Most people are unaware that the physical postures or “Asanas” are only one of the 8 limbs of yoga. Equally as important, and particularly during these current challenging times, are the other life practice branches that sprout from the 8 limbed path of yoga, including those of non-violence towards the self and others; self care and gratitude.
Starting a yoga practice can be intimidating. Although social media abounds with stories of “love at first class,” the greater reality is that many people are scared to try yoga or never return after their first shot.
A common misconception about yoga is that it is either a stretching scheme or a workout. Although the typical yoga class does involve stretching and physical sequences, most people are surprised to learn that the postures of yoga are merely a means to a far greater purpose.
Simply stated, the purpose of yoga is to quiet the mind so that we can experience life with peace, great awareness and bliss – a state otherwise known as “enlightenment.”
The theory is that by conditioning our bodies, learning to control our breath and staying focused despite the constant turnings of the mind, enlightenment is not only attainable but sustainable both on the mat and off.
The stresses of the pandemic have recently birthed a huge population of home practitioners, myself included, and speaking from personal experience, the benefits can be life changing.
Years before the coronavirus existed, I gravitated to yoga for the wrong reasons — 1) all of the celebrities were doing it; 2) proximity – there was a studio around the corner from my NYC apartment. I was looking for an easy, convenient workout in a popular venue. That was it.
As I took more classes and became part of the studio’s community, things started happening — I felt stronger and more energetic, and began to view my weekly classes as joyful as opposed to obligatory.
When the studio proudly announced its inaugural teacher training program, I signed up with the intention to learn more about the practice for my own benefit, and to help out the studio, whose owner I had come to adore. I never expected to teach, especially since I was working full time.
Happier. Stronger. Kinder. More Compassionate.
Learning about the 8 limbed path and the purpose behind the practice completely changed my direction. With this newly found focus, I dedicated myself to a daily practice at 2 NYC studios that based their classes upon these teachings. After literally hundreds of classes and thousands of hours, I was able to break through many of the psychological obstacles that had held me back from experiencing happiness and contentment in life to its fullest.
The practice of yoga has made me into a better person — Happier. Stronger. Kinder. More Compassionate.
For this reason, I decided to teach yoga with the purpose of providing guidance on the same path to others. It is my wish that everyone can reap life changing benefits through their own personal journey with this practice to at very least the extent that I did, and hopefully way beyond that.
Yogic principle provides that the sacred space of enlightenment is attainable by following what is known as “The 8 Limbed Path.” As asana (the actual postures) is merely one of those 8 limbs, the practice of yoga is truly accessible to all regardless of age, sex, experience, weight, level of flexibility, and/or physical condition.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga:
1. YAMAS – Self Regulating Behaviors
2. NIYAMAS – Personal Observances
3. ASANA – Yoga Postures
4. PRANAYAMA – Regulation of the Breath
5. PRATYAHARA – Withdrawal of the Senses
6. DHARANA – Concentration & Focus on a Single Point
7. DHYANA – Meditation Practices
8. SAMADHI – Enlightenment
THE 8 LIMBED PATH OF YOGA – IN PRACTICAL TERMS:
I. YAMAS: Self Regulating Behaviors
a. AHIMSA: NON-VIOLENCE / NON-HARM
Be nice to people. Do not inflict physical or mental harm to anyone, including yourself.
b. SATYA: HONESTY
Be truthful in your thoughts, words and actions to others and to yourself. Do not lie. Be authentic always. Do not manipulate. Do not say “yes” when you really mean “no.” Do not say “no” when you really mean “yes.”
c. ASTEYA: NON-GREED
Honor the balance of “give and receive” and equal exchange. Do not always be a taker. Do not always be a giver. Do not steal. Do not hoard.
d. APARIGRAHA: NON-POSSESSIVENESS/NONATTACHMENT
Do not envy. Do not allow jealousy to influence your actions. Do not attach yourself to anyone, anything, any expectation, any outcome.
e. BRAMACHARYA: SELF CONTROL
Food, Attention, Material items, Sex, Alcohol, anything. Exercise Self-Control.
II. NIYAMAS: Personal Observances
a. SAUCHA: PHYSICAL AND MENTAL CLEANLINESS
Take care of your physical and mental health. All forms of self-care. Therapy.
b. SANTOSHA: APPRECIATION/GRATITUDE
Develop it. Show it. Take nothing for granted.
c. TAPAS: HEAT OF CHALLENGE
Be inspired, energetic and act with fire and purpose. Do not undertake without commitment and fire.
d. SVADHYAYA: SELF STUDY / SELF AWARENESS
Be honest with yourself about personal areas that require development / improvement.
e. ISHVARA PRANIDHANA: DEEP TRUST IN A HIGHER POWER, INCLUDING SELF
Surrender yourself to a higher power, even if that means to yourself, for inspiration.
III. ASANAS: Yoga Postures
THE PHYSICAL POSTURES.
IV. PRANAYANMA: Regulation of the Breath
BREATHING TECHNIQUES (exercises involving breath tempo and depth, each designed to cultivate the ability to control the workings of the breath).
V. PRATYAHARA: Withdrawal of the Senses
DRAWING THE SENSES INWARD TO ASSIST HIGHER FOCUS: Focus on the internal to achieve less distraction from the outer environment.
VI. DHARANA: Concentration and Focus on a Single Point
Train the mind to laser focus on one chosen thing.
VII. DHYANA: Meditation Practices
Train the mind to achieve a simultaneous balance between peace /tranquility/greater sense of awareness and the natural thoughts – the turnings of the mind — that come and go.
VIII. SAMADHI: Enlightenment
INNER PEACE AND GREATER AWARENESS OF THE WORLD AROUND US.
By incorporating 7 of the limbs in conjunction with executing the physical poses of a yoga class (the 8th limb), a yoga practice can be born in the way it was intended – not a physical workout, but a means to inner peace, strength, mindfulness and tranquility.
In addition, the benefits of the practice can manifest in a number of other positive ways, including increased flexibility, muscle strength, cardio and circulatory health, and sustained weight loss just to name a few.
Given these proven benefits, and the 1/8 emphasis on the actual postures that one encounters in that oh – so –intimidating yoga class, perhaps the prospect of becoming a student of yoga becomes less scary and more accessible to all of us…
Moreover, it is widely known that most if not all people who attend yoga classes are acutely tuned in to their own postures, breath and inner focus. Thus, anyone who feels insecure about their “performance” should be rest assured that it is a non- issue.
So, if you could use some enlightenment in your life, but were too intimidated or weirded out by the prospect of taking up a yoga practice, hopefully you may be inspired to give it a try and to stick with it!
An important note: it is critical that you choose a teacher / studio that is committed to emphasizing the entire process, as opposed to providing classes of poses to send you on your way. Therefore, please be sure to do your research before signing up!
Some practical advice about cultivating a home practice:
Here are some tips for building a safe and viable practice in your place of residence:
1. Clear a space that is as open and clutter free as possible.
2. Remove all potential sources of distraction (i.e., turn the cellphone off and place it in another room; ask others in the household for some privacy; turn off the tv; close the window if it’s noisy outside …).
3. Take 5-10 minutes before class to sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, the spine and neck elongated, the chin slightly bowed, and the rest of your muscles relaxed. Once in this position, take deep, slow breaths and set an intention for your class. The intention can be anything – a dedication to someone or something that is meaningful to you; a dedication to deep breathing; a dedication to moving further into each pose than prior; a dedication to focus on every word the teacher is saying without allowing your mind to wander; whatever you wish! Classes are usually not more than an hour long. Staying committed to your personal intention is completely achievable!
4. Find a program that is right for your level, and a teacher with whom you click – there are thousands of teachers with different personalities, philosophies and teaching styles online – don’t commit to a teacher who is even a mediocre fit.
5. Do not attempt anything that inspires pain in your body. If something hurts, stop.
6. Have patience with yourself in the development of your practice. There is no such thing as perfection in yoga! People practice yoga for decades and still seek improvement. Take it slowly, steadily and with self-compassion.
7. Never skip savasana (corpse pose) at the end. It is your reward for sticking through each class.
8. Always thank yourself for showing up on the mat.