The eight limbs of yoga first described in the texts The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali approximately 2000 years ago define the practice of yoga, which can really help any practitioner understand the intricacies, beauty and potentiality of the practice of yoga. The path of the 8 limbs is a hugely transformational journey of self discovery, calming the mind and opening the heart intended to be studied over a lifetime.
So whether you are new to the practice of yoga or have been practicing asana (the poses) for years, there is a lot more to discover about yourself and your journey through life along the way by following the path of the limbs.
Yama – Imagine yourself as a bright light. The first limb, Yama, asks you to take a look at the way you beam your light out into the world. The Yamas encourage us to be wonderful and kind to one another.
- Are you nice and compassionate to other living beings?
- Are you committed to truthfulness?
- Are you not stealing? (other people’s ideas and emotions included)
- Are you using your energy wisely? (how much time are you spending watching TV, tablet or smart phone?)
Niyamas – This is your inner spotlight. The attitude you take toward your own self-care and growth. The Niyamas will help you see that taking care of yourself is a massive part of the yogic journey.
- Are you keeping your body and mind pure? (eating healthy, limiting your alcohol intake)
- Are you finding contentment in all that you already have?
- Are you disciplined with the use of your energy? (Do you procrastinate?)
- Are you working towards being more mindful and self-aware?
- Do you take time to bask in the energy that is bigger than you? (spending time in nature, practicing meditation)
Asana – This is the limb that we are already familiar with. The practice of the physical postures is just one part of yoga. Asana is about becoming connected and uniting all aspects of yourself: body, mind, heart, breath, soul while finding acceptance within.
- Are you finding time for regular practice?
- Are you looking inside while you are practicing or are you just going through the motions?
- Are you focused on body awareness? (are you aware of subtle sensations and movements in the body?)
Pranayama – Your life force. The prana (energy) that keeps you alive in this life is your breath. Pranayama is the balancing of this life force and is directly connected to the asanas. Focused movement of the breath balances the flow of vital forces in the body. Follow the breath and everything will fall into place.
Is your breath steady and flowing through your practice?
- Are there certain times through your practice that you struggle to breath?
- Can you focus enough on your breath that you have the ability to quiet the mind?
Pratyahara – Focus the spotlight inwards. Pratyahara is about withdrawing the senses from the outside world and instead shining them inside yourself. Sensory withdrawal allows the senses to become stronger because they aren’t being spread out toward a million external stimulations. It’s not about shutting out the world, but refocusing your attention inward so that you are less fragmented and feel more clear. When you see yourself clearly, it’s easier to see others clearly too.
- Can you limit external stimulation in your day-to-day life? (Do you always have the TV or radio on in the background?)
- Do you feel comfortable just being alone with your thoughts? (Try writing in a journal)
- Allow yourself to spend time in nature. Go for a walk, sit on a bench and just be there.
Dharana – Taking your focus and plant it on one steady entity. The object of the focus isn’t the point, it’s just a tool for going deeper. A mantra, your breath, candle light, mala beads, whatever works best for you. The purpose now is to still the wandering mind and become steady. Choose one single point of focus and practice staying connected to it.
- Experiment with the above suggested tools. Some days you may feel more connected with one or another.
- Be gentle with yourself! This takes practice and dedication, don’t allow yourself to become frustrated if it doesn’t come right away.
- Incorporate Dharana into your practice. Find a drishti point when you are practicing your asanas, don’t let your focus waver from that place.
Dhyana -Once you’re steady, it’s time for meditation. This is contemplation with no object or specific focus. Find that feeling when you become so absorbed in an activity, that there is no thought it’s just a direct experience of the task at hand. Dhyana is about letting go of the focus and becoming completely immersed in the present.
- Take notice of the times when you find yourself “in the now”. And when you do, smile!
- Remember that Dhyana isn’t something that comes easily, practice just being with yourself and watching the body from the inside, meditate on you.
Samadhi – The union with the Divine is reached. You are out of physical consciousness; the mind and soul are in equal balance. Samadhi is the braiding together of all the limbs. It is a complete understanding and a total immersion in presence.
- This happens as a result of practice and can also happen rather spontaneously. The body, the senses, the mind- they are all at peace.
- It is a space of simply being, experiencing truth and connection.
Remember, your yoga is your time. Yoga is a practice, a journey that you will continue through every day. Each day will be different, there will be days that show little challenge and everything will appear to work exactly how you think it should, and days where the challenges keep presenting themselves and nothing seems to work for you…keep your focus, stay on the path.
I can’t promise you that it will be easy, but it will be so worth it!