Yoga is a practice that dates back over 5000 years. It is a philosophy of living in a meaningful way. The Yoga Sutras are scriptures that outline yogic theory in eight limbs and teach us how to to achieve this way of life. Many people practice one or some of the eight limbs, but to reach full enlightenment it's important to give equal attention to all limbs.
It is also suggested that the best way to embody these limbs is to work through them one by one. Once you have a good grasp of the first one, move onto the next until you reach the eighth limb. That doesn't mean move on from one limb and forget about it completely. Think of them more as building blocks; you can not achieve the eighth limb if you have not built a strong foundation from the others.
Yama - restraints
The Yamas are 5 principles or standards that teach you how to conduct yourself day to day.
- Non-violence | Ahimsa : Behave with love and compassion that contributes to people and your surroundings in a positive way. It doesn't just mean physical violence, also your thoughts and words.
- Truthfulness | Satya : Act and speak as your true, authentic self without spreading lies and untruths. Honour your integrity through honesty.
- Non-stealing | Asteya : Not just physically taking material things, but respecting peoples' boundaries, time and space. Also consider the earth and her resources when thinking of this principle.
- Moderation | Brahmacharya : The original translation refers to celibacy but this brings up questions for the modern yogi. Many interpret this now as not overindulging or showing restraint on where you share your energy.
- Enlightenment | Aparigraha : Don't be greedy with possessions, wealth or relationships. Be content with only having what you need and do not be jealous of others.
Niyama - observances
The niyamas are 5 rules on how you should conduct yourself personally.
- Cleanliness | Saucha : Have a clean body and mind. Bath regularly, nourish your body while also making sure your mind is filled with positive thoughts and checking in with yourself regularly.
- Contentment | Santosha : Feel satisfied with everything you have at this moment and do not be tempted with wants and desires from external sources.
- Self-discipline | Tapas : Establish discipline and show up to your yoga mat regularly. It doesn't have to be perfect, just consistent, and sets us up to deal with anything that comes up in our path.
- Self-study | Svadhyaya : Dive inward and study your internal world. Get comfortable with your thoughts and explore them in detail to understand yourself better. Learn and grow from your findings.
- Full surrender | Ishvarapranidhana : Let go of the need for control and leave behind your ego, trusting the higher power to lead us to where we need to be.
These first two limbs are about our ethical behaviours and how we live. These must be mastered as the foundations before progressing onto the next limbs.
Asana - postures
Asana is the physical practice of yoga postures. These postures and movement should be done in a relaxed state with ease and joy. The complicated balances and twists you see on many modern yogi pages are not what yoga is about (unless the yogi is in that position with ease!)
Asanas aim to help you find comfort in stillness. Yes, they are designed to help you sit still. Our modern lifestyles have made our bodies tighter, restricted and less agile; making it hard to get comfortable in a single position and therefore harder to meditate.
Pranayama - breath control
Breathing is how we connect our bodies to the life force energy around us. We can use our breath to control our emotions and mental state but it can also work vice versa. Mindfully breathing can also help our central nervous system manage times of stress. Pace, time and count are all factors that need to be considered when practicing breath control.
Pratyahara - sense withdrawal
Turn your attention inwards to focus on your consciousness and emotions.
Explore the deepest parts of your mind in peace by not letting the external world distract you through your senses. The easiest way to start practicing this is sitting in a quiet space with your eyes closed while practicing Pranayama.
Dharana - concentration
Once you have a good grasp on Pratyahara, use this to slow down
the mind and thought process to create single-pointed focus on an object, idea, breath or place. This concentration will allow you to prepare for meditation meditation practice and once this has been mastered, can be transferred into your daily life.
Multitasking is far less efficient than we are led to believe. Single tasks can be done with more care and precision if we are able to put our full attention and energy into them.
Dhyana - meditation
Meditation should be seen as a state that spontaneously takes over our bodies rather than something we are trying to do. This happens naturally when we are practicing Dharana.
When the mind finds utter peace and stillness, this is meditation. Very few thoughts enter your mind, if any at all, and the ones that do, are very quickly dismissed with no attention being paid to them. It's important not to mistake meditation with daydreaming.
Samadhi - enlightenment
The final limb of enlightenment can only be achieved when all other limbs are being practiced. It is not something that can be willed, but instead simply happens. Achieving this state of bliss will allow you to enjoy all that the present moment has to offer and not worrying about the past or future.
As mentioned in the beginning, yoga is much more than just physically moving your body, it is a full embodied philosophy. Being able to incorporate all eight limbs into your daily life will no doubt create a sense of peace and happiness that can not be explained in words.
This is the ultimate goal of yoga.