Hey did you know there is more to yoga than just Asanas? Maybe you are saying right now, what are Asanas? Asanas are the poses - examples you might be familiar with include Down Dog, Tree Pose, and everybody's favorite, Savasana. Pssst, Savasana is the pose where you lay down flat on your back at the end of a yoga class.
So there is more to yoga than those Asana things? Yes! Yoga includes all kinds of other things. In fact, Asanas are really just to prep your body to be able to sit and meditate for a long time. Who knew! Well, you do now that you've read this far.
So what else is there besides the poses and the meditation?
The core of yoga is referred to as the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Let's break it down as simply as possible.
8 Limbs of Yoga
1. Yamas - these are the restraints, the things you shouldn't do and they are broken down even further into 5 parts.
• Ahimsa - don't hurt anybody or anything
• Satya - don't tell lies, live your life in a truthful manner
• Asteya - don't steal. Not even words. Yoga teachers love to give credit to other teachers who taught them the things they are now showing you how to do.
• Brahmacharya - don't consume to excess. Show some self-restraint and moderation.
• Aparagraha - don't hoard things
2. Niyamas - these are considered the observances. You can also think of the Yama's as the Don'ts and the Niyamas as the Do's. These are also broken down further.
• Sauca - cleanliness, purity
• Santosa - find contentment in yourself and what you have
• Tapas - cultivate a zeal for yoga, find your passions
• Svadhyaya - self-study, never stop learning
• Ishvarapranidhara (a real mouthful right?) - surrender to a higher power. This does not refer to a specific religion - yoga can be compatible with all religions and beliefs.
3. Asana - here's where the yoga poses I mentioned earlier come in to it. See it's just 1/8th of the system. Asana translates more specifically to seat. Asana's help keep your body strong, limber, and healthy and put everything back into alignment.
4. Pranayama - breath. Oh breath is so important. In yoga, and in life. One of my personal mantras has always been Just Breathe. I remind myself of it in times of stress and in poor health, whenever I feel anxious. Just breathe... ahhhhh. In yoga, breath is coordinated to every posture. Inhale, exhale... There are even specific types of breathing done. Soft quiet breathing during Savasana for instance. Ujjayi breathing is encouraged during Vinyasa flow. Kundalini has the Breath of Fire.
5. Pratyahara - the withdrawal of senses. What does that mean!? Okay think about meditation and quieting the mind and freeing yourself from your earthly body - you would be releasing yourself from your senses here. Your eyes are closed, you aren't touching anything, you aren't being touched, sounds and smells may not be helped but you should be tuning them out. This is a withdrawal of senses and you find some sort of liberation with it. You are getting in touch with a different plane of existence in a way. One beyond the body. You are a soul with a body, not a body with a soul.
6. Dharana - focus, concentration. This one is a bit easier to comprehend I'm guessing. Everybody knows what it's like to have to focus and concentrate on something. Maybe it's studying for a test, or to get your work done, or maybe to solve a problem. Practicing yoga, and meditating can take a lot of focus even though in a sense, they are also about letting go from all that. Balance, balance, balance.
7. Dhyana - this is the state of meditation.
8. Samadhi - the final step is the state of yoga, nirvana, bliss. Maybe not acquired in this lifetime, but you are hopefully working toward this as the end goal.
So what do you think? Do you relate to the limbs and follow any of them in your life already? Maybe you already follow many of them even though you don't have a yoga practice. Or maybe you are a seasoned yogi who has been trying to apply these to your life for some time now. Has it been easy or hard for you to do?
* You might see the Sanskrit words for the 8 limbs spelled differently in other sources. There does not to seem to be a consensus about the correct spelling. My spelling used here is what I have been taught.