The eight limbs of yoga - Helen's website 2017

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The eight limbs of yoga

Yoga is traditionally divided into eight interwoven limbs or aspects.

The first two limbs are Yama and Niyama. These are spiritual and ethical teachings of yoga which the ancient yogis of India observed as promoting personal well-being and contentment as well as overall social harmony.

In the West, yoga classes can tend to focus on the more obviously physical side of yoga and to downplay or drop out the teachings of yama and niyama. However in classical yoga these teachings represent the foundations of yoga - the focus being the harmony, union and connection between all beings rather than individual fitness and well being.

Yama advises what not to do:
  • non-violence
  • truthfulness - not lying
  • not stealing
  • self-control and sexual moderation
  • not being greedy or coveting what is not ours.

Niyama advises qualities to cultivate:
  • cleanliness
  • contentment
  • discipline
  • study
  • surrender or devotion to a higher power.

Asana - this third limb of yoga is the most familiar in the west. It refers to the practice of asanas, or postures, that strengthen and tone the body bringing steadiness, health and lightness of limb.

Practice of asana develops alertness and sensitivity, builds stability, and concentration and regulates all the systems of the body - including the nervous, endocrine, respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems. It releases tension, puts us back in touch with our bodies, develops strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, awareness and stills the mind for meditation. Asana practice gives immediate physical benefits but also provides a vehicle to journey inwards and get to the essence of who we are.
Pranayama - sometimes referred to as breath control, this involves yogic breathing practices that promote the flow of prana, the 'cosmic energy" or 'life force' which manifests in the breath. Yoga regards the breath as the bridge between body and mind and the mind as a bridge between body and soul. Focusing on the breath steadies the mind, balances the autonomic nervous system and brings us to the present moment.

Pratyhara - as the mind settles, an inward focus becomes possible. Pratyhara refers to the withdrawal of the senses (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin) away from external distractions towards the inner world.

Dharana - concentration of the mind. Through asana practice we learn to focus our attention on one thing at a time without being distracted.

Dhyana - extended periods of concentration lead to meditation, reflection and contemplation where the focus is expanded throughout the individual's consciousness. Thoughts are at a minimum and the experience is of stillness.

Samadhi - a transcendent state of self-realisation and connection with the Infinite. Our occasional flashes of insight, that go beyond our smaller daily lives can be seen as a glimpse of samadhi, where for a moment we experience our interconnectedness with all living beings.

"Words cannot convey the value of yoga - it has to be experienced"
B.K.S. Iyengar
"Pranayama is the bridge between the physical and the spiritual"
B.K.S. Iyengar
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
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