Eight Limbs of Yoga
The practice of Yoga runs deeper than just the postures and sequences.. it’s a deeply rooted pathway towards enlightenment with the Yoga Asana (physical practice) being just 1 aspect of it.
I first came across the book ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ when I was becoming a Yoga teacher. Patanjali’s eight-fold (limb) path offers guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life focusing on morals, ethics and self-discipline.
1)Yama (focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life). The 5 Yamas are-
Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, over-indulgence & non-attachment
2)Niyamas (Self-discipline and spiritual observances). The 5 Niyamas are-
Cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study & Surrender
3)Asana (Yoga postures)
5)Pratyhara (Withdrawal of the senses)
6)Dharana (One- pointed concentration)
7)Dhyana (Deep Meditation)
8)Samadhi (Transcendence of Self, pure Bliss)
Ahimsa- Non Violence, freedom from harming
This beautiful Sutra discusses all the ways that we can minimise the amount of harm that we cause to ourself and to others. By becoming more aware of our thoughts, words & actions, we can reduce harm and suffering to ourself and others. Patanjali says that “When we are established in Ahimsa, others will stop harming you”. You will become a space for gentle love and kindness
My journey of Ahimsa has been a long and hard one. I was harming myself unconsciously by criticizing myself internally every single day.
If nothing went to plan I would berate myself inside, calling myself names and never feeling good enough. The way I spoke to myself was a direct reflection on how I thought others thought of me. If I spoke to others the way I spoke to myself, I’d have zero friends.
My journey into Self taught me to have the same level of compassion and kindness towards myself that I hold for others. Self love and kindness is SO important if you want to get anywhere in life. Coming back to basics by looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself all the beautiful things you admire about yourself. Catching yourself when you’re having negative self thoughts.
Awareness is a journey, so take it easy and have some fun with it
Satya- Truth and Honesty, Absolute Truth
The 2nd Yama from The Eightfold Path is all about truth and honesty. It applies to the virtue of being honest in thoughts, action and in words during everyday life. Words create our reality. Words have a fibrational frequency and have such power behind them that anything that is said can be realized!
Always speak the truth
Always reflect before speaking
Speak with Kindess
My journey of Satya has been interesting. For me Satya represents speaking MY truth to others in a kind and compassionate way. For so long, I put others’ needs before my own as I wanted to please people, wanted them to approve of me and to like me. I was unknowingly sacrificing my own needs for others’ as I thought putting myself first was selfish.
The more that I have grown and flourished in my own skin, the more I have realised my own sense of worth and can now confidently say I aim to speak my truth always in any situation I find myself in. Although this has been liberating for me, I have found it difficult to navigate not consciously hurting others feelings as a result of me speaking up and stating my needs and boundaries. So to avoid this potential pain I always ask myself-
Is it True?
Is it necessary?
Is it the right time?
Is it kind?
You could always argue the fact that also by not speaking up out of kindness is actually placing further harm on the person (eg- you notice a friend is putting on weight progressivly and you say nothing out of fear of hurting them but in actual fact you Not speaking up and acknowledging the issue is actually hurting the friend even more as they may feel like its a ‘taboo’ topic and not feel open to speak to you about it).
How do you navigate your Satya in life? Are you always truthful to yourself and others? What’s your thoughts or opinions on this beautiful Yama?
Asteya- Non stealing, Abundance
The 3rd Yama from the Eightfold Path is all about non-stealing from others, ourselves, the earth and our future. It applies to the virtue of being honest and living with integrity and reciprocity.
Why do we steal? Steal items, steal partners, steal time, steal resources from the earth? The root cause rising from a lack of faith that we have what we possess within already. The moment that a sense of lack is felt in life, that is where desire, greed & attachment comes through. The need to steal essentially arises because of a lack of faith in ourselves to be able to create what we need by ourselves.
There’s many ways that this can apply in life. You may be thinking ‘But I’ve never stolen anything from anyone’ but it goes much deeper and complex that that. Think about time. How many times have you unknowingly stolen someone’s time? For me, this is my Yama that I need to work on and I’m slowly becoming more conscious of when I’m doing this. I would always rock up late to class, appointments, schedules, and plans. I wasn’t consciously doing this to piss people off, but this is something that I had just learnt to do. I never left myself enough time to get to places.
During my Yoga teacher training the philosophy teacher brought this to light that being late to places and holding people up is Asteya. This has completely changed my perspective on running late as I now see it as stealing someone’s time, and as we know, time is one of the most precious things in life as it cannot be returned or borrowed.
Asteya can also be interpreted as not being grateful for something. When we aren’t in gratitude for the amazing things in our lives, we are actually stealing from our future. We are looking to our future to provide us with the goods but as a matter of fact, we have it all here and now already. Gratitude helps you to stay in the present, which is the only moment there ever is.
So how do you practice Asteya? What does it mean to you?
Brahmacharya- Non-excess, Taming our over-indulgence, Celibacy
The 4th Yama from Patanjali’s eight fold path is all about non-excess, self restraint and moderation. It’s often translated as chastity or celibacy, but it doesn’t have to just apply to one’s sexual energy. Its about redirecting excessive energy towards something greater in life.
How are you spending your time on your phone? Are you over-indulging in food or drink? Are you gambling or smoking excessively? Brahmacharya is all about everything in moderation!
For me, Brahmacharya represents conserving my own energy source and not giving it away to others. How many times are we told to give to others regardless of our own supplies of energy? I have spent countless hours giving myself to others when I really didn’t want to but did so out of guilt. We are all energetic beings and we have to ensure we fill our own self-love and energy cup up first before being able to give unconditionally to others. Conserving my energy looks like- tending to my needs first, saying No to events and people when I want to and not worried about offending people, taking a long hot bath and spending time alone.
When we’re constantly giving to others we have nothing left for ourselves and this is when burnout and resentment can begin. This is when we must practice Brahmacharya and do everything in moderation and not give to others excessively.
What does Brahmacharya look like to you?
Aparigraha- Non-Possessiveness, Non-attachment, Non- Clinging
The 5th Yama from Patanjali’s eight-fold path to enlightenment is all about how to live a life of non attachment and non possessiveness.
We live in a world full of abundance of love, wealth, food & water and there’s so much to go around and for everyone to enjoy. Greed plays a large role in this and by practicing Aparigraha you can learn the art of sharing, gratitude and ‘Letting Go’.
For me, Aparigraha means Non- attachment to outcomes or expectations. For years I was so goal driven as this was what gave me purpose. I was nothing without a goal as I had no idea what I wanted from life and I couldn’t just ‘Be’. If I didn’t achieve the goal I was so hard on myself and beat myself up about it.
My journey of Non-attachment to outcomes and expectations has been difficult. How do you still set goals but not worry if they happen or not? The answer is Gratitude! By being grateful of your journey thus far and really rewarding yourself on your progress, we come into a state of gratitude where we are completely in the present loving moment. In this moment it doesn’t matter if we have those outcomes/achievements or not as we have it all already within us. When we’re in this state of peace we can be fully present and Let Go of all other outcomes or achievements. And I find when I’m often In this heart-felt state, manifesting my future goals and achievements happen so effortlessly anyway without too much force… The universe is a crazy amazing thing!
What does Aparigraha mean to you?
Saucha- Cleanliness, Purity, Tidiness, Clearness
The 1st Niyama (Personal Observances) from Patanjali’s eight fold path to enlightenment is all about keeping your external and internal existence clean and tidy. This relates to cleanliness of both the Mind and the Body. This Niyama reminds us of the importance of keeping a healthy mind and healthy life and often one cannot be achieved without the other.
Saucha starts with the cleanliness of the external environment and keeping your surroundings clean. It includes purity of bodies from outside and inside, with relationships and your communication. Saucha in speech means always speaking with kindness, Saucha with thoughts means always trying to think with kindness.
For me, Saucha means cleanliness and purity of my mind and thoughts daily. My morning meditation practice helps me with this. It ensures Saucha of my internal world, because at the end of the day, the only person we ever have to live with always is ourselves. If our mind and thoughts are Saucha, we have clarity into our Truth, our inner knowing and wisdom. We’re not distracted by the impure thoughts that are there sometimes and don’t serve us in any positive way. Be the observer always of your thoughts, ensure your internal world is clean and clear and pure so that you made exude that energy externally
Santosha- Gratitude, Contentment
The 2nd Niyama from Patanjali’s eight fold path to enlightenment is about being content and grateful with where you’re at in life.
All too often we look towards the things and goals in life that we don’t yet have and this puts us in the headspace of lack and poverty. We’re chasing these things that always seem to be just out of reach and we’re not stopping to appreciate the things we do have in life and how wonderful they are.
To me, Santosha looks like being ok with we’re my inner journey is currently at. Yes I can spend everyday furiously delving deep into my wounds and digging out old belief systems and programs that no longer serve me in order to become a better person. I can do every spiritual course and do all the plant medicines and breathwork and meditating to get there quicker, but then I’d be missing the whole point of my growth journey. The key is to be completely ok with the here and now. The person you are this very second. The more we look to a potential future for the answers of how we ‘should’ be then we’re missing the wonderful journey of actually getting there.
You’re already whole and worthy just as you are and you don’t need to go searching for it. Come back to gratitude for your journey thus far and celebrate yourself cuz you rock!
Tapas- Self-discipline, Austerity, Burning Enthusiasm
The third of Patanjali’s Niyamas is ‘Tapas’, which often translates traditionally as ‘austerity’ or ‘discipline’. The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’. In this sense, Tapas can mean cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally, and paving the way to our true greatness.
To me, Tapas represents the fire in the belly! That will to keep going despite everything! I regularly try to get out of my comfort zone of growth and dive deep into the unknown. From breathwork to fasting, from ice baths to sweat lodge ceremonies. They all represent my Tapas. By doing these practices I work on my self-discipline, I work on my inner power, i work on my determination and drive to put myself to the test and sit in the discomfort. This builds resilience and character! When you come out the other side having done the thing that scared you the most, you have a new found empowered respect for yourself and you feel amazing!
So, embrace your inner Tapas, that fire within! and delve deep into adversities and the discomfort!
Svadhyaya- Self study, Self examination, Self contemplation .
The fourth Niyama from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is ‘Svadhyaha’ which is probably one of my favourite Sutras and roughly translates to ‘the study of one’s self’.
When studying one’s self, it is ultimately possible to discover the greater Consciousness that is present in the whole universe and understand how the individual self fits into that Consciousness. Meditating while practicing yoga is one way of carrying out svadhyaya. This is often done by repeating a mantra in order to silence thoughts in the mind and turn attention inward rather than outward (pratyahara). Self-study in yoga also means studying the body and understanding its needs and limitations.
To me, Svadhyaya is an important rite of passage that we should all embark upon at some point in our lives. How can we ever fully understand the depths of others if we haven’t had a good look inwards at ourselves? My svadhyaya journey started around the time that the C*vid pandemic hit in April 2020 which forced me to take a good hard look at myself and to become the observer of my thoughts, feelings & emotions. My journey of Self was catapaulted as I started saying Yes to new healing tools, therapies, people and modalities to assist and empower me to tune into myself and know thy self. Throughout it all however, having a daily meditation and breathwork practice has been the key to helping me stay in a state of self-awarness and be in the ‘observer role’ rather than the ‘experiencer role’. My regular practice of Svadhyaya has assisted me to heal and process old wounds and erroneous belief systems that I don’t wish to have anymore.
How is your Svadhyaya journey?
Ishvara Pranidhana- Self-surrender to the Devine, Trusting the wisdom of the Devine.
The fifth Niyama from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is ‘Ishvara Pranidhana’ and is the practice of fully surrendering the self to God, chosen personal god, or Life Force.
In surrendering the ego to the Supreme Being in humility, it is thought that the character of the divine can be attained. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it means committing one’s life and one’s Yoga practice to the Lord (or spiritual focus of choice). We’re advised to ‘surrender’ to this Supreme Being or higher self, which in essence means cultivating a deep and trusting relationship with the universe, and making each action an offering to something bigger than us.
For me, Ishvara Pranidhana is by far the hardest to master on the mat and in life. On the mat, its about surrendering to the pose, the position you’re in, sinking into the feeling and not so much the thinking. Ishvara Pranidhana also means surrendering and resting when you need to. Knowing when you need a Yin class over a fiery Rocket class and being ok with that (for those Yang Yogis ;).
For me, Ishvara Pranidhana in life means LETTING GO of control. Not having to know the outcome to events or situations and just sitting back and TRUSTING that things will work out for you in ways that you could ever had imagined. Whether you believe in a religious God or just purely ‘The Universe’ doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you believe in a power or force that is higher than you, higher than your ego, your human self. for you to feel ok with letting go and releasing control. There’s so much we don’t know and probably will never know and that’s what makes life so magical and wonderful. Living everyday with the unknown fact of what amazing things might be in store for you. . It’s in this act of allowing yourself to Let Go that you will make room for all the good coming your way.
What’s your Ishvara Pranidhana?