What is yoga? Many of us have tried a yoga class because we thought yoga was all about getting in great shape or becoming more flexible. That’s what drew me to my first yoga class! But after that class, I realized there was so much more to yoga than the poses I was doing. The breath work alone calmed my body and mind! The instructor also wove in some very profound nuggets of wisdom. One of which she gave us when we were in a very awkward pose. I don’t remember the pose, but I remember her words: “Don’t worry about how you look in this pose and don’t push yourself to perfect it or do it the way you think you should do it. Rather focus on how the pose makes you feel. If it feels good, enjoy it, if it hurts or you’ve lost your breath, back off from the pose. Carry this same philosophy off your mat. Don’t do things because you think you should, do it because it feels right.” In other words, listen to your heart, not your head. I knew there was so much more---as I’m sure you did after your first few classes. And I wanted to find out what yoga really is.
My desire to learn more led to private yoga lessons, reading lots of books on yoga, trying different types of yoga, going to workshops, meditating, and getting my RYT® 200 yoga teacher certification. Now I know that yoga is a way of life, a philosophy, a way to live life mindfully and purposefully. One of the books I read was the ancient text, the Yoga Sūtra. It outlines an 8-limbed path, or suggested way of living, that gives us insight into the realization that everything is interconnected. This path, the 8 Limbs of Yoga, encourages us to be mindful of all our actions because our actions do matter.
The ultimate message: WE ARE ONE
I was so inspired by the 8 Limbs that I started a yoga business that promotes the 8 Limbs of Yoga to help you and me deepen our practice, our life.
Here are three examples of how we can deepen our yoga practice using the 8 Limbs of Yoga:
1st Limb of Yoga – Yamas
The 1st Limb of Yoga is Yamas, which are ethical principles that clarify how we treat others and our planet. They emphasize our connection to others as an integral part of yoga because everything is interconnected. The Yamas breakdown into five specific practices. One of which is ahimsā, the Sanskrit word which translates to “non-harming.” To yourself, others, and the planet. To practice this Yama, let’s make a conscious effort to be kind to ourselves. Be kind in the way we talk to ourselves and avoid the negative self-talk trap. When we catch ourselves thinking something negative, let’s try flipping our perspective into a more positive version. For example, simply turn the thought “I’m not good enough” to “I am worthy” or “I am lovable.” When we treat ourselves with loving-kindness, it’s easier to treat others that way too. Let’s strive to cultivate compassion in the way we are thinking about ourselves and observe how this will affect our actions, and in turn, those around us in positive ways.
3rd Limb of Yoga – Āsana
The 3rd Limb of Yoga is āsana which is the physical practice of yoga. What we first thought yoga was all about! Interestingly, of the 196 verses in the Yoga Sutra, only two verses are dedicated to the postures. And the postures were focused on how to sit properly in order to meditate for long periods of time. The physical practice of yoga has evolved over the years and is invaluable to help us maintain physical health. But along the way, we also learn valuable lessons about ourselves. Some poses teach us patience, some humility. Āsana teaches us to feel our experience in each pose, and explore our limits---without causing pain. This teaches us to do what feels right, not just in the pose, but in our lives. As my first yoga instructor was teaching us, practice listening to your heart, rather than doing what you think you should do. In your next āsana practice, focus on what you are feeling in each pose and modify the pose accordingly---ease off or work a little harder. Really pay attention to what you are feeling in your body. Also, when faced with a challenge off your mat practice listening to your heart instead of your head. Trust what you feel.
6th Limb of Yoga - Dhāranā
Dhāranā is the practice of concentrating on one object or task which creates a state in which there are no distractions. The goal of this practice is to still your mind---easier said than done! A good technique to start with is during your meditation focus your attention on one object, such as a candle or a precious gem. If it is difficult for you to meditate with your eyes open (it’s hard for me), then try repeating a simple mantra silently to yourself. Whether you focus on an object or a task, this practice is designed to give your mind something specific to focus on to help it from wandering. Every time your mind wanders---and it will again and again---simply re-focus on your object or task of choice. These approaches will benefit your meditation practice.
I hope these examples inspire you on your yoga journey! For more inspiring ways to deepen your practice, check out my new creation, the 8 Limbs of Yoga Practice Cards! There are 30 cards that provide thoughtful examples of how you can practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga each day, through physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and philosophical practices. My goal is that you pick one card each morning and focus on that teaching for that day or week.