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:
- truthfulness - not lying
- not stealing
- self-control and sexual moderation
- not being greedy or coveting what is not ours.
Niyama advises qualities to cultivate:
- 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.