The 8 limbs of yoga are the basis of the philosophy and practice of yoga and is found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. While the Yoga Sutras are thought to be as old as 400 BC, evidence suggests that the methods described in the Yoga Sutras were being practiced as early as 3000 BC. They are applicable in today's world and if you practice yoga you can use these as a basic guide. No matter what religion or race you are, you may find that you become more peaceful, loving, and respectful for yourself and for the world at a large even if you don't reach enlightenment. : )
I often feel that the words are taken too literally and we must actually look deeper in what the meaning of the 8 limbs of yoga are to us as human beings. The basic premise of the 8 limbs is to be good and to do good to other living things and practice empathy and loving kindness. I even think that sometimes within the yoga community, some can take these so literally that they begin to pass judgement on the practice of others which is completely opposite of what the intention of yoga is.
In this blog, I would like to offer my interpretation of the 8 limbs of yoga.
What does yoga actually mean? It means to “yoke” or connect. Yoga is an ancient art based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit.
1. Yama: This is “moral discipline”. What does that actually translate to in today's world? This is a list of what you should not do. There are 5 things in this list:
- Ahisma : non-violence. Non-violence is not only not harming people physically, but also emotionally. In a broader sense this also translates to having respect for one another and acknowledging that we are all different beings and that is not bad nor does this mean than one is a lesser person than another. That also means not passing judgment on others or practicing in snobbery.
- Satya: truthfulness. Truthfulness also comes in many forms whether that is telling the truth, living the truth, or being true to one another or being true to one's self. With truthfulness also comes integrity. Don't be a fake and don't pretend to be something that you are not! Do not practice in trickery. Do not project falsehoods about yourself or others.
- Asteya: no stealing. Do not steal from others whether that be possessions or ideas.
- Brahmacharya: using your energy in the right way, having personal boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others.
- Aparigraha: extreme greediness and the desire for wealth also not hoarding.
2. Nihyama: This is your attitude towards yourself. This limb is about caring for yourself and creating growth in yourself. There are also 5 of these in this list:
- Sauca: pureness of the mind and body. I prefer to not translate this on the “literal” words because one can have a pure mind and body if one takes care of themselves and practices things in moderation. In my opinion that means that one does not have to be vegetarian or consume no caffiene and alcohol. One can still be healthy as long as one has self-control.
- Santosa: contentment with oneself and acceptance of others and compassion and empathy towards other living beings. Helping support one another and supporting our communities.
- Tapas: Self-discipline and moderation. Meditation on remaining moderate of actions.
- Svadhyaya: Self-reflection and meditation. Meditation can take on many forms. You can meditate in the shower, or while excercising, or pondering on things in your life. This does not literally mean sitting on the floor in lotus position chanting- although this may be the way some people choose to meditate. As long as you ponder over your actions and the actions of others in relationship to our world, then that is meditating.
- Isvarapranidhana: Tuning into a higher energy or power.
3. Asana: The physical practice of yoga poses to help unite mind, body, and soul. This is also having respect for your own limits and finding acceptance in being where you and who you are in your practice and not comparing yourself to others and their practice. Everyone must start somewhere and there are many discussions in the yoga community about “yoga trends” and “commercialism of yoga”. In my opinion, if you can educate people on a level that speaks to them and helps that person find yoga and at the same time you are not exploiting the person or the practice of yoga, then there is no harm. Who are we to judge the yoga practice of another?
4. Pranayama: Breath awareness and breath extension and control. Prana is our life energy and when we practice Asanas and Pranayama, our prana flows more freely.
5. Pratyara: Focusing your own senses inward to help promote personal clarity. When you can understand yourself, then you can also understand others more easily.
6. Dharana: Maintaining your concentration.
7. Dhyana: Completely being in the present- a meditation with no focus. Practice of mindfulness and regular meditation. Remember- everyone meditates differently. Meditation does not necessarily require chanting or sitting on the floor for hours to find the answers that you are looking for while you practice your form of meditation.
8. Samadhi: When all the limbs come together and create ultimate enlightenment, when you feel in complete union with yourself. Will you ever reach enlightenment? Who knows, but you can enjoy the pleasure when your body and your mind are in harmonious balance and things just seem to coincidently fall into your path. I believe that may be more like enlightenment that the old definition of what enlightenment what thought to be.
I hope that this may help some people understand how yoga should work in theory. I also hope that even if your views differ from my views, that we can exist with respect for each other and agree to disagree. I hope most of all that this calls on more people to become interested in and begin their own practice of yoga.
If you would like to know when and where I teach, check out my blog about my yoga teaching schedule for 2017!
Have a wonderful day!