While most people start practicing yoga for the physical benefits, strength, balance, and flexibility, there is so much more to yoga than poses. If Yoga was a tree, this tree would have 8 limbs; asana (yoga poses) is just one of those limbs.
The 8 limbs are:
- Yamas–Ways we relate to others: Ahimsa (non-harming), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (non-indulgence/greediness), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness/grasping)
- Niyamas–Ways we relate to ourselves: Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Svadyaya (self-study), Isvara Pranidana (devotion)
- Asana–physical practice of yoga poses and postures
- Pranayama–breath control
- Pratyahara–withdrawal of the senses
- Dhyana–meditative flow
- Samadhi–spiritual enlightenment, union of body, mind, and spirit
Each of these limbs address different aspects of being human, and how to live an “enlightened” life. While very few people in the modern world actually reach enlightenment, we can all embrace aspects of these 8 limbs in our daily lives. These practices guide us toward more peace and open heartedness in our body, mind and spirit.
How is this useful or practical?
Sure, it’s easy for a monk who lives on a mountain to practice all of these things, but what about you and me, in the “real world?” It’s a matter of mindset. You don’t need to practice all of these things perfectly, or even spend hours one them every day.
But, when your mind is focused on Ahimsa, for example, you might find yourself being kinder to those with whom you interact. Maybe you will think less harmful thoughts toward yourself. Non-harming applies to both thought and action, toward others, and toward yourself. You might make choices in your life that bring less harm to the environment. These practices can all be applied to living a more peaceful life. When your thoughts are more peaceful, so will be your actions.
Even asana practice can bring peace into your life. How do you feel after a yoga practice? You often feel relaxed and content. Maybe a bit sweaty. I often feel calm and at peace with myself in my body. I’m less agitated, less stiff physically, and my family members tease me about being very “lovey.” My heart opens, and I am more in tune with how I feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Asana practice gives me the opportunity to connect with myself.
Meditation and breathwork does this as well. When your mind is fully present, and you are not spinning to thoughts of the past or the future, you feel more peaceful. Shame and regret live in the past. Anxiety lives in the future. Peace, love, and gratitude live in the present. I prefer to hang out with those folks.
When the body is quiet, and the breath is calm, the mind shares it’s wisdom. So many times when I’m practicing meditation, a solution to a problem with which I’ve been struggling rises to the surface. This wisdom comes from me, I just need to be still and quiet enough to hear it. Yoga, pranayama, and meditation all give me the opportunity to get quiet and still enough to listen to my own wise heart.
Over the next weeks I’ll be exploring each limb in a bit more detail. I have found practicing all the aspects of yoga, to the best of my ability, helps me lead a more peaceful life. That doesn’t mean stuff doesn’t come up and chaos doesn’t ensue (I have a teen and a 20 year old), but having a yogic mindset keeps me responding and not reacting. It helps me mull things over before acting in ways I will later regret. It has taken years of practice, but I’m not special. All of these skills and practices are open to anyone who wants to spend the time. I’m here to share them with you.
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