Patanjali was the scholar who recorded the long existing theories and practices of yoga in his yoga sutras around 200BC. He talked yoga being a system based on 8 practices, and asnas(physical poses ) is just one of these 8 practices.
Patanjali himself is a quite mysterious figure, we don’ know much about him. Here is my imaginative drawing after our beloved philosophy teacher made the joke :Yama, not Yamaha 😀 )and I instantly pictured Patanjali on a motorbike(this would be a great book title btw).
But back to the 8 limbs ..
The 8 limbs describe the practices one should follow.
Yamas: is the attitude towards the World around you, practices and disciplines towards others. There are 5 yamas: Ahimsa(non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Astea (non-stealing) Bramacharya(conservation and mastery of energies) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)
Following the 5 yamas means to me means how I generally react to the outside World and other living creatures. Being kind, saying the truth(or don’t say something if it serves no-one!), respecting other’s possessions(including confidential information), living a moderate life and use/take what I need in the moment and learn to let go… This can be difficult sometimes, especially with the values being culturally promoted this era. But I try my best and I think it’s easier than one would think, start with small steps..and the rest will follow.
Niyamas: is how you treat yourself, the attitude towards yourself, to create a positive environment that would let you grow. The five niyamas: Sauca(purification, inner/outer cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas(spiritual austerity, internal fire, self discipline), Svadhyaya (self -study), Isvara Pranidhana(devotion, dedication, awareness of the divine, surrender)
I think to practice Yamas you have to get your Niyamas sorted:) It is really important, how you treat yourself, starting with rethinking words to yourself such as “Oh, I’m so stupid..” etc. Looking after yourself, living your life with gratitude and compassion and awareness can lead to a happier, healthier life which would provide the soil for your higher spiritual practices to grow. It is really nice to incorporate these into your asana practice as well(e.g. poses about compassion and gratitude or detoxing and purifying techniques)
Asana:is to perform a yoga pose, this according to Patanjali should be steady and comfortable.
I think it is amazing when a yogi(ni) puts a lot of hard work into their self practice and perform advanced poses. Truly is.
However asana practice should be available to everybody and people should’t feel like they can’t practice yoga because they can’t do advanced poses. Or they never done yoga before and/or they are not flexible.. Bio-individuality should be a common knowledge, learning to respect and love our bodies and accepting it’s limitations should be a really important part of asana practice. Diversity is beautiful:)
Pranayama: controlling breath and through that controlling life force
About these two see my post about breathing and meditation:
The art of breathing and meditation
Pratyahara: is sense withdrawal -it’s all about changing the state of mind
This can be practised through actually withdrawing senses (tip: try to eat a meal with your eyes closed), or just being able to block certain things out and focus on another( I used to practice yoga on Sunday mornings at a studio very close to a local market. Chatter, smell of kebab, children playing , all you can imagine. On days when I was really focused, none of that mattered …some days when my focus shifted I had delicious falafel wraps floating in my mind during meditation:) )
Dharana: is focused concentration
This goes hand in hand with the previous limb, once you withdrawn your senses you can intensely focus on your gaze, on your breath, on your body.
Samadhi: is the final stop of a yogi(ni)’s journey, it refers to enlightenment, realisation, being one with the Universe.
So these are the 8 limbs, it is interesting to observe how many of them you are applying already.
Bring on the yogi(ni) life:)