Yoga – an eight limbed system – Part 1

As I stated in a previous blog, yoga is much more than physical postures.  Yoga is made up of 8 distinct limbs, postures are limb number 3.  Here are the 8 limbs in Sanskrit and their approximate definition. 

  1. Yama – Social Ethics
  2. Niyama – Personal Ethics
  3. Asana – Yoga postures
  4. Pranayama – Breath control
  5. Pratyahara – Withdrawing the senses
  6. Dharana – Concentration
  7. Dhyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – Complete absorption in the mediation object (enlightenment)Yoga – an eight limbed system

We’ll start with the Yamas in this blog.  The Yamas themselves are broken down into 5 practices.  The first Yama is Ahimsa.  Ahimsa translates to non-harming.  This essentially means being kind to others.  Yogis reference this Yama when becoming vegetarians.  Even though the Yamas are social ethics, I always encourage my students to practice non-harming regarding their bodies during yoga.

The second Yama is Satya, which means truthfulness.  We all know what being truthful is, we have been taught it since childhood.  Practicing Satya in yoga adds another level.  It means remaining truthful while being observed and while not being observed.  This can also be applied to the yoga mat.  We must be truthful to ourselves in our bodies’ abilities and limitations.  

Next is Asteya, non-stealing.  Again, this is something that we are all familiar with.  Not only does it mean not to steal objects from one another, it means not to steal peace of mind.  This goes back to Ahimsa, being kind to each other.  Putting the needs of others first in your mind.  Another way to practice Asteya is to contemplate ‘Why do we steal?’  Doing away with envy and jealousy of others’ possessions and abilities is a good start.     

Yama number 4 is Brahmacharya (Right use of the Energy) In simple terms, Brahmacharya means ‘celibacy.’ The ancient yogis were mostly single men, so celibacy was considered necessary for enlightenment.  In more modern terms, Brahmacharya refers to leading a life without any obsession and being faithful within a monogamous relationship. 

The last Yama is AparigrahaAparigraha refers to non-hoarding.  I like to think about it as being generous. Being generous does not have to mean giving away money or material goods.  A person can share material blessings as well as giving of time and energy.  Giving of oneself is the greatest gift.

That’s it for the Yamas.  In a future blog, we continue along the Eight Limbs of Yoga by looking at the Niyama’s. 

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