8 Limbs of Yoga: A Brief Overview
It's no secret that yoga has exploded here in the West. Where I live in Santa Monica there are more yoga studios than Starbucks! Every day, all times of day you see students with their mats going or leaving their favorite class. Of course it's no wonder that here in the West the physical aspects of yoga are the most well known and popular. But in yoga's birthplace, India, it's the other way around. When I traveled through India I saw tons more temples, ashrams, and meditation centers than I did a studio with a bunch of people in downward facing dog. It doesn't mean they don't exist, it just means that devotional and spiritual practices are much more prevalent.
What was interesting though was how disease ridden so many of the sadhus (spiritual renunciates) were, they were literally coughing their lungs out and their bodies were falling apart. It was then that I really got it, it's all about balance! The physical practice isn't less superior than the non-physical or the other way around...they are ALL important which is why the great sage, Patanjali, shared thousands of years ago "The Eight Limbs of Yoga," as a road map that a human being can take to reach the summit of human experience!
Below find a brief overview of the Eight Limbs of Yoga and feel free to follow the practice tips so it's not just theory but experiential.
Yama has to do with ethics, integrity and how we practice yoga off our mat. The 5 yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-hoarding. Practice Tip: On a weekly basis pick a yama and try and put it into action in thought, speech and action.
Niyama has to do with self-discipline and spiritual practices. The 5 niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, spiritual purification, study of sacred texts, and devotion to one's higher power.
Practice Tip: On a weekly basis pick a niyama and put into practice. For example, spend a week practicing cleanliness, cleaning out that closet, desk, garage or car etc...
Asana is the physical posture and this is the limb that most of us in the west are strongest at. It's through asana that we dissolve tensions, build strength, eliminate toxins, increase mobility and circulation.
Practice Tip: At least 3-5 times a week try and get your physical practice in even if it's only 30min, you'll feel amazing!
Pranayama is the expansion of life force through through breathing exercises. Did you notice the last time you got frustrated, angry, scared or anxiety ridden what happened to your breath? It probably became restricted, choppy and erratic. "Breath control leads to mind control" and if we want to really be healthy then our mind must be in state of peace.
Practice Tip: In a comfortable seated position Inhale 5 counts, Hold 5 counts, Exhale 8 counts, Hold 2 counts (Repeat as often as you like).
Pratyahara is the withdraw of the 5 senses. Our whole lives the 5 senses (touch, taste, see, hear, and smell) are inputing information into our being and pratyahara is where we turns those off so that we may turn from the outer world and experience the inner domain of the mind.
Practice Tip: Use Shanmukhi Mudra where you place first 2 fingers on closed eyelids, ring fingers at base of nostrils, pinky finger at base corner of nostrils, and thumb to inner ear. Gently apply pressure to all these points for a couple of minutes and just observe whatever comes up.
Dharana is focus or concentration. Focus is like a muscle on the body, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. Dharana is like the laser beam that blasts through disctractiveness and paves the way for a calm, centered, still mind.
Practice Tip: Pick a sound, word, affirmation or mantra and repeat it out loud over and over for several minutes just letting the mind focus on the repetition. Note: When the mind wonders off just easily bring it back to the mantra.
Dhyana is meditation or total absorption into the object upon that which is being focused on. In dhyana we dissolve separateness and experience the deep river of peace.
Practice Tip: Followed after dharana just let the repetition go and drop deep into the rabbit hole of stillness and silence. If the mind gets pulled out of that place go back to repeating the mantra slowly and internally until the mind comes back to being still.
Samadhi is absolute, ecstatic transcendence moving beyond time, form and space. It's the goal of all yoga and the supreme state of consciousness.
Practice Tip: Following dhyana take a long deep shavasana and let your self surrender and open up to the infinite and the eternal.
Look at the Eight Limbs of Yoga as the spokes of a tire. Each one is equally important to turning the great wheel of yoga! Good luck rolling along...