In the modern perception of a yoga practice, under the influence of social media, it is often misinterpreted that Yoga is a pose and the goal of yoga is to achieve the pose. However to practice yoga holistically is to go much deeper than the physical.
The yoga poses also known as Asana, is only one part of the 8-limbs as laid down by Patanjali. A holistic yoga practice will need to seek union between mind, body and spirit as it explores the synergy between breath, postures and drishti. Together this allows our external practice to draw inwards and foster an awareness of ourselves as individuals seeking peace and ultimately a connection to the greater whole. Through practicing the teachings of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, the body and mind is both strengthened and softened, and prepared to go the depths into the exploration of yoga.
In brief the teachings of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, or steps to yoga, are as follows:
The first and second limbs: Yamas and the Niyamas, it all starts there, with how we show up in our lives (personal observances) and in the world (universal morality). The attitude we have towards external (people and things) is Yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is Niyama. When we incorporate Yamas and Niyamas into both our daily practice and our day-to-day lives, we become more present, cultivating awareness and gratitude in all things that we do and the people around us.
The yamas are Ahimsa – Non-violence, Compassion for all living things. Satya – Truthfulness. Asteya – Non-stealing. Brachmacarya – Sense Control. Aparigraha – Non-hoarding.
The Niyamas are Sauca – Purity and cleanliness. Santosa – Contentment. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy. Svadhyaya – Self awareness, self-study. Isvara pranidhana – Surrender to the higher power.
Practice of physical postures combined with the fourth limb, Pranayama to foster a quiet awareness of breath, increase flexibility, physical and mental wellness.
Breathing technique practiced together with the third limb, Asanas to balance the flows of vital life forces and energy within us, then directing them inward to the chakra system.
Withdrawal of senses from external stimulation and bringing the focus inwards. With the senses no longer easily distracted, this is a preparatory stage for meditation.
Intense concentration, closely linked to the previous limb, pratyahara where with senses withdrawn and focus drawn inwards, we will find a focus and point of concentration. Through this one will be able to steady the mind and 100% focused on 1 thing or subject.
Meditation absorption where one has become completely absorbed in the focus of the meditation.
The final stage and 8th limb, Samadhi means bliss and enlightenment. In the state of Samadhi, the practitioner merges with the object of their meditation and becomes one with it and their surroundings, to bring together, to merge.
So obviously everyone has a choice when it comes to yoga. Patanjali 8 limbs of the yoga sutras can sometimes feel like it will take time (a lifetime!) to cultivate. I’m still scratching the surface with putting some of them into full practice in my life, but having them as goals in my mind and heart is a start and while I’m far, far, far, far (read: not achievable in this lifetime) from enlightenment. I have had moments of what I like to call mini small enlightenment when I’ve practiced them. When I look at my life experiences and my asana practice through the context of their lessons, I often tell myself that perhaps moments of mini-enlightenment in one lifetime is better than nothing.
(Weekend warrior /YTT200 – Sep 17)