When first starting out your yoga practice you are mainly focusing on the “Asanas”, which is the posture practice. Which is just one part of yoga. As you go further in your practice, you begin to work your way through the other 7 limbs as you learn more about this way of life yoga encompasses. These 8 limbs build a cohesive lifestyle to help you become your highest self. Here is a quick explanation of what these limbs are:
- YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows. There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding).
- NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances. There are five Niyamas: Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline or burning desire or conversely, burning of desire), Svadhyaya (self-study or self-reflection, and study of spiritual texts), and Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power).
- ASANA – Posture and physical practice in the limbs of yoga. Now this does not mean your ability to do hand stands or difficult poses. It mainly means any posture that you can hold comfortably or effortlessly.
- PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques that allow you to control your breath in many different ways. You can practice pranayama as a single technique sitting in a comfortable seat or incorporating into your asana practice. No matter which way we practice it is up to you whether you see it as controlling your breath or finding a sense of freedom. These first four limbs of yoga concentrate on building our personalities, finding control over the body, and creating an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of our journey, which deals with the mind, senses, and obtaining a higher state of consciousness.
- PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal (drawing in). This can be misunderstood at times but to simply put it; it is similar to our meditative practice in pranayama but instead we find ourselves drawing inward and concentrating specifically on the breath and lose sight of our other senses. You won’t be easily distracted by noises or scents because you are completely in focus of the meditative practice.
- DHARANA – Focused concentration, Similar to limb five and ultimately go hand in hand. You must first withdraw from your senses in order to fully focus your concentration.
- DHYANA – Meditative absorption. When first starting your meditative practice, you may have thoughts like “oh I’m meditating, I feel so zen”. As soon as those thoughts or mind’s chatter disappear and the stillness consumes you for those several moments; that is when you full absorb your meditation practice.
- SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment. This comes once you feel connected to the divine. When you have re-oriented your inner world and the relationships in your outer world, that is when you have reached bliss. This is not a permanent state you will be in and it wont make you feel like a light beaming you up to the heavens, it is about finding peace in the very life that is in front of you.
These limbs or stages of yoga can not be in your possession or bought, it is simply experienced. It is also not something you can achieve in one day that is why yoga is a constant practice even for the most experienced “Yogi”.
“The key to any lasting contentment is learning to see and accept reality for what it is and then acting skillfully, rather than reacting when reality fails to conform to our expectations.” ―