The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Most Americans are introduced to yoga through the poses. (Sometimes I think that Krishnamacharya’s genius was to let us see it as a physical thing, instead of another religion to convert to or flee from. Later on, we can try on the spirituality.) Then we might find breathing or meditation practices. And eventually we get it hammered into our heads that it’s not just about physical health, or habits, but our whole psychology and worldview. And there’s more to practice than just Down Dog. As Patanjali put it:

“The eight limbs of yoga are: respect toward others, self-restraint, posture, breath control, detaching at will from the senses, concentration, meditation, and contemplation.”

[Bernard Bouanchaud’s translation of Sutra II.29 in The Essence of Yoga]

That’s where you get the benefits beyond a gym workout. Postures are only step three. Do we want to be in third grade forever? Did we even DO first grade?

But still, once we study and (somewhat) understand these tips that Patanjali gives us, it’s really interesting to circle back around and apply each of these steps to our roots, for example our asana practice.

  1. Are you respecting your teachers, fellow students, and studio staff?
  2. Are you applying self-restraint in asana practice, or always going for the most advanced variation?
  3. Do you understand the definition of a yoga pose hard yet soft?
  4. Are you breathing comfortably in your practice, or holding / controlling / ignoring the breath?
  5. Are you able to detach from the sensations or appearance of your body?
  6. Are you really concentrating on the present moment as you practice?
  7. Are you able to prolong your focus and receive insight?
  8. Are you able to leave “you” behind and become just insight?

I’ll be on retreat for the next 8 days, so think about these 8 limbs for now. We’ll have some special guest posts, too, so keep dropping in. Take a look at some of the archives. Or, you know, actually get off the computer and practice ;)