The more I study yoga, the more I realize that the practice of yoga is so much more than doing poses on my mat. In fact, most of yoga can be practiced off our mats, exploring all of its teachings beyond the physical practice. One great resource for this practice is the Yoga Sūtra which was written by Patañjali about 2,000 years ago. Within this text is an 8-limbed path known as the 8 Limbs of Yoga. It is basically a road map on how to mindfully navigate through our lives. I have touched on this 8-limb path in many of my writings, but now I’d like to spend some time over the next year diving deeper into these practices with you. I guess you could say this is my resolution for 2019! By sharing my thoughts and experiences on this subject with you, my understanding of the practice grows and, in turn, I hope it inspires you to implement these practices and see how they may benefit your life.
To start, here’s a brief overview of the 8 Limbs of Yoga found in Chip Hartranft’s book, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali:
“Patañjali conceives of the yoga program as a holistic process with eight components. Astanga-yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoking,” with each “limb” meant to address a different aspect or threshold of being….Like the limbs of an animal, the eight components of the yoga program work together in concert. Structurally, astanga-yoga addresses eight strata of personhood, moving from an externalized to an internalized perspective.”
The eight components include ethical principles, self-care practices, physical postures, breath work, control of the senses, focused concentration, deep meditation and integration. Click here for a downloadable one-page outline of the 8 Limbs of Yoga including more detail on the meaning of each limb.
Note: Chip’s book is a translation of the Yoga Sūtra which was recommended to me by my teacher. She also recommended Matthew Remski’s translation, Threads of Yoga. Both are great resources for learning about the yoga philosophy.
The first limb of this 8-limbed path is the yamas. They are a set of ethical principles that are meant to guide how we treat others and our planet. They emphasize our connection to other beings as an integral part of yoga because everything is interconnected. We are not separate. So what we think, feel and do has a direct impact on our world. We are therefore encouraged to be mindful of our actions, because our actions do matter. The yamas breakdown into 5 ethical practices for us to consider:
Ahimsā – non-harming
Satya – honesty
Asteya – not stealing
Bramacharya – the wise use of creative energy
Aparigraphā – non-possessiveness
Just like physical exercise, we need to mindfully focus on and practice ethical principles on a regular basis. Our “mindfulness muscles” need exercise too! And sometimes it’s easier (and more fun) to stick to an exercise plan when you have someone to do it with. So, will you be my mindfulness exercise buddy for the next few months?
The goal of this post is to introduce the idea of studying the 8 Limbs of Yoga to you and to invite you to practice along with me. My plan is to go in-depth into each of the 5 yamas, one at a time. I’m calling it: The Yamas Series (so original!). Part 1 will be out next month and will focus on ahmisā, non-harming.
Until then, be sure to download your free 8 Limbs of Yoga outline and study up prior to next month’s post on ahimsā. I’m excited to practice with you! We will grow together! Namaste.