In the contemporary world today, Yoga has been increasingly popular and practiced worldwide.
As I start my journey to deepen my understanding of yoga during the YTT 200, I have come to learn that Asanas is just the tip of the iceberg of the Yoga Sutras. Pantajali was the first to summarize the ‘big picture’ of yoga philosophy into 8 limbs; which form the basis of Ashtanga Yoga and is a guidance on how to live a balanced and ethical life, on and off the mat.
Yama is the first limb which covers restraints that focus on our behaviors and how we conduct ourselves in life. They are:
a) Ahimsa: Non-violence or practice of benevolence.
b) Satya: principle of practicing truthfulness and authenticity with our thoughts, words, and actions.
c) Asteya: practice of non-stealing and maintaining a balance of give and take
d) Brahmacharya: Celibacy or practice of self-control by not overindulging in the senses
e) Aparigraha: principle of non-possession and detachment
Niyama is the second limb which focuses on self discipline and inward practices to improve the self. They are:
a) Saucha: purification of the mind and body
b) Samtosa: contentment of where we are and what we have
c) Tapas: practice of self discipline and structure
d) Svadhyaya: principle of self study
e) Isvara pranidhana: principle of surrendering and dedication to something that is much greater than ourselves.
Asana is the third limb where through the practice of poses, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate for deeper meditation.
‘Prana’ refers to life force. Pranayama is the practice of regulation of breath (through inhalation and exhalation) to connect the mind and emotions.
Pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga is about withdrawing the senses from the outer world, so that we can take a step back and look inward.
Once we have learned to withdraw from our senses, we can move onto Dharna, the sixth luimb. Dharna is the practice of one-point focus and sustained concentration.
With Dharana, it gradually leads to the seventh limb – Dhyana. This is a meditative state where the mind becomes so still and aware that there are few or no thoughts at all.
Samadhi can be defined as the union of the true self and transcendence of the lower self and personality. It is finding that connection with universal consciousness which leads to true spiritual freedom.
As you can see, Yoga is so much more than just Asanas. It is a state of life, a state of being. Understanding the other 7 limbs, we will be able to use these teachings and integrate in our daily living. This does not happen only through our outward actions but also through our thoughts inwardly. Yoga is lifetime practice where the result will only unravel itself with practice and time.