According to Patanjali, there are 8 limbs to the cycle of Yoga, a journey, to which the end results in a more enlightened state of being. We do not necessarily need to follow the limbs in order , to progress.
Limb 1 : Yamas , codes of conduct for life
Limb 2: Niyamas, personal codes of conduct
Limb 3: Asanas, physical postures (when written, this referred only to seated practice)
Limb 4: Pranayama, correct breathing, techniques to bring in more Prana, Life force to the body
Limb 5: Pratyahara, sense withdrawal, letting go of the outer distractions
Limb 6: Dharana, concentration, one pointed focus and awareness
Limb 7: Dhyana, the state of meditation, arising from, deep concentration, sense withdrawal
Limb 8: Samadhi, on reaching a state of deep meditation, Samadhi, is beyond thought, it is a state of being , resting in pure bliss.
Many of us begin our yoga journey with Asana, the physical postures of modern yoga, perhaps because of stress or a bad back, we begin, stretching, liking what we feel we learn to breathe more deeply, we feel more energy , we feel lighter and more peaceful. We want to continue, over time we realize that the yoga affects us on a more profound level, even when we are not aware quite what it is. This is when we begin to look deeper.
This brings us to the Yamas and Niyamas, often overlooked in favor of postures, they are the bedrock and support of our entire life and practice. To live a yogic life is to bring the YAMAS and NIYAMAS into daily life.
We begin by weaving them into our physical practice. It helps us to understand the concepts clearly, allowing space to transfer the effects into our daily life.
YAMAS : CODES OF CONDUCT FOR LIFE
AHIMSA: Compassion, non violence, self care . When we practice AHIMSA, we naturally can be more caring in our attitude towards ourselves and to others. When we do ASANA with AHIMSA, it allows us to let go of the force and the push, ( the typical A type response to exercise). It allows to slow down, to listen, to be WHERE WE ARE. To adjust the postures accordingly , a more measured, slow approach, allows us to stay , breathe, observe and ultimately surrender into a more effective posture, which is JUST RIGHT for OUR BODIES.
SATYA: Truthfulness, truthful existence, truthful compassion. When we practice SATYA in our ASANAS, it challenges us; can we really be truthful or are we edging towards force? Can we surrender in to a posture in a truthful way, the breath flowing freely? SATYA allows us to practice in a more joyful way, to do what feels good, this does not mean we should shy away from more difficult postures, but approach them in a truthful manner suitable to WHERE WE ARE.
ASTEYA: Non-coveting, non-stealing, letting go of the desires of need and attachment. When we bring ASTEYA in to our ASANA practice, we also must weave in, AHIMSA, and SATYA, they support each other. Can we practice without stealing our own energy? Do we look at someone else in the class and wish our body could achieve the same? do we wish we could be more flexible like the person next to us? ASTEYA allows us to practice in a softer way, it’s okay if your hands don’t meet the floor, or your hamstrings are tight; you know you can modify accordingly, soften where you need to. Close your eyes, breathe with the flow of your movements and enjoy how it feels to bring that lightness, ease and energy to yourself.
BRAHMACHARYA: This is the practice of MODERATION, to seek balance and harmony in our Asana and in our life. It does not mean denial, but it is about not over indulging in anything, whether that is with food, work, or even yoga practice, when we find the balance of moderation , we have inexhaustible energy. Our physical practice can create both energy and balance, so we feel this natural contented state .
APARIGRAHA: Non possessiveness, Non attachment. This is a difficult part of the practice, we are all very attached to our ideas, our material possessions , the way we practice our yoga, even the space we occupy in class (!) This clinging can almost be a state of inflexibility which can transfer to our joints and muscles, we don’t want to be challenged to do something different, because that means a ‘letting go’ But when we have courage to create space in our lives, and let go of what no longer supports us, we allow new energies in; we can look back and realize that we didn’t need the thing/person/emotion to make us happy. The letting go allows us freedom.
THE NIYAMAS, OUR PERSONAL CODES OF CONDUCT
SAUCHA: Purtiy, of body and mind. When we begin to practice yoga, we notice the physical benefits very quickly, as it affects all of the body systems, in particular the twisting poses and inversions stimulate the functioning of the internal organs. On a deeper level, our breath is constantly cleansing and releasing, it helps us to return to the present. But if we only cleanse the body, but ignore our mind, we cannot awaken to our inner divine light. Meditation is the key to let go of the mental disturbances and restore ourselves fully.
SANTOSHA: The beautiful practise of contentment. This sounds like it should be so easy for us, but in reality, few people are content with life, which creates stress and unhappiness. The practice of SANTOSHA teaches us to be happy where we are, with what we have, knowing that we are meant to be in this exact moment and to appreciate fully. It is the thought processes in our minds that distract us and lead us away from that moment of contentment. We can use our physical ASANA to allow ourselves to be ever present, create awareness of the moment and the breath, to be absorbed and free from distractions. How often do we have this sense of deep peace at the end of a class? or the end of a great movie, walking in nature, being with loved ones? That is SANTOSHA.
TAPAS: Discipline, commitment. TAPAS can be described as ‘the fire in your belly’, the determination to succeed , to endeavor at all times to give 100%. This sounds extreme to some , but without TAPAS there is NO yoga! The practice of all yoga itself, is very much a discipline, we give ourselves this gift, but to maintain it, we must practice for optimum results. This does not mean practising for hours on end every day, it means developing our commitment to whatever we do in life, to stir the internal fire, get rid of what we don’t need, draw in scattered energies and create proper focus in our lives. This leads us to the inner divine light.
SVADHYAYA: Self study. to seek spiritual meaning in our practice and our lives. To observe. SVADHYAYA refers not only to studying spiritual, uplifting texts, but being able to apply this self study and observation to everything that you do. A good way to begin is with your ASANA practice; be the observer of your movement and breath, watch where you flow and move more easily, watch where you are closed. Every moment is an opportunity for self study if we create the space to observe.
ISVARA PRANIDHANA: Surrender to a higher force, be that God, the Universe, Energy, light. To honor a higher consciousness in your life, something that is bigger than you! This is about taking out your ego, your small ‘I’ and replacing it with the thought that you are not the sum of your thought and emotions, they are temporary. When you learn to ‘step behind’ the thoughts, you are not distracted by them, you can rest in the seat of your own inner divine light, contented and calm. When you know that you are only a tiny part of a much bigger universe, you can be more genuine with your thoughts and deeds, bringing you closer to the divine inner light within.
Our YAMAS and NIYAMAS, really support our practice, the concepts may be strange at first, but gradually, as we weave them into our lives, they become an integral part of who we are, on our journey towards a more spiritual self.