Yoga Magic and the 8 Limbs of Yoga
June has arrived. Summer is almost here. A feeling of freedom is in the air. Unlike Pilates and fitness workouts that originated more recently, yoga began thousands of years ago in India with “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.” Patanjali and his disciples created an 8 step program or instruction manual called the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Its purpose is to guide the use of the breath and body to promote self-awareness, leading to equanimity and a more peaceful harmonious life.
Why is it you practice yoga for an hour and leave class feeling so good? Perhaps that’s why it has survived thousands of years. During June each class will focus on the first
5 limbs, Yama, Niyama, Pranayama, Asana and Pratyahara. Practice, understand and experience the magic of yoga.
Yama is the first limb Patanjali describes. It is the attitude you have toward things and other people. Your decisions and actions come from a place of higher awareness and create authenticity toward the self and others. Yamas are broken down into the five wise characteristics: nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation of senses and non-greed.
Niyama is the second limb and describes how you relate to the self. Niyamas consist of self-discipline and the observances of cleanliness, contentment, zeal for life, self-study and surrender.
Yama and niyama are universal codes for morals, ethics and integrity. They are a guide to be in the present when practicing yoga on and off the mat.
If the Yama and Niyama are the foundation of the yoga practice, what is the purpose of the other limbs of yoga? You are probably familiar with asana, the poses practiced in yoga. Asana is the third limb. By practicing poses such as tree, warrior, mountain, eagle, you develop discipline and concentration, both needed for meditation.
Pranayama, the power behind the breath, is the fourth limb. A practicing yogi uses diaphragmatic breath and often adds alternate nostril breath, breath of fire and ujjai breath. These breathing techniques allow you to gain mastery over respiration. The breath, mind and emotions are connected. Pranayama is the “life force” that rejuvenates the body through the practice of yoga.
The first four limbs, yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama prepare you for the second half of the journey of the 8 limbs, which deals with the senses, mind and a higher state of consciousness. Pratyahara is the fifth limb and means to withdraw. It is the conscious effort to move awareness away from the external world and look inside. Become an observer and look at yourself. Observe cravings or habits that may not be good for your health and interfere with inner growth.
Gaining mastery over the body and developing awareness of the self prepares you for the rest of the journey to the remaining 3 limbs: senses, mind and higher level of consciousness. Perhaps this is the magic that separates yoga from other practices.
8 Limbs of Yoga found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
1. Yama : Universal morality
2. Niyama : Personal observances
3. Asana : Body postures
4. Pranayama : Breathing exercises and control of prana
5. Pratyahara : Turning inward and control of the senses
6. Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
7. Dhyana : Meditation
8. Samadhi : Oneness with all living things
-Barbara Newman, 6/1/2021