Yoga Beyond the Mat: Intro to the 8 Limbs of Yoga
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Hey friends! Happy September! Wow, we are really only 4 months away from 2022.
One of my goals this year was to complete by yoga teacher training and teach in a yoga studio. With lots of patience, hard work, and Divine Alignment, I recently started teaching yoga at my dream studio and created a beautiful collaboration with a soul sister offering Soulful Experiences of yoga, sound healing, and community!
Some things I've notice throughout my journey as a Yoga student and teacher is that yoga is often believed to be simply what we do on the mat, the stretching, posing, and breathing. But the amazing thing is that it truly offers so much more.
I consider yoga to be a lifestyle, something you can develop and grow into that permeates into different avenues of your life. There are 8 pathways or limbs to yoga that provide guidance on this journey through life. The conscious utilization of breath, mindfulness, movement, devotion, and heart centered action supports our well being in such a way that tasks such as washing dishes, playing with our children, or having a challenging conversation with a coworker or loved one can become more easeful.
What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?
1. YAMA (Restraints, moral disciplines)
Similarly to any practice that one desires mastery in, discipline and restraint are essential. Whether you're implementing a new cleaning schedule, beginning a business, or collaboratively working on a relationship, moral vows and discipline are critical and absolutely necessary for progress.
The Yamas focus on observing and modifying the not so great behaviors of human kind like practicing non-stealing, releasing greed, and violence just to name a few. When we release our problematic habits, for instance being late can all the time can be considered as stealing time away from yourself and others, we make room for positive habits that elevate our lives. Focusing on releasing that attribute makes space for easefulness in your routines and honoring the time of yourself and others.
Apply it to life:
Reflect on one undisciplined habit (procrastination, tardiness, eating unhealthy foods, screen time, etc.) Once you've identified your habit write it on your mirror or home screen of your phone and focus on actively exercising the release of that habit for a 7 days, gradually increasing your goal to a month and then a lifestyle. Extra points if you establish an accountability partner to discuss your progress and challenges.
2. NIYAMA (Positive duties or observances)
Both Yamas and Niyamas have deeper components that establish each limb, but we will deepen our understand on those another day. Niyamas are the positive qualities we seek to live and experience. For instance focusing our energy on contentment or self reflection enable us to review where we are excelling in our livelihood and where we need growth in addition to creating gratitude with what we have! So maybe starring a practice of developing a skill at work, keeping a gratitude journal, or having the whole family clean the kitchen together each night are a few examples of this practice.
3. ASANA (Posture)
This is the area that many non yogis or new yogis think yoga is in a nutshell. Yoga asana is the physical movement and practice of postures that support our muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs and mindset. Mindful Movement has been studied immensely over the past decade and results support that mindful movement can lead to decreased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and increased body positivity, digestion, and energy.
Yoga asana comes in many forms and levels, from hatha, to vinyasa or yin (just to name a few) there are various speeds and methods that support diverse movement preferences.
Apply it to life:
There are so many ways to start of continue your yoga asana practice. You can sign up here for an online class at your convenience or join me at my in person classes at the Yoga in Common or Hidden Jewel Wellness Boutique. In addition there are countless Youtube videos and instructors throughout the world that offer unique and amazing classes. It's not about if yoga works for you, it's finding the right type of yoga asana for you!
4. PRANAYAMA (Breathing Techniques)
This is one of my favorites friends! Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that can be translated into "breath/life force- control/reining in." It's the active participation in our breathing practice. The beautiful thing about pranayama is that there are so many ways to practice it so there is definitely one that your love! The most important part is that you do it! Our breath and act of breathing is one of the most critical signs of life, it's what we check for in life threating experiences. So making it a practice to expand your breathing practice in that you provide each cell and mitochondria with loving and fresh air supports your healthiest and most vibrant self!
Our breath also gives us an idea of our emotions. Short shallow breaths can indicate nervousness, lack of concentration, erratic and deep breaths can signal immense anger or frustration, and I'm sure many of us are aware of the sigh, whether a sigh of relief, regret, or remorse, our breath is a great compass to identify our state of heart and mind. We can more consciously navigate our feelings by first tapping into our breath, taking control and mindfully inhaling and exhaling what we need to invite or release into that moment of time.
Apply it to life:
I love practicing pranayama first thing in the morning, starting my day with active and engaged breath work that refreshes me for the day and supports increased oxygen and energy! Even if you do 30 secs pranayama supports our inner and outer wellness. I invite you to take the first 10 minutes of your morning to focus on your breath through pranayama, and maybe add some prayer or meditation, and mindful movement. I can almost guarantee it will make your day that much sweeter!
5. PRATYAHARA (Sense withdrawal)
Have you ever been so caught up in a movie or conversation that you loose track of time or outside distractions in the background. Pratyahara is the active practice of that feeling. Intentionally releasing the sense of temperature, background distractions and exterior sensations to deeply focus on meditation. This type of focus can lead us to great peace, tranquility, and wisdom, opening deeper channels of consciousness and tapping into our inner truth.
6. DHARANA (Focused Concentration)
Similarly to Pratyahara, Dharana is the focused concentration. Without release the external distractions it can be immensely difficult to find deep concentration. So the two limbs truly work hand in hand. It's kinda like reaping what you sow, by releasing what's going on in the world, you can find the peace, love, and concentration that transcends the world.
7. DHYANA (Meditative Absorption)
When we find ourselves releasing our senses and finding full concentration we offer ourselves an opportunity to experience the beautiful state of meditation and freedom from thought. This is sometimes where the magic happens and the crazy, powerful moments of peace, transformation, joy, and release often take place. Similarly to various avenues of life when we release our distractions, find Supreme focus, and open ourselves to possibility we transcend the limitations of our mind and experience states beyond our imagination.
8. SAMADHI (Bliss or Enlightenment)
When you hear this one it can be easy to think of some blissful escape far away from the real world, but quite contrary, Samadhi is the state of pure sight and existence. The temporary experience of seeing the true nature without judgement or attachment. As emotional and thought based creatures this can be extremely difficult to do, but through the practice of mindfulness, Dharana, pratyahara, and Dhyana we get glimpses of this state and offered a pure state of mind and pathway to full liberation and freedom.
While the 8 limbs aren't typically mastered in a day or decade even, our daily practice leads us more beautifully in this journey of life! I have found it helpful to focus on one a month and commit to that as my focus at work, home, and play. The practice of being a more beautiful, blissful, and benevolent human being starts from the inside out.
How will you journey today?
Additional links and resources:
Learn the 8 Limbs of Yoga | Yoga Journal
What Are the 8 Limbs of Yoga? (chopra.com)