Many practitioners in the western world know only of the physical practice of yoga, the asana practice, that we all bring to our mats. But there is so much more to yoga than just the physical practice. It is a spiritual and philosophical practice that can truly enhance one´s life. There is a systematic approach to yoga, known as the 8-limbs(Ashtanga) of yoga, written by the sage Patanjali around 400BC. The ultimate goal of the yoga sutras is to reveal how the practice and wisdom of yoga can help us reveal the true self, that we each have inside us. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
The first limb, Yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The five Yamas are:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: nonstealing
- Brahmacharya: continence
- Aparigraha: noncovetousness
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice. The five niyamas are:
- Saucha: cleanliness
- Samtosa: contentment
- Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities
- Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self
- Isvara pranidhana: surrender to “God”
3. Asana, or yoga poses and postures, are the third limb of yoga. Patanjali described asanas as “mastering the body to sit still for meditation.” Today, these poses are practiced around the world to enhance balance, coordination, and body control. From downward dog, to poses for better sleep, and many more, asanas enables yogis to challenge themselves and hone their ability to move and control their bodies.
The fourth of the 8 limbs of yoga is pranayama, breathing and control of breath. Prana means “energy” or “life force,” and the practice of pranayama means honing your breath and the energy within your body. Taking the time to focus on your breath can increase your self-awareness can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow.
Pratyahara translates to “gaining mastery of external influences.” This can be interpreted as making wise choices about everything from the food you put in your body, to ideas you let in your mind. Practicing pratyahara means freeing yourself from external sensation and focusing your energy inward. One might think of this idea as refraining from the wrong external influences; for example, staying away from unhealthy foods and people who do not enhance your life. Instead, that energy is shifted towards healthier and more fulfilling external influences.
Dharana means taking on a deep concentration and aiming your mind toward a singular focus. This practice can start simple, such as focusing your entire mind on bringing energy to one area of your body, or even setting your sight and mind on one fixed point. This practice helps the yogi focus on one single element of their practice and quiets other things on their mind.
The seventh of the 8 limbs of yoga encompasses meditation and meditative absorption. Highly correlated with the concentration practiced in the sixth limb of yoga, dhyana takes it a step further and deepens that focus. A phenomenon that has been described as “setting you free from yourself,” the practice of meditation has many benefits including calming the mind and can improving your full-body health.
The final of the 8 limbs of yoga, samadhi, translates to “putting together” or “integration.” Historically, many have interpreted samadhi to mean finding connection with the divine through yoga, and a sense of holistic peace with yourself. Others interpret this to mean mastery and understanding of all eight limbs of yoga. If you have reached this stage in your practice, you have focused energy on moral practices and self-discipline. Through this holistic practice, you have put time and energy into fueling your mind and body, and you have honed your concentration through meditation and withdrawal from distractions around you.
As you can see it takes practice to experience “Ultimate Bliss” and become a Yogi. I think every step we take to become a better version of ourselves is a step with a beautiful purpose. Never forget to enjoy this journey and do not always take yourself and things in life too serious, smile!!