Eight limbs

Day three of my yoga teacher training included another 2-3 hours of asana practice along with learning about:

  • The eight limbs of yoga
  • History of yoga
  • Sun & moon salutations
  • Asana modifications

Surya Namaskar A: sun salutations (version A)

It was interesting to discuss the eight limbs of yoga, which can be thought of as steps along the path to a state of enlightenment (which I’m currently thinking of as an intense flow state). Contrary to popular (Western) assumption, yoga is not just the poses (asanas) you do. Asanas are only one of the eight limbs. Yoga (as prescribed by these eight limbs) is an approach to experiencing your connection to the world around you.

Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’. In Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ is used to signify any form of connection. Yoga is both a state of connection and a body of techniques that allow us to connect to anything. [source]

These eight limbs can also be thought of as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.

The eight limbs of yoga are:

    1. Yamas: moral guidelines for how we relate to our environment
      • Ahimsa: nonviolence in word, thought, and action
      • Satya: truthfulness
      • Asteya: non-stealing – this can be physical objects or others’ time/energy
      • Brahmacharya: restraint with how we use our energy
      • Aparigraha: non-possessiveness; letting go of attachments


    1. Niyamas: moral guidelines for how we relate to ourselves
      • Saucha: cleanliness – in one’s body, diet, environment, thoughts, etc.
      • Samtosa: contentment; being at peace with and grateful for what one has rather than striving to attain and acquire moremoremore
      • Tapas: heat (passion/enthusiasm)
      • Svadhyaya: introspection, self-study through readings and teachers
      • Isvara pranidhana: humility, recognition of others’ influence in one’s accomplishments, devotion to something greater than the self


    1. Asanas: physical postures that keep the body strong and the mind focused so we are ready for meditation. This is synonymous with “yoga” for many people, yet is just one part of the bigger picture — “doing yoga” involves not just doing poses but also living a life that is in keeping with this philosophy.

      “Practice of asanas without the backing of yama and niyama is mere acrobatics.” -B.K.S. Iyengar


    1. Pranayama: breath control (prana = breath, life force). Regulating the breath, such as by breathing more slowly, gives us control over our overall physiological arousal (increases parasympathetic activation, which relaxes us). This also impacts our emotional and mental states.


    1. Pratyahara: withdrawing or detaching from external stimuli and our senses; being aware of the world, yet directing attention within. Gives us an opportunity to observe the self with a sense of detachment, which can giver greater clarity — for example, about what habits do and do not serve us.


    1. Dharana: concentration and focused attention — for example, focusing on a single sound (like “om”), a point of light, or a mental image.


    1. Dhyana: meditation: mental stillness and awareness without focus; the mind is quiet and produces few to no thoughts.


  1. Samadhi: merging of awareness between self and the object of focus; feeling of unity or oneness with the world; realization of the interconnectedness between all things.Two ideas seem important to me about samadhi. First, this final stage is a state, a temporary experience, not a permanent way of being (i.e., you don’t achieve it and then just stay there forever). Second, this final stage should not be thought of as a “goal,” at least insofaras we tend to strive for goals. Reaching a state of samadhi is like trying to be happy in that the harder we try to attain it, the more it slips from our grasp. Instead we must just try our best to live well, train the body, and train the mind, and see what follows from there.


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