The MAIN goal yoga is to
“Still the fluctuations of the mind." ~Yoga Citta Vritti Nirohhah (1.02)
For regular people like you and I, this may sound like fairies-unicorn-like stuff. Most of us start yoga because we want to be more flexible, lose weight, do a handstand, to feel good about ourselves, to find peace during our otherwise hectic life; OR maybe all of the above and many other reasons.
If you do get to achieve all your worldly goals through “yoga” – yay! congrats!
Now what’s next? Well you can of course, choose stay in your comfort zone of sweat bliss.
OR you can choose to move your mind with yoga knowledge that will empower your life.
Why should you know about the 8 Limbs of Yoga ?
Your Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga, Baptiste Power Yoga etc are physical practices, and is only ONE of the 8 limbs of Yoga according to Patanjali.
Patanjali is a profoundly wise man, who is believed to have lived around 100- 200AD and he compiled a book of thoughts on Yoga or the Yoga Sutras (sutras meaning thread of thoughts).
He wrote about the 8 limbs of Yoga in the 2nd chapter, and it is essentially a road map to show you how you can live a meaningful and blissful life; how to treat others and how to reduce the karma that we create.
The past can teach us a lot of thing; the beauty of the yoga sutra is the wisdom transcends all religions. We can each take from it what is relevant for us today.
And the good news is at least you got one down with the “asana”.
And it is a start.
8 LIMBS OF YOGA
1. Yamas (Moral Discipline)
Guidelines for one’s behaviour towards others
Ahimsa: Nonviolence/harming - one should be kind to others
Satya: Truthfulness - one should be sincere and say what you mean.
Asteya: Non Stealing - one should give acknowledgement and be in
the practice of supporting others
Brachmcharya: Chastity/Non-excess - Historically this is about sexual abstinence but to me about giving the right amount of energy towards others
Aparigraha: Greedlessness/Non-covetousness - one should give without expecting anything in return.
2. Niyamas (Self-Restraint)
Guidelines for actions towards oneself to harmonize our inner life.
Saucha: Purity, cleanliness
Tapas: Self discipline, commitment to daily practice, Heat
Svadhyaya: Self Study, being in inquiry
Ishvara Pranidhana: Surrender, Letting go of ego
3. Asana (Physical Posture)
“Sthira-sukham asanam” ~ yoga sutra 2.46
To be seated in a position that is firm but relaxed
4. Pranayama (Breath Control)
It is simply having conscious awareness of the breath.
5. Pratyahara (Sense withdrawal)
We draw our senses inwards by having our eyes closed, which helps to fliter what we experience in our outer world mindfully.
6. Dharana (Concentration)
You want to focus your mind to one single point of focus by having your attention on the breath, heart, tip of nose etc.
7. Dhyana (Meditation)
Once you are able to be in a continuous state of focused concentration without distraction – meditation happens. It is a tool to allow us to draw senses inwards and observe our inner world
8. Samadhi (Esctasy)
In Sanskrit, it means “put together” This is the ultimate goal of Yoga – to be in a state of awareness when thought and thinker, subject object becomes one. It is the union all 8 limbs to get to the state of contentment, enlightenment and bliss.
I am only interested in doing the Physical aspect of Yoga. Does this mean that I’m not doing the “real” yoga?
Patanjali might say yes to that but the 8 limbs of Yoga were created in a time, when there were no phones, TVs or other worldly distractions and Patanjali’s disciples probably lived in an ashram.
So let’s not argue about what is real or not, what is right or wrong, bad or good. Kudos if you are practising yoga, whatever style it is.
And know that if you keep showing up your mat, there will be a time when you’d be inspired to know what is beyond the asanas. The 8 limbs will give clues and guidelines, and will show you the way.
How do I practice the 8 limbs in real life?
Applying ALL the 8 limbs in today's modern world requires major discipline and commitment. (and I foresee that you may need to give up your worldly possessions and be a hermit).
We have to be realistic - even getting an hour of yoga a day is a struggle for some and especially for me. Then what if you don't practise yoga at all - does it mean you will never be happy and be a morally sound person?
No - that's not true.
The 8 Limbs is just a GUIDE and NOT a Fix-it-all! It's your life, it's your practice and you have the power to choose your own pathway and RE-CREATE as your own experiences.
If you are already a kind person, you are practising the old ancient ways. It is common sense really, but reading and looking to the past does serve as a reminder of who I want to be - a better person. I'm not an overachiever, I don't need to be in ultimate bliss - all I want is to be happy right here right now.
And I can be more.
So how do I do this? How do I start living a more meaningful life?
Choose 1 Yamas or Niyamas to practice for 1 year.
Not 21 days?
It should be a lifetime actually - like I choose to practise AHIMSA which is kindness and kindness doesn't stop after the 21 days or even 365 days. Even though it's something that should be ingrained, but we forget sometimes is that kindness (and compassion) is also required towards ONE OWN SELVES!! And we are so good at listening to the voices in our head, aren't we?
Choose only 1 because it will naturally lead to the others.
When you set smaller, specific and realistic goals, the bigger goal doesn’t seem so daunting, especially we adapt and practice what we can in our lives.
It is more than enough. And you are enough!
**Translations inspired by Georg Feuerstein and from Swamij.com