Updated: Feb 13, 2021
As we embrace our yoga practice we begin to explore our curiosity towards our bodies and minds, how can we improve our daily lives through this sometimes intense physical practice and also integrate the aspects of mindfulness and philosophy?
When you start your yoga journey you will come across so much variation, so many styles, philosophies, teachers, tutors, influences and inspirations. You will come across classes or practices that you really connect to, and you will also come across classes, styles and even postures your not quite into. This is absolutely okay and a wonderful way to help you mould and create your own realm of practice. I mentioned this in my Saturday class yesterday, sometimes we attend a class and we don't understand something, we might feel emotional and we might feel frustrated with a posture. Then sometimes we feel great, we feel really connected, and something just clicks. A wonderful reference can be a book you might have read, the information makes absolutely no sense and you close the book, within a few months (it might even be years later) you open the same book and it flows, it makes sense and you have a real connection at that moment. Just take what you want and need at that moment in time, leave what you don't. Every experience, every conversation, every interaction will teach us something about ourselves along the way.
Along side the physical practice of Yoga there is an incredible world of philosophy, mantra, intentions and so much more. Here you will explore little snippets of the 8 limbs of Yoga, shared with Ashtanga yoga.
The eight principles provide us practical steps of personal development physically, mentally and spiritually to attain the highest state of awareness. Through the physical side of the practice we can release deep tension within the body, create freedom of movement, conscious awareness and bring the body into its optimal health. Acknowledging the mental and emotional make up of our practice we can begin to evolve our self development and create a deeper connection to the world around us.
THE EIGHT LIMBS:
We can approach these beautiful principles in many different ways, whether this is creating a meditative practice, journalling or implementing it into a physical yoga practice.
Within the Eight Limbs of Yoga, we start with the Yamas and Niyamas.
“Yamas” translates to self-control and thus represent the qualities we must develop in ourselves. These qualities help us become more aligned with living a life of integrity – the Yamas are guidelines of how we relate to the world.
Non-violence in this context means no intention to hurt ourselves or others.
The first thing that springs to mind is the physical and mental harm we can create, but allowing yourself to dig a little deeper we can create harm in the simplest of ways. When teaching in a class environment I have helped students explore the harm we can create towards ourselves from negative thoughts and actions, how we view ourselves and also how we view others, from resentment to anger, how we respond to situations in our lives will mould our constitution, if we are negative by nature this can be unhealthy and in time harmful.
The next quality we want to develop is truth. Patanjali explained two different kinds of truth: one is personal truth and other is universal truth or complete truth. Satya is all about living with a clear, honest, and grounded view both of yourself and the world around you. When you’re able to see things for what they are, you can accept them as they are, freeing you to experience a greater sense of self-love and compassion for those around you. Living in truth also means speaking your personal truth (standing up for what you believe in), expressing yourself clearly and accurately, and encouraging others to do the same.
Non-stealing is meant in the obvious sense of not taking anything which is not yours. Stealing can be in the form of money, materials, ideas, time, effort. Other forms of stealing can be taking advantage of the situation, not following through on your word, not putting forth your best effort, etc. Stealing can also be on an emotional and energetic level – stealing someone’s peace or happiness through your words, or being an ‘emotional vampire’ are other forms of stealing that Asteya seeks to avoid.
This practice includes not over-indulging in sensory pleasures. Some examples are an over-indulgence in food or physical pleasures like sex, drugs, sleep etc. If you practice Brahmacharya you eat food to stay healthy and not just for pleasure. You enjoy things like sex, shopping, etc in healthy moderation. As human beings, we can become addicted to sensual pleasures. By practicing Brahmacharya, we tap into self-control and self-awareness, and ultimately gratitude and contentment will follow.
To live in the age of materialism it’s easy to get carried away in the pursuit of the newest car, phone, clothing or gadget. As a result, we waste a lot of time, money and energy on unnecessary things. The idea is to develop habit of non-possessiveness or non-attachment, so we only take and collect what we actually need – not more. When it comes to material possessions, we should assess if we really need it or if we can live without it. The concept of non-attachment also spans to people, circumstances, and outcomes. Releasing the need to control, not harbouring feelings of jealousy etc can help us practice Aparigraha and simplify our lives.
While the Yamas are about how we interact with the world, the Niyamas are the way we relate to ourselves. “Niyama” translates to “moral observance.” Thus, the Niyamas are the personal habits we should cultivate for a more fulfilling, meaningful existence.
Saucha, or cleanliness, means physical, mental and intentional purity. It’s important to spend time everyday focusing on self-care in the form of hygiene, grooming, and staying active. It’s also practices like positive mantras or affirmations, mindfulness, meditation, and other ways of maintaining a healthy, positive mindset. Saucha extends beyond ourselves and into the world – maintaining a neat and organized home, practicing saucha at the yoga studio and in public spaces by putting things back where you found them, and so forth. Purity and cleanliness start as an inward practice and expand into all aspects of our lives.
Santosha is being satisfied and grateful for what we have while working towards what we want. With this principle, we develop a habit of being thankful for the things we already have in our lives and in so doing, finding contentment with the here and now. This is a radically simple notion of staying grounded, practicing gratitude, and finding a great sense of joy for everything precisely as it is.
Tapas is the concept of using self-discipline to release and move through negative habits and patterns. You can use Tapas to gain control over your senses and desires. Discipline is motivating, it helps us focus on our goals and dreams so we can continue growing and evolving. Tapas can help you change unwanted habits and develop a stronger sense of self-control.
Svadhyaya means self-study or study of the self. Have you ever had a moment in life and asked yourself, Who am I? What's my purpose? Why do I think and behave the way I do? Svadhyaya is the all-important act of cultivating a great sense of self, of your identity, of your core beliefs, so you find direction and purpose in life. Within a physical dimension of this principle we can explore our practice with eyes closed, recognising sensations, good, bad, right, wrong, sitting within every experience the body and mind creates.
Ishvara Pranidhana: Connection with Divinity
Ishvara means your personal idea of the Divine, God, Gaia, Nature, Space – whatever and however you relate to a higher power. Ishvara Pranidhana, then, means surrender of ego to 'Divinity'. It’s about coming to terms with the meaning of life, and how you relate to the universe. This final Niyama is often translated as “surrender” – the act of recognizing and celebrating the beautiful interconnection of all things.
Asana: Physical Yoga Poses
The third limb of yoga is the physical yoga poses (or asanas) – the part that we are most familiar with! The interesting thing to note about yoga postures being third on the list is that Patanjali believed that #1 and #2 must be practiced first in order to prepare mind and body for the physical practice of yoga. The body should be steady free from suffering and the mind should be steady free from sensual craving, worry or desire. The physical asanas we practiced as an effective way to purify the physical body in preparation for the remaining principles or limbs.
Pranayama: Expansion of Energy
Pranayama is Sanskrit and translates as follows: “Prana” means life force energy, and “yama” means vehicle or control. Pranayama is conscious breathwork that enhances your life force energy. There are many forms of Pranayama exercises that purify the energy body (i.e. the chakra system, energy channels and meridians, etc).
Conscious breathing exercises will help you increase the capacity to hold prana – vital life force energy – in your body. Prana is the vital force we need to live and to do our physical activities like speaking, thinking, digestion etc. These exercises also help improve the condition of your respiratory system and bring harmony between right and left hemisphere of the brain.
Pratyahara: Withdrawal From the Senses
Withdrawal from the sense means restricting the senses from outside stimulation. Our five senses are always craving new and more inputs. In the practice of Pratyahara, we try to close or restrict the sensory organs from getting any sensory stimulation. For example, closing the eyes in meditation, using Pranayama (see limb #4) to quiet the mind. When senses don’t receive stimulation for a period of time, they start to calm down. It is essential to calm the senses in order to concentrate and gain control over them – key for meditation.
Dharana means concentration. Bringing all five senses on one single object or point of focus is the act of Dharana. Notice a trend here? We need to practice all five limbs leading up to Dharana, in order to make this single-pointed focus possible for ourselves. The purpose of Dharana is to control the mind. There are various techniques we can use to practice Dharana. For example, concentration on the breath, candle gazing, Japa (chanting) etc. It is important to be able to focus on one single point in order to reach to the next step, which is meditation . .
Dhyana means meditation. Here, meditation means connected to one’s true self. In this state, you focus deeper inward and are able to observe the true self without interference of your mind and the senses. You must possess deep concentration to be able to go inwards beyond the sensations of the body and mind. Complete physical and mental stillness is an important step in meditation.
Samadhi: Freedom From Illusion
Samadhi is the deeper state of meditation. In this state, you become free from the illusions of time, space and reason. This is the state of pure bliss and higher awareness. In this state you realize your true Self. Samadhi is the ultimate goal, or step, in the Eight Limbed Path of Yoga.