Most people think of yoga as a series of physical contortions and advanced pretzel-esque poses. Yoga is a great form of exercise, but its benefits extend beyond just that. As series yogis know, yoga not only emphasizes physical practice, but also includes a moral code to promote a physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy outlook and lifestyle. If don’t know them don’t worry: Yoga 101 is now in session. It is time to understand the benefits of yoga that can carry over into our daily lives. The Eight Limbs of yoga are a key part of this equation.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Yamas are the moral directives that we follow to guide our behaviors toward others.
Ahimsa: promotes non-violence toward others and is often cited as a reason behind vegetarianism.
Satya: encourages truthfulness through speaking the truth to others and yourself.
Asteya: not stealing from others.
Brahmacharya: encourages chastity. This is open to interpretation and in modern terms can mean celibacy, controlling one’s sexual impulses, and the “right use of energy”.
Aparigraha: encourages not coveting what others have through non-greed, non-possessiveness, non-attachment, and discourages harboring jealousy.
The five niyamas describe how to act ethically towards yourself and others.
Saucha: encourages cleanliness.
Santosa: encourages contentment with yourself.
Tapas: self-discipline, the practice of commitment to your endeavors.
Svadhyaya: encourages self-study and encourages introspection and having the courage to look within yourself for answers.
Isvara pranidhana: is the surrender to a higher power, whether that be a deity or simply accepting that the universe is governed by forces outside of your control.
Yoga is very often partially understood as consisting only of physical practice. “Asana” is the sanskrit word for a physical posture which are beneficial for muscles, joints, cardiovascular, lymphatic, and nervous systems along with the mind and chakras (energy centers).
Pranayama is all about the control of your breathing. Pranayama and asana are essential to connecting your mind and body. During physical practice, it is encouraged to move with your breath. Doing so slows down your practice and helps you to be more mindful on and off the mat!
The withdrawal of the senses, meaning you are encouraged to refrain from letting the exterior world distract you from the interior world within yourself. Achieving pratyahara is an integral step in honing your ability to meditate.
Dhahran is the practice of concentration. This promotes focus without interruptions from external and internal distractions alike. This principle builds on pratyahara because in order to master concentration, you must be able to control being affected by distractions.
The practice of meditation. This principle builds upon dharana because it increases emotional well-being through improved concentration. Meditation reduces stress and improves concentration which will in turn improve your overall quality of life.
Bliss! This is where you begin transcendence of the self through meditation. Samadhi, or the Highest State of Consciousness is achieved only after you have mastered the other seven limbs of yoga. This is where the self merges with the universe, which is translated as reaching enlightenment.