Expand Your Practice with the Eight Limbs

Ahimsa Asana Living Yoga Niyamas Pranayama Svadhyaya Tapas

It is common to think of yoga as primarily about getting on a sticky mat and putting your body in different positions and shapes – like Downward Dog or Headstand – for the purpose of physical exercise, but classically, the poses (called asana in Sanskrit) are only one eighth of the practice of yoga!

In The Yoga Sutras, the sage Patanjali laid out an eight limb path of yoga, which is most simply a guide to living a joyful life. Here is an outline of the eight limbs of a classical yoga practice:

1) Yamas – Ethical practices or guidelines for engaging with the world. There are five yamas:

  • ahimsa (non-harming or dynamic peacefulness)
  • satya (truthfulness)
  • asteya (non-stealing)
  • bramacharya (wise use of energy)
  • aparigraha (non-grasping)

2) Niyamas – Internal disciplines or ways of engaging with yourself. There are also fiveniyamas:

  • saucha (purity)
  • santosha (contentment)
  • tapas (consistent commitment or discipline)
  • svadhyaya (self-study)
  • ishvara-pranidhana (surrender)

3) Asana – The postures. The practice of moving the body to awaken a deeper experience of awareness and to prepare the body for stillness.

4) Pranayama – Breath work. Prana can be translated as life energy and the suffix yama means to expand or draw out with control.

5) Pratyahara – A turning inward of the senses.

6) Dharana – Concentration. A practice of bringing one’s awareness back to a focus.

7) Dhyana – Meditative absorption. Being able to hold the concentrated focus of dhyana.

8) Samadhi – An experience of interconnectedness with all living things (often translated as enlightenment).

I like to think of these Sanskrit words as murals that are slowly painted with years and years of practice. As our exploration of the eight limbs continues and our understanding begins to deepen, our murals slowly begin to fill in, to expand, and to more actively guide our practice.

A recent study at the University of Southern Mississippi found that the impact of a holistic yoga practice (incorporating breath work, meditation, and spiritual and ethical teachings) to be considerably more beneficial for students than a practice just involving asana. While this post only offers a basic understanding of the eight limbs, I hope it exposes you to the possibility of deepening your practice in new and different ways.

Photo Credit: Sarah Jamieson

Post also available on YYoga’s Blog

Tapas, or “Just Do It” Yoga

Living Yoga Niyamas Philosophy Tapas

Just Do It.

Source: Nike Logo

Pop culture references aside, “Just Do It” is a powerful mantra for inspiring action.

Over the past few weeks, I have unsuccessfully been trying to get back on the blog writing bandwagon, so I’m invoking the ”Just Do It” mantra to motivate myself into posting something on my blog – even if it is the worst post I have ever written!

A few months ago, my grandma went into the hospital. My writing (along with almost everything else in my life) was put aside because I wanted to spend as much time by her side as possible. I lost my grandma at the end of March and celebrated her life with family and friends in mid-April, and though I have had more time since then, I still haven’t been able to write.

I have a long list of ideas for blog posts, but my written words haven’t been flowing.

And, I had a similar experience with flow on my yoga mat today.

Most days, I could spend hours doing yoga on my own. I love exploring sequencing, playing with different postures and taking in what ever lessons my practice has to offer. But, today I was stumped – a practice wasn’t flowing from me.

My solution: I grabbed the latest copy of Yoga Journal and followed the home practice.

I still didn’t find my usual intuitive flow, but I stayed on my mat.

And, in this commitment to staying on my mat lies my understanding of the yogic practice of tapas.

In the Yoga Sutras, the Indian sage Patanjali outlines an eight-limbed path of yoga, and in the second limb (the niyamas), he offers five observances to bring more joy and ease into our lives. Tapas, the third niyama, is commonly translated as “fierce discipline,” but Judith Lasater offers a definition that really resonates with me. She describes tapas as “consistency in striving toward your goals: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day—or forgiving your mate or your child for the 10,000th time.”

My basic personal tapas practice is a daily 15 minute meditation. I sit for 15 minutes every day – no matter how much I may not want to or feel like I don’t have the time to.  In her book Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, Charlotte Bell offers the suggestion that yoga and meditation practitioners commit to doing five minutes each day.

I share this suggestion to emphasize that the practice of tapas demands consistency, but it does not require an abundance of time.

With the often paralyzing presence of choice in our day-to-day lives, tapas is a committed directing of our energy towards actions that support our well-being – even when we are not in the “mood” to do things that support our well-being.

It’s a commitment to just doing it – every day.

Whatever your “it” may be.