The 8 Limbs of Yoga — Beyond the Physical Practice
What comes to mind when you first hear the word yoga? I used to think of a hot studio with tight leggings and flexible beings contorting themselves in these graceful movements. I came to find this is not the case. To those hot yoga lovers out there, keep doing you! I’m speaking to deepen the understanding and premise of a yoga practice.
If you haven’t already gotten on board the Yoga with Adriene train I suggest you check it out. While I wish she used more general and affirming language, she incorporates the different limbs of yoga that many find approachable. These limbs of yoga can even be set up as a 30 day challenge. Additionally, Adriene sets up a 30 day practice for the community every January. This year’s January practice was entitled Move. Yoga with Adriene is just one of the many YouTube channels out there that offer free yoga asanas to the community.
The Hindu text Bhagavad Gita states that yoga is “the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” Yoga asanas are the physical practice many come to know as yoga in the western world, but asana is just one of the 8 limbs of yoga. The 8 limbs as outlined by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are roughly followed as:
Yama - abstinence and restraints, roughly translated to the “don'ts” in life.
Niyama - observances, roughly translated as the “do’s” in life.
Asana - posture, the practices most commonly associated with yoga.
Pranayama - breath control.
Pratyahara - sense withdrawal, those times when you are invited to close your eyes? That is an example of Pratyahara.
Dharana - concentration, using a mantra or a point of focus, like the breath.
Samadhi- contemplation, absorption, or super conscious state.
Each of these 8 limbs has a lot to offer on how we go about our day to day and respond to the different stressors in life, both good and challenging.
If you are curious about the interpretive “do’s and don'ts” of yoga, exploring the interpretations of the yamas and niyamas may bring clarity. I say interpretation because there is much history to these principles, from the pre-vedic period to the modern period, where each period shaped and changed the perspective of the art of yoga.
We can embody these practices the next time we take a breath, being mindful of the importance to honor and acknowledge where these came from.
Adele, Deborah. The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice. On-Word Bound Books, 2009.
Satchidananda, and Patañjali. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Integral Yoga Publications, 2014.
Vera Bednar, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and certified in dialectical behavioral therapy (C-DBT). A Lesley University graduate, Vera earned a bachelor's in counseling and art therapy and a master's in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in trauma.
Prior to joining Looking Glass Counseling, Vera worked in a wide variety of clinical settings including inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient and an assisted living center with an art therapy focus. She also worked in partial hospitalization programs specializing in trauma, LGBTQIA+ individuals and young adult transitions as well as substance use.
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