Here in the West the physical aspects of yoga are the most well known and popular, in contrast to the mindfulness and living practices more popular in the East. Many people are not familiar with the 8 limbs of Yoga and how important they are to the practice and lifestyle. The limbs express how important balance is in the physical and mental yoga practice. The physical practice isn't less superior than the non-physical or the other way around...they are ALL important which is why the great sage, Patanjali, shared thousands of years ago "The Eight Limbs of Yoga," as a road map that a human being can take to reach the summit of human experience! Here is a brief overview of the Eight Limbs of Yoga and feel free to follow the practice tips so it's not just theory but experiential.
The Yamas have to do with ethics, integrity and how we practice yoga off our mat. The 5 yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-hoarding. Practice Tip: On a weekly basis pick a yama and try and put it into action by being truthful or not having violent thoughts towards yourself.
The Niyamas have to do with self-discipline and spiritual practices. The 5 niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, spiritual purification, study of sacred texts, and devotion to one's higher power. Practice Tip: On a weekly basis pick a niyama and put into practice. For example, spend a week practicing cleanliness, cleaning out that closet, desk, garage or car etc...
Asanas are the physical postures and this is the limb that most of us in the west are the most knowledgeable and strongest. It's through asana that we dissolve tensions, build strength, eliminate toxins, increase mobility and circulation. Practice Tip: At least 3-5 times a week try and get your physical practice in even if it's only 30min, you'll feel amazing!
Pranayama is the expansion of life force through through breathing exercises. Did you notice the last time you got frustrated, angry, scared or anxiety ridden what happened to your breath? It probably became restricted, choppy and erratic. "Breath control leads to mind control" and if we want to really be healthy then our mind must be in state of peace. Practice Tip: In a comfortable seated position Inhale 5 counts, Hold 5 counts, Exhale 5 counts, Hold 2 counts (Repeat as often as you like).
Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the 5 senses. Our whole lives the 5 senses (touch, taste, see, hear, and smell) are inputting information into our being and pratyahara is where we turns those off so that we may turn from the outer world and experience the inner domain of the mind. Practice Tip: Use Shanmukhi Mudra where you place first 2 fingers on closed eyelids, ring fingers at base of nostrils, pinky finger at base corner of nostrils, and thumb to inner ear. Gently apply pressure to all these points for a couple of minutes and just observe whatever comes up.
Dharana is focus or concentration. Focus is like a muscle on the body, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. Dharana is like the laser beam that blasts through distractedness and paves the way for a calm, centered, still mind. Practice Tip: Pick a sound, word, affirmation or mantra and repeat it out loud over and over for several minutes just letting the mind focus on the repetition. Note: When the mind wonders off just easily bring it back to the mantra.
Dhyana is meditation or total absorption into the object upon that which is being focused on. In meditation we are able to move deeper into choice rather than reaction. Meditation connects the left and right hemispheres of our brain so that we have more use of our brain power and can find more peace. Practice Tip:Hot 8 Yoga offers meditation at all studios M-F mornings and in Sherman Oaks and Pasadena there is a mid-day meditation class.
Samadhi is absolute, ecstatic transcendence moving beyond time, form and space. Samadhi is bliss. It's the goal of all yoga and the supreme state of consciousness. Practice Tip:
Following dhyana take a long deep savasana and let yourself surrender and open up to the infinite and the eternal. Look at the Eight Limbs of Yoga as the spokes of a tire. Each one is equally important to turning the great wheel of yoga. See you on the mat!