Do you know the 8 limbs of yoga provide you with a deeper understanding of the sacred art? The very word Yoga means to connect or unite. You might wonder about the connection. You connect with the true self, also known as divine essence or the Atman. Yoga helps you disconnect from the mundane and stress of everyday life by reflecting on what actually matters.
You might think what will it take to attain freedom from unnecessary stress? Well, it is not expensive yoga wear or health club membership but a deeper understanding about the eight limbs of yoga.
According to the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, there is an eight-fold path of yoga to experience mental and physical liberation. The path comprises of adhering to a code of conduct on not just physical but mental and spiritual basis as well.
Yoga takes into consideration not just the practice of various asanas but also mental and spiritual growth. Asanas help you establish a connection between the body and mind with the right breathing techniques. However, it is essential to first understand the 8 limbs of yoga before even starting out any yogic practice.
Before moving further and explaining what each of these eight limbs of yoga comprise of, you should know that yoga is much more than just physical practice of specific asanas. You should also work on the mental and subtle body to reap all the benefits.
With that said, it is time to understand the eight limbs of yoga.
Yama is the first of the 8 limbs of yoga. It includes vows, discipline, and practice with regards to the world around us and our interaction with it. Practicing yoga in daily life offers many benefits for maintaining a good physical health. However, its no use if the mind is not ready to cooperate.
Yama has five different sub-categories that you need to pay attention to live the life of a true yogi.
Non-violence in context of Yama refers to living a life without hurting another being. Apart from harming others physically and mentally, we also have to avoid hurting ourselves by avoiding toxic food, overcoming anger and jealousy, and not speaking unkind words.
You should know that following the path of non-violence is also one of the tenets of a yoga teacher training course.
Stealing something refers to theft of money, material, time, and even someone’s efforts. There are many ways you might hurt another being such as not following on what you said, or taking advantage of a situation. Stealing also occurs on an emotional and energy level. The principle of Asteya includes not taking anything that does not belongs to us.
Satya (The Truth)
The great sage Patanjali explained that truth had two different forms; one is the personal truth and second is the universal truth. The principle of Satya requires you to live with a clear view about oneself and the world around.
What makes this the most solid yet hard 8 limbs of yoga is you have to accept life as it is. It gives you freedom from unnecessary stress. You develop more compassion and self-love for those with a different opinion than yours.
Inculcating this element of yoga helps you stand up for what you believe in and help others do the same.
Human beings often develop an addiction towards sensual pleasures including sex, drugs, and too much food. The principle of Brahmacharya keeps you away from over-indulging in these sensory pleasures.
Brahmacharya helps you develop healthy eating habits and you can still enjoy things as food, shopping, and sex in moderation.
In the modern times, we have become highly dependant on materialistic things to bring us mental peace. We end up running after that latest smartphone, car, or just the new pair of shoes. It leads to a massive waste of time, money, and energy.
You really need to reassess all needs and ask yourself – how much is enough for me?
With this question, the principle of Aparigraha helps you inculcate non-possessiveness in daily life. It is not just about material possessions but also about having the right people and situations in life.
The second of the 8 limbs of yoga is Niyama or duties towards self and the world around us. In short, Niyamas are personal habits you need to inculcate to live a meaningful existence.
Let us now understand the five major elements of this limb of yoga.
Coming to cleanliness, it is not just about physical but also includes mental cleansing. You need to inculcate Saucha in the form of hygiene, proper grooming, and stay active. It also includes practicing positive affirmations, and developing a healthy mindset.
Tapas (Self Discipline)
The concept of Tapas includes utilizing self-discipline for releasing and moving away from negative thoughts and patterns towards positivity. The ashtanga yoga provides you the tools to gain control over senses and desires.
Self-discipline is the key to remaining focused on the goal and evolve as an individual. Inculcating the principle of self discipline helps you develop good habits and better self-control.
Santosha (Self Contentment)
The element of Santosha requires you to practice gratitude and finding a sense of joy in the simple things of everyday life. You have to learn to be satisfied and grateful with what you have, and at the same time work towards what you want to achieve.
Svadhyaya (Self Study)
The word Svadhyaya means self-study. You need to ask some deep and important questions including;
Who am I and what is my purpose?
Why do I behave the way that I do?
The element of self-study is important for cultivating a greater sense of self, identity, and core beliefs. It helps you find your life’s’ purpose and is an important aspect of yoga training programs.
Ishvara Pranidhana (Connection with Divinity)
The element of Ishvara takes into account your personal idea of the Supreme Being or God and how you relate to it. It requires total surrender of our ego to the divine and relating to the universe in the larger sense.
Third limb of the yogic practices are the Asanas or physical poses. It is the most popular element of yoga known to the modern times. The great sage Patanjali believed that before practicing the physical aspect of yoga one needs to inculcate the principles of Niyama and Yama in daily life.
The word Asanadoes not refers to performing a handstand or other impressive yoga postures, but to a seat from where you begin the practice of yoga. An important principle all yogis live by is Sthira Sukham Asanam or maintaining a steady and comfortable pose during each yoga asana.
Your body has to remain free of suffering along with having a calm mind during the yoga practice. Each physical asana purifies the body and prepare you for moving towards advance yoga poses.
Prana refers to the life force you need for practicing the various physical activities like speaking. The Sanskrit word Pranayamais broken down into two different parts namely Prana that is the life force energy, and Yama meaning vehicle or control.
Pranayama refers to conscious breathing for enhancing the life force energy. It has different forms of exercises to help you purify the body especially the respiratory system. The sole objective of Pranayama is to increase your body’s capacity to hold the life force.
One of the important aspects of the 8 limbs of yoga includes total withdrawal from outside stimulation. As human beings all our five senses are constantly on the lookout for the next high. You need to control all sensory organs from getting any sensory stimulation.
Depriving the senses of all such stimulation for a specified period of time helps calm them down the senses and that is the key to successful meditation.
The element of Dharana refers to focused concentration in yogic practices. You need to focus all the five senses on a single object. However, you should practice all the above-mentioned five principles to make it easier to focus.
You can practice different techniques to control the mind, which is the main purpose of Dharana. These practices include concentration of breath, chanting, and candle gazing. Following the concept of Dharana takes us to the next element of yogic arts.
The term Dhyana refers to meditation. It is about connecting with the inner-self and focusing inwards without any interference from the mind or five senses. You need to practice deep meditation to go beyond the mind and senses.
An important element of practicing meditation is total control over bodily movements and pacing thoughts of the mind.
The last of the 8 limbs of yoga is Samadhi or enlightenment and freedom from illusion. It is the deepest state of meditation. You gain total freedom from space, reason, and time and enter into a state of pure mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual bliss.
At this stage you become aware of the true self. Samadhi is the final goal of the eight limb path of Yoga.
You should understand that Ashtanga Yoga helps you make the union of mind, body, and soul a possibility. The term Ashtanga refers to the eight limbs or branches of yoga that offers you the ultimate path to liberation or enlightenment. You develop both psychological and spiritual health using a specific set of poses with the right breathing and movement.
With that said, it is time we find know the six major benefits of practicing this form of yoga.
Let us now find out what benefits you can derive from a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice.
1. Enhanced Physical Strength
Do you know that Ashtanga Yoga helps you develop better muscle and strength? It rejuvenates your mind along with a more toned and flexible physique. Ashtanga Yoga includes many poses that focus solely on the core strength. Practicing Ashtanga vinyasa yoga flow in the long run helps you gain stronger core muscles.
2. Improved Mind-Body Coordination
If you are just starting out with yoga practice then remember Ashtanga yoga is the best way to completely tune the body. It helps you improve focus, create more body balance, and develop better mind-body coordination.
The intense asana practice in this form of yoga helps you develop a sense of rhythm and increase overall awareness of body movement.
3. Mental Healing
A major part of the Ashtanga yoga training includes moving the body in complete coordination with the breathing. You should know that practicing awareness breathing is vital to mastering any form of yoga.
Breathing plays a vital role when it comes to purifying the body and calming down the mind. You find relief from unwanted stress and transition from negative to positive behavior patterns. Ashtanga yoga is beneficial when it comes to bringing yourself out from unnecessary thoughts and remain centered.
4. Best Cardio Workout
If you practice yoga for a great cardio then try the ashtanga yoga workout. The different Ashtanga yoga poses done in a swift manner help you maintain a steady flow of energy throughout the body. It helps you remain in shape and stay fit.
5. Improved Emotional Health
Ashtanga Yoga places importance on maintaining good emotional and mental health. The different asanas not only work on improving your flexibility but also help you stay emotionally healthy.
You learn to work with uncomfortable emotions and feelings. A good emotional health has a profound effect on the functioning of your body and mind.
6. Enhanced Spiritual Well-Being
Ashtanga Yoga includes a set of specific ashtanga vinyasa yoga poses which you can practice depending on the level of experience and skill. The regular practice of these poses help you become not only physically fit but also awaken the spiritual self.
The first four principles of ashtanga yoga includingYama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama purifies the external and enhance your communication with the external world. The other four principles focus more on cleansing the mind and taking care of the internal.
Since you are aware by now that practicing the 8 limbs of yoga is not as easy as it appears to be, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind such as;
1. Be Ready to Sweat
Practice of Ashtanga Yoga places emphasis on generating inner heat, also known as Agni. Ashtanga yoga also includes sun salutations to get the heart rate pumping and generate heat from inside. Experts recommend you hydrate beforehand but never drink water during the 90-minutes session.
2. Fast Paced and Repetitive
Each ashtanga yoga class includes specific poses that you practice in the same order every time. Usually, the class starts with 10 Surya Namaskar also known as sun salutations to warm up the body and keep the blood flowing. The practice resembles more of a fluid dance and relaxes the body and mind.
3. Ashtanga Heavy on the Hamstrings
The majority of individuals taking up a yoga training course of ashtanga yoga do not know what hamstrings are. Ashtanga yoga puts pressure on the hamstrings whether you are doing forward bends in standing position or touching both toes while seated. You learn to contour the body like never before and that places a bit of pressure on the hamstrings.
4. Yoga Instructor Might Touch You
You should understand that Ashtanga yoga relies more on assistance rather than demonstrations. The instructor in the class has the necessary training and experience to push your body into deeper and uncomfortable positions.
Each of these poses are meant to work on the body and mind, and sometimes the instructor might have to touch you. However, you can ask the instructor to help you verbally if it makes you uncomfortable.
5. Focuses on the Bandhas
The human body has two main locking mechanisms namely the Mula Bandha or the anal lock and Uddyana Bandha or the lower abdominal lock. Your Mula Bandha is similar to kegel and engages your pelvic floor.
On the other hand, Uddyana Bandha considers engaging the lower core and bringing the belly button towards the spine. Make sure you remain focused on these two during the class to let the energy flow upwards throughout the body.
The 8 limbs of yoga help you get an in-depth knowledge of what yoga actually comprises of. These help you not only practice yoga without the risk of any injuries but also ensure the mind, body, and soul remain unmoved by the daily distractions for the duration of the session. Just make sure you do not stop the practice in the middle and quit