That’s One Sturdy Tree
The practice of yoga is an eight-limbed approach with roots dating back nearly 5,000 years. It is a complete holistic set of guidelines for living a joyful, healthy life.
And you thought it was just about bending and twisting.
An oral tradition beginning in India, yoga was finally codified in writing by Patanjali around the third century and translated in the book The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Sutra is a Sanskrit word that translates to thread, so some of the 196 threads don’t make complete sense without the one before or after it.
In this magical yoga book, the eight limbs are outlined and described. The version of the Sutras I like to use is translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda, although there are many great translations out there. Swami Satchidananda expounds on many of the threads set forth by Patanjali, helping to clarify in language we can understand today.
No one limb is more important than any other, they are all equal to one another and all necessary.
The first two limbs are a set of 10 virtues or vows to live by. Hmmm, you might be thinking, where have I heard that before? A set of ten rules to live by…
1. Yama – restraint or abstinence. These are things we practice NOT doing
Ahimsa – non-harming
Satya – not lying, truthfulness
Asteya – non-stealing
Bramacharya – celibacy or moderation in all appetites (I can explain)
Aparigraha – non-attachment
2. Niyama – observances. Things we practice DOING
Saucha – purity
Santosha – contentment
Tapas – discipline
Swadhyaya – self-study or spiritual study
Isvara Pranidhana – surrender to God (can o’ worms, not a religion, more on that later, too)
Some tall orders there. We’ll go into each one in much greater detail down the line a bit. First, onto the other six.
3. Asana – comfortable steady pose (Did you know that? Is that what you’ve been doing?)
4. Pranayama – breath work
5. Pratyhara – sense withdrawal (savasana, yoga nidra)
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Dhyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – bliss (yes, please)
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you may have an understanding of these limbs, or maybe this is the first you’ve heard of them. The yoga philosophy is rich with golden nuggets of wisdom that can help guide anyone regardless of size, shape, color, religion or even political affiliation.
The beauty of yoga is that it doesn’t mind if you don’t follow its rules. It doesn’t really care if you can balance or not or touch your toes. It matters not to yoga if you believe in God, Jesus, Mohammed, Nature, the Universe or the Cookie Monster. Yoga just hangs back and says, “I’m here for you when you need me.”
The study of the philosophy often creates a stronger connection to whatever belief system you already have. It is a gateway to your true self, that divine expression that is only you. And it is from that place that we begin to connect to our higher truth.
Whether you dip your toe in or dive into the deep end of yoga, you will be able to gain insight into this great big luscious life of yours. Come on in, the water’s fine.