Let’s talk yoga.
This practice that inspired me to live a life with more purpose, easy and joy. That supports me to live my life with in a healthy, meaningful and spiritual way.
That's what this yoga practice is designed to do.
And it can do this for you.
So the word ‘yoga’ means to connect, unite or ‘yoke’.
The practice of yoga is over 5,000 years old. It’s wisdom-filled practiced, rooted in teachings from The Yoga Sutras, The Bhagavad Gita and the Sacred texts.
In a nutshell, yoga is designed to support all beings in finding balance, peace and freedom within. In the Bhagavad Gita, yoga is described as a practice “of the self, through the self, to the self.” Starting within, with the belief that inner peace is universal peace. And that’s exactly what the 8 limbs of yoga does. It provides a guide for any yogi to study and to meditate on and to live by as a guide to living a healthy, spiritual and meaningful life.
So how do begin to really know the self?
It can seem a bit daunting at first. Or perhaps even selfish or self-centered. Which is how I felt when I reconnected with my practice in my 20s in Bali. “You mean everyone just came here to make themselves more happy and beautiful?”
Not really. I mean maybe a few people :) But yoga and the 8 limbed practice is designed to facilitate living well, and cultivating a deep relationship with the self.
Yoga is a journey to your soul. In yoga we say to your ‘highest self’ or your ‘truest self.’
It’s a journey within ourselves to see all of the light and love and beauty, as well as all of the dark and fear within. Knowing that our true self is the light.
The yoga is a practice of seeing and acknowledging our fears, challenges, our judgements.
And to practice cultivating deep awareness, with compassion.
Yoga is not about forcing the will, it’s about developing the discipline to cultivate awareness. From there everything we want will come.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines Ashtanga Yoga, ashtanga literally translated means ‘8 limbs.’ These 8 limbs are the foundation for this yogic art of living. For knowing ourselves, and for living with peace, connection to deep purpose and something bigger than ourselves,or the divine. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the inner workings of the mind, which are a big part in practicing and embodying these 8 limbs.
Here is an overview on the Eight Limbs of Yoga
Yamas: Universal morality
Niyamas: Personal observances
Asana: Body postures (the physical yoga practice)
Pranayama: Breathing exercises, or the expansion or prana (life force)
Pratyahara: Control of the senses
Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
Dhyana: Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
Samadhi: Union with the Divine
The first two limbs of the 8 limbs of yoga are the fundamental ethical guidelines that are the foundation of the yoga practice. These guidelines, called Yamas and Niyamas are often the subject of dharma talks or what you will hear discussed in a yoga class.
Yamas are described as how we act towards others, out in the world. Essentially, how we practice yoga off our mat. And Niyamas are about how we conduct ourselves, our personal moral and spiritual observances. Both are concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.
And as Patanjali outlines these observances, rather than saying that our human nature is flawed, he says”our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.”
- Ahimsa - non-harming, compassion for all living things.
- Satya - truth
- Asteya - non-stealing
- Bramacharya - sensory control
- Aparigraha - non-stealing. or practicing abundance mentality.
Niyama means "rules" or “laws” for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are and practices to be embodied. How you respond to the mamas will be even more personal, as the yamas refer to your own personal practice. The yama refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create our own life blueprint for living in alignment with our true selves, our soul.
- Saucha - Purity
- Santosha - Contentment
- Tapas - Disciplined use of Energy
- Svadhyaya - Self Study
- Isvarapranidhana - Celebration of the Spiritual
Asana is the physical posture and this is the limb that we practice most often in the west.
One of the most brilliant ways I’ve heard yoga described as “working through the body to calm the mind”. I love how this blends in asana, and I think it’s very true to yoga philosophy for me, and can be for you. It’s not always easy to sit in meditation and work on how we feel or think. Sometimes it takes getting out of our heads and into our bodies to change our perspective and feel something different.
Through the asana practice we breathe life force into the body, build strength, eliminate toxins through sweat and breath, and increase mobility and circulation in the body to open the heart space and the areas of our body that tend to hold tension throughout the day (hips, shoulders, core.)
Pranayama literally translates to breath control. prana= breath, yama = control. The way in which it’s taught and explained in the sutras however is more so an expansion of life force in the body. By reconnecting to the breath, we channel the life force running through us.
The breath is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s one of my favorites to use personally in mown practice and to share with others, because it’s so tangible. You can turn to your breath at any point in your day to reconnect to the calm, grounded and peaceful state within.
In addition, the more we can practice conscious deep breathing when we are feeling calm, the easier it is to call on the breath as a grounding force when we need it. There are many different kinds of breathing techniques with different intentions including to balance energy, to create heat and fire in the body, to detoxify, to calm and ground, and even to help relax for sleep.
You can check out my post here on pranayama breathing techniques to use in your day.
Pratyahara is the withdraw of the 5 senses. Every day we are living a sensory experience. We get inputs all day of information via touch, taste, see, hear, and smell.
So pratyahara is the practice of tuning out the senses so we can tune in to our own inner experience.
Pratyahara can be practiced in meditation, but doesn’t have to be. I find this to be a more advanced technique after you have gained some practice. And I’ve found a great starting point for new meditators or casual practitioners is to listen to guided meditations, which include of course the sensory experience of sound. I also really enjoy teaching guided body scan meditations, as they can help bring the mind to one point of focus, which can bring ease and relaxation for many people.
Pratyahara can also be practiced at any point throughout your day by simply closing your eyes and guiding your attention inward, even if only for a few breaths. This is a great practice when experiencing over stimulation or feelings of overwhelm.
Dharana is focus or concentration. Practicing focus of the mind is like flexing a muscle in body, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. The practice of dharana is extremely supportive and useful. Anytime and particular in times of challenge to find your way back to your calm, grounded and peaceful state.
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.
Samadhi is absolute, ecstatic transcendence moving beyond time, form and space. It's the goal of all yoga and the supreme state of consciousness.