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An Introduction to Yoga & The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Alexis Henderson, July 7th, 2023

What is Yoga & why you should be practicing?

I have experienced profound transformation as I was undergoing my coaching certification. But I never expected to transform the way I did in my Yoga Instructor Certification. The things I’m learning about the body, mind, and soul—have enlightened me on so many levels and allows me to bring that love & light into the world and spread it. Which is why I wanted to create a “SparkNotes”, if you will—on Yoga, its principles, & its benefits.

Yoga practice and ancient texts date all the way back to 2700 B.C.E. (Before Common Era). To put that in perspective for you, that is before the birth of Christianity (1st Century C.E., or Common Era)—which is still relatively new in comparison; or even Judaism (2000 B.C.E.). These practices and texts are older than most modern religions, and while Yoga is not considered a religion, it is connected to what is thought to be the oldest religion—Hinduism (7000 B.C.E.). It is also a sister practice of the ancient traditional healing practice, Ayurveda (5000 B.C.E.).

Now that we got all those numbers out of the way, you might be wondering okay so what is Yoga? Is it stretching in a scorching hot, low lit, room with a mirror? Is it breathing and meditating? Is it regular stretching practice?

And the answer is, it is all those things, but so much more. There are many types of yoga. Yoga for postures (Ashtanga Yoga), Yoga for meditation & breathing (Raja Yoga), but also—yoga for studying (Jnana Yoga), devotional yoga (Bhakti Yoga), yoga of service (Karma Yoga)—just to scratch the surface. Yoga is also to be considered philosophical, and is often thought of as the path to spiritual enlightenment.

And to really understand yoga, you must first understand some of its core principles or teachings. So, in this article, we will be exploring the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

The 8 limbs of Yoga are aspects on the path of yoga, there is not a specific order to these limbs, because they are interrelated and fluid. The 8 limbs are as follows:

1. Yama: Restraints, moral disciplines, or moral vows.

Yamas are broken down into the practices listed below. By practicing things such as non-violence, truthfulness, detachment, etc. you are practicing the founding principles of the yoga tradition.

a. Ahimsa – Non- violence (action: offering healing & compassion to yourself and others)

b. Satya – Truthfulness (action: being truthful & honest)

c. Asteya – Non-stealing

d. Brahmacharya – Moderation of the senses / Right use of Energy (action: channeling of emotions, not having too much or too little of something)

e. Aparigraha –Non-Attachment & Non-possessiveness (action: detachment, acceptance, and practicing non-greed)

2. Niyama: Positive duties or observances.

Niyama’s are your habits and the way you show up in the world. When you have habits around things like cleanliness, self-discipline, self-reflection, etc. you are practicing the founding duties of the yoga tradition.

a. Saucha: Purity or cleanliness.

b. Santosha: Contentment.

c. Tapas: Self-discipline

d. Svadhyaya: Self-study and self-reflection.

e. Ishvara pranidhana: Contemplation of or surrender to a higher power.

3. Asana: Posture.

The physical aspect of yoga is the third step of Niyama’s on the path of Yoga. The guidance here is that the posture should be “steady & comfortable”.

Once you have considered the moral code and duties of yoga practice, you can start to practice tuning into your body, finding that steadiness and comfort within. This is what modern yoga has been reduced too, but as you can tell there are many more layers to yoga than just physical practice.

4. Pranayama: Breathing Techniques.

Pranayama can be broken down into two words; Prana- for breath; and -Yama, which means restraint, or control.

Prana + Yama = Breath Control

It can also be broken down into Prana- and -ayama, which reads as “freedom of breath” or “breath liberation”. By changing the way, we breathe we can have a profound impact on the mind that allows us to ‘control’ the way we feel or “free” ourselves from the habitual ways of the mind.

5. Pratyahara: Sense withdrawal.

The idea here is not to turn off your senses (taste, smell, touch, sound, sight). Instead, it changes our state of mind and allows us to become so focused on what you are meditating on, that outside distractions can no longer break your focus. Outside sensations no longer interrupt your concentration.

This limb of yoga aids in the meditative process, by practicing the removal of outside, potentially distracting sensory, this is one of the first skills in developing a strong meditation practice.

6. Dharana: Focused Concentration.

After sensory withdrawal, you can achieve focused concentration. Pratyahara and Dharana go hand in hand. This is one point concentration, if your attention shifts, you bring it back. Many confuse this with meditating.

As we grow in our practices to strengthen our meditation, we can hone into the subject of our meditation, we begin to transcend to new consciousness.

7. Dhyana: Meditative Absorption.

When we become completely absorbed in the focus of our meditation, our focus does not shift. This is deep meditation.

8. Samadhi: Bliss or Enlightenment.

In the final step on the path of Yoga, we have Samadhi, which is translated as “bliss” or “enlightenment”. You reach this step in the practice after you’ve organized your internal world and come to acceptance/detachment of the outside world. It is the awakening, but it is not permanent. This is achieved in the moment as you are experiencing life and bliss.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga also coincide with the 5 elements:

Earth – Representing our habits (1. Yama)

Water – Representing our emotional impulses (2. Niyama’s)

Fire – Representing our energy & vitality (3. Asana)

Air – Representing Sensitivity & feeling (4. Pranayama)

Ether – Representing the creative inner space (5. Pratyahara, 6. Dharana, 7. Dhyana, 8. Samadhi)

And that is just an intro! You can see how profound some of the principles, teachings, and outcomes of Yoga are and how they can positively impact and influence your life. Practicing Yoga is more than just attending a class once a week to stretch, and if you attend those classes, you’ve surely discovered this. It is a way of life, of thinking, of being. It allows you to recognize the power within and the divine higher power that guides us all. It allows you to connect to not only your body and your mind, but also with your soul—who you are at your core.

And if that all wasn’t convincing enough as to why you should start your own yoga practice, here are some of the physical benefits of yoga:

· increased flexibility.

· increased muscle strength and tone.

· improved respiration, energy, and vitality.

· maintaining a balanced metabolism.

· weight reduction.

· cardio and circulatory health.

· improved athletic performance.

· protection from injury.

Even though the spiritual benefits are way more intriguing to me, some may find that yoga’s physical benefits are enough for their practice. And that is okay. Everyone practices yoga differently. Some study yoga and its teachings—Jnana Yoga, while others practice the service of Yoga—Karma Yoga.

Whatever your practice is, keep it up and keep evolving as you walk down your own path of yoga.

Shanti (Peace).


Lexi the Life Coach

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