The 8 Limbs of Yoga

THE JOURNEY OF YOGA -

Many people come to the practice of yoga through the doorway of the physical poses/practice. Without a doubt it is a powerful place to start and the physical practice offers many health benefits to the body and mind.

But truly, Yoga is so much more! It is a comprehensive system that cultivates physical vitality, mental clarity and emotional stability.  We reawaken to our innate capacity for intelligent discrimination, intuition and wisdom that supports our personal journey of awakening to, and expressing our highest potential.  

When we embark on any journey it helps to have a guide, a map and the right vehicle so that you arrive at your destination safe and sound in the shortest possible time. The yoga teachings are our map, the teacher our guide and our body and mind our vehicle.  

The Hatha Yoga practices include physical postures, breathing practices and cleansing techniques to purify and strengthen the body, settle the nervous system and help us to cultivate discipline and attention.

The key teachings of Raja Yoga are the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Composed over 2000 years ago they help us to understand ourselves better by looking at our mind, thoughts, emotions, habits, triggers, and conditionings and provides us with tools for daily living that bring enhanced mental clarity and emotional stability.

Both these systems support us in living a life filled with health, purpose, passion and joy! That is the gift of Yoga!

THE MAP - THE LIMBS - taking the first step

There are 8 aspects of the Yoga practice that we draw from in our daily lives. These limbs can be practiced irrespective of gender, ethnicity, country of birth, language you speak or spiritual tradition you follow. They can be embarked upon at any age or stage of life – it is never too early or late to start!

THE YAMAS – Restraints

These are values and attitudes that we cultivate to help us come into better relationship with all beings. They form the foundation for a spiritual practice (no matter which one you follow). They are like the roots of a tree that keep us grounded and support us in our journey to recognize and express our highest selves.

  • Non harming (Ahimsa)
  • Truth and Integrity (Satya)
  • Non coveting or stealing (Asteya)
  • Moderation (Brahmacharya)
  • Non Greediness (Aparigraha)

The Yamas help us to restrain behaviors that are rooted in hatred, hostility, delusion, scarcity consciousness, and excessiveness in any form. They enhance our capacity for self restraint, personal integrity and unconditional love.

THE NIYAMAS - Observances

These are the practices and attitudes we develop that bring us into right relationship with ourselves and prepare us for the deeper work of our personal evolution.

  • Purity and Cleanliness (Saucha)
  • Contentment (Samtosha)
  • Disciplined Effort (Tapas)
  • Self Reflection (Svadhyaya)
  • Devotion to that which is greater than our limited sense of self (Isvara Pranidhana)

The niyamas cultivate the qualities of self reflection and right intention, help us to acknowledge abundance, and cultivate an attitude of gratitude and devotion to ourselves and others. We learn to release behaviours that root us in suffering and help us cultivate those that serve our personal evolution.

ASANA - Postures

The system of physical postures called Asana were developed long after Patanjali codified his system of teachings. Known as Hatha Yoga, it includes postures, breathing exercises, and cleansing practices that purify and strengthen the body on both the physical and energetic levels.

All these poses work not just on our muscles, bones and joints but also on our glands and organs and therefore all the systems of the body – including the respiratory, cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, endocrine, digestive, excretory and reproductive systems. Cleansing kriyas stimulate digestion, and clear any congestion in the lungs and sinus cavities.

The asanas include:

  • standing poses and balances that strengthen the legs and open the hips
  • backbends that strengthen the back body and open the habitually tight hips and shoulders
  • arm balances that develop powerful upper body strength
  • inversions that counteract the effect of gravity on the body
  • seated forward bends and twists that restore fluidity to the spine,
  • restorative poses that allow us to relax deeply, and renew our energy levels.

The asana and pranayama are the “tapas” – the purifying practices that create the “Yoga body” – one that is strong, fluid, graceful and light and filled with energy - and the “Yoga Mind” – calm, clear, and intelligent.

This makes the body-mind a fit vehicle for one to live life to one’s highest potential!

PRANAYAMA – Breathing Exercises

A powerful and refined aspect of the Hatha Yoga practice Pranayama includes various breathing exercises which enhance the flow of the vital energy of the body, known in Sanskrit as Prana. Prana is the life force that supports our physical and mental wellbeing. These practices have a profound effect on the body via the effect our breath has on our Nervous System. Since our Nervous System is the command centre for all the systems in the body, we are able to affect the physiology of the body, above and beyond merely working our muscles, bones and joints.

Benefits:

  • strengthens the respiratory system
  • enhances cardiovascular health
  • improves circulation
  • calming effect on the mind
  • cultivate expanded states of awareness

PRATYHARA – Moving inwards

Having used the asana and pranayama practices to strengthen and purify the body, settle our nervous system and discipline and focus the mind we are invited to go deeper. We take time in our practice and in our day to withdraw into moments of stillness and silence. The mind has the opportunity to calm down, settle down and move from a state of distraction, and agitation to a place of stillness and clarity. This is the doorway into the more internal and subtle aspects of the practice as we journey towards greater levels of Self knowledge.

DHARANA - Concentration

In today’s modern world we are “on” 24, 7, 365! Over-stimulated and rewarded for multitasking, we are usually left feeling, at some point in our lives, overwhelmed, agitated and eventually depleted.

We flick through our phones, tv channels, jobs, and relationships, struggling to stay with anything for long enough to really come to know and understand ourselves in relationship with what and whom we interact.  

The yoga practice offers us powerful techniques for cultivating our skills of attention and concentration. By challenging ourselves in various ways in our practice we are required to cultivate greater levels of attention not just in terms of what we are doing but in how we are doing it.

By focusing deeply on the subtleties of the pose and the breath we come to greater levels o understanding we develop control of our body (actions) and mind (thoughts and speech).

As we absorb ourselves in our work the mind has a chance to “settle” and our nervous system is balanced. When we immerse our entire body and mind in what we are doing we enter a state of “flow” and actually open ourselves us to greater levels of creativity and insight.

Concentration goes inwards and then expands outward so that we enter deeper levels of connection to whatever or whomever we are engaged with.

DHYANA - Meditation

It is challenging to sit for meditation when one has a body that is stiff and painful and a mind that is agitated.

Asana gifts us with a body that is open and strong to be able to sit comfortably in stillness and silence. Asana and pranayama cultivate the level of discipline and attentiveness we need to focus deeply on something for an extended period of time. As our concentration deepens, our awareness expands beyond the container of the body–mind and our sense of separation from that upon which we meditate begins to dissolve.

Dhyana become the doorway through which we step in order to experience Samadhi.

SAMADHI - Union

“Every day life can easily lead us to forget that we are inextricably linked to the natural world through every breath we take, the water we drink and the food we eat” – Lama Lobzang

Everything up until now has been an act of doing, a practice. The experience of Samadhi is the gift of our work.

We don’t practice yoga to attain Samadhi, you practice to uncover your what is already your natural state of being – a state of balance, integration, wholeness, deep peace and indescribable joy.   In this state all sense of separation falls away and we realize a universal Truth – the interconnectedness of all life.

It is the shift from our small self as the standard operating system to the higher Self which directs our thoughts, words and actions.

In this way Yoga moves us from focusing on oneself and moves into a selfless practice as we offer up the best of ourselves in the service of our fellow beings.

lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu - may all beings everywhere be happy and free and may my thoughts words and actions contribute to the freedom and happiness of all.