana: concentration, steadying of the mind; Through pranayama or meditation, or during savasana, for example, we acknowledge when a thought enters our mind but we let it go and focus only on the present moment.

Dhayana: devotion, meditation on the divine; abstract religious meditation

Samadhi: union with the divine; the final step to the eightfold path; or in other words ENLIGHTENMENT MOTHAFUKKA!  In Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and yoga, it refers to a state of meditative or spiritual state consciousness.

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