First off, I'd like to say hi! It's been about 2 years since my last entry. I'm happy to say that I will be posting regularly from this week on, discussing all things yoga (read my brief explanation of yoga, here).
I'd like to open this series with an introduction to the guiding principles of yoga philosophy, which are built upon the 8 Limbs of Yoga and are detailed in Patanjali's foundational text, the Yoga Sutras. These 8 concepts provide a roadmap to live a balanced life. Each week, I will be discussing one of the limbs in detail, explaining its history, etymology, and, most importantly, its relevance in modern life and personal practice.
The 8 Limbs:
1. Yamas: 5 restraints one should practice. Think of them like 5 commonsense lessons you were taught as a kid: don't harm others, don't lie, don't steal, practice restraint in all things, and let go of expectations. These are all guidelines for relating to the external world around us.
2. Niyamas: The 5 internal observances one should practice. In other words, the niyamas are personal care standards: cleanliness, contentment, commitment to physical fitness/health, self-study and reflection, and surrender.
3. Asana: This is the what is generally referred to as 'yoga' in mainstream Western culture. The asanas are the physical poses and practices of yoga that are generally taught in a studio or gym setting but that can be done in most places, even in a chair!
4. Pranayama: Breathwork. At its most simple, this is the practice of being aware of your breath. Learning to control your breath is the most powerful tool in your practice and is especially useful for mood management in the modern world.
5. Prathyahara: Turning one's awareness fully inward to prepare the mind for meditation.
6. Dharana: External meditation practice where the focus is on an external object such as a flame, body part, or meditation object.
7. Dhyana: Deep focus and meditation on the nature or consciousness of the object and oneself, concurrently.
8. Samadhi: A complete fusion of oneself and the meditation object, the practitioner perceives no separateness between oneself and the object.
Dhyana and Samadhi are the deepest levels of meditation. It takes years of concentrated practice to achieve these states. Luckily, you do not have to reach these levels to reap the benefits of daily yoga and mediation practice. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies demonstrating the immediate and lasting effects of very simple and short yoga routines.
Ideally, a yoga session should incorporate all 8 limbs. Reading this, it seems that an ideal session will last for hours but many of these principles are met concurrently. For example, brushing your teeth in the morning before your day begins is a great time to turn your focus inward and meditate on the act of cleaning and self care. Already, you will have practiced a few niyamas. And, once you have been practicing yoga, even for a short while, your yoga 'sessions' will extend from your mat into your life, to the point where your everyday, moment-to-moment experience is one big yoga session.
I'm looking forward to delving deeper into each of the 8 limbs in the coming weeks. Please feel free to comment or email me with any thoughts you may have!
Next Week: The Yamas