If you’re anything like me, you want to feel that life is running smoothly. That people respect you and that your work is valued. That you’re healthy, happy and at ease. That your loved ones are healthy, happy and at ease too.
These yearnings go way back. They aren’t a new revelation to humankind. This desire to live a good life, to be appreciated and to be acknowledged has been going on for years. Centuries. Likely forever.
It may be surprising to discover that the practice of yoga – also centuries old – is not just about classes, postures and posturing. It is about so much more than stretching.
Yoga is actually about something much bigger and offers a solution to these very human yearnings to be healthy, happy and at ease.
Even better, the solution is a very practical one.
The ancient yet practical application of yoga
Over 1,700 years ago an ancient sage going by the name Patanjali brought together his observations of life into a set of clear guidelines. These guidelines, he claimed, would not only to lead a good life, but to an optimal life.
These guidelines are the eight limbs of yoga, and go far beyond the physical nature of what you might typically think when you hear the word ‘yoga’.
The eight limbs of yoga
The eight limbs of yoga – the framework for living an optimal life – are listed below. Articles relating to this framework are also linked below.
This is a bit of beginners guide to yoga, an overview of what yoga is (and what yoga is not). The articles start to answer some of the typical questions you might have, including what yoga means, what yoga helps with and what yoga teaches you.
Read these (and check back for new ones as they’re added) to build your overall understanding of yoga.
The yamas are social and ethical guidelines. There are five yamas, designed to remind us of how to be decent human beings in the world. The overarching idea behind these is that if we follow these guidelines, we have a chance of creating a happy society
Niyamas are personal attitudes, behaviours and discipline. Compared to the yamas that are more focused on our interactions with others, the niyamas are more to do with our personal states of being. They also make recommendations for what we might call our ‘internal world’.
Asanas are physical poses, – the postures. This is the bit that people might think is yoga (as in someone who goes to a yoga class must be going to a class where they do postures). Or it’s the bit people might at least associate with stretching.
While some yoga classes may be very focused on the stretching, you’d be hard pressed to find a yoga teacher who didn’t at least acknowledge that when practised properly, asanas are actually about so much more.
And – to honour my teachers – I’m here to set the record straight: it’s pronounced arse-a-nah. Not a-sah-na. Just sayin’.
Pranayama encompasses various breathing techniques and exercises, often designed to purify, calm and balance the mind and help the body to function at optimum. You might have heard some of the exercises referred to as pumping breath or lion’s breath. There are many more, some of which we will explore here in time.
It’s also worth noting that not all yoga classes will include pranayama exercises, and that some yoga styles/traditions believe that pranayama should not be taught until there is a sufficient understanding and attainment of the asanas.
Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses. Yoga Journal state that ‘pratyahara is about the right intake of impressions‘, as in being conscious about what you allow your senses to come in contact with. This definitely warrants some further examination.
How often have you watched something, for example, that’s far more violent/trashy/vacuous than you’d like? What impact does it have on your mood/thoughts/attitude going forward? Or what about something different altogether: have you ever sat in the dark and just listened? Or danced in the dark (I hear that it’s a thing; maybe something else to investigate!)? What impact did that it have on your mood/thoughts/attitude?
Check back in coming weeks for the proper yogic interpretations of pratyahara.
Dharana is focused concentration. If research is anything to go by, it’s a skill that’s becoming rarer to come by. The idea behind dharana is to learn the art of focusing on one thing at a time, to the end that everything else falls away. In some ways, it can be likened to a flow state.
Dhyana is meditation. Without first mastering concentration, say the yogis, it’s difficult to meditate. Maybe even impossible. But once you’ve mastered concentration and then meditation, you’re getting closer to experiencing true happiness, true contentment.
Samadhi is referred to as the state of enlightenment. Enlightenment is where none of the things that bother us as human beings is present. We’re free of all that stuff. We are at one with the universe.
Is it real, though? Who knows.
(Let me know if you do).