What is Yoga? The 8 Limbs

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What is Yoga? The 8 Limbs

In the Ashtanga yoga tradition, and also in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are 8 limbs of yoga.

Most people are familiar with asana, or postures. But what about the other rest of our tree? In every yoga class, you’re experiencing the majority of the 8 limbs even if you might not realize it.

The Yamas include (but are not limited to) treating our bodies with respect throughout our yoga practice, being honest with ourselves, and not comparing ourselves to others. Niyamas include accepting where we are in our yoga, dedication to our practice, and self-study. These are the first two limbs.
The third limb is Asana, our postures and movement, linked with Pranayama, the fourth limb. Our breath, our pranayama, is our life-giving force of energy that connects us with every other living being on the planet. Talk about a powerful aspect of yoga!
The fifth limb is Pratyahara, or control of the senses. This doesn’t mean to plug your ears and close your eyes the entire practice necessarily, but rather to detach from the world around you. The sirens that just passed are not of consequence in the present moment, and the train zooming by while you’re in Warrior 3 only adds to your concentration.
Dharana is the sixth limb of yoga, and means to steady the mind. As Katie discussed in our first post in our What Is Yoga series, yoga is the calming of the mind stuff. Another way to look at it is that you are the sky and everything else is just the weather. Happiness, sadness, anger, excitement… these emotions all come and go, but the sky remains. When we quiet the mind, we connect with our sky.
Contemplation, or Dhyana, is the seventh limb of yoga. We are aware of our bodies, and work with the resistance we might find. We are aware of our thoughts, and let them float by like leaves in the wind. When we notice we have become distracted, we gently guide ourselves back to the present moment.
Lastly, we have Samadhi, the bliss. Some days we might not find samadhi, other days our whole practice might feel connected and blissful. In general, we might find our deepest connect to our witness, our sky, during savasana.
So as you enter your next class, think about the 8 limbs. Let them deepen your practice on and off that mat, by not comparing yourself, breathing deeply, and don’t be so worried about if your nose doesn’t touch your knee! (:
*Photo Courtesy of Bikram Yoga Vancouver