As we head into the month of January, we are going to revisit the the eight limbs of yoga. For many of us, yoga resonated with us initially as a way to incorporate stretching into our exercise routine. As my practice deepened, I learned that yoga was so much more than that! I will say, however, that the stretching has been transformational for me!
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is a collection short verses that serve as a guide toward for yoga with the goal of obtaining attain wisdom and self-realization through the practice. No one knows exactly who Patanjali was and if they were an actual person, but the document is estimated to have been written around 400 C.E. and serves as a basis for much yoga philosophy.
Just a reminder about sutra 1.2, the meaning of yoga. The translation of the Sanskrit is the “restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga”. Simply put, if we learn to control our mind (through meditation, breath, asanas, contemplation) we will achieve the goal of yoga. Rather than focusing on short term goals, taken as a whole, the 8 limbs outlined in the Yoga Sutras, serve as a guidebook for exploring the central meaning of yoga and to live a life with both ethical and moral behavior as well as self-discipline. In short, to living our yoga off the mat!
There are 8 limbs (or pieces) of yoga outlined in the sutras, and only one, the asanas, relates to a physical practice. The other 7 relate to breath, rules to live your life by and meditation. Rather than short term goals, taken as a whole, the 8 limbs are like a guidebook for a life lived with both ethical and moral behavior as well as self-discipline.
As we enter 2024, we will review the eight limbs with the goal of approaching the year with a yogic perspective or at least inspiration. Instead of punitive or unrealistic resolutions, let’s think about a sankalpa as we discussed last week, a commitment from the heart. Let's dive in and take some inspiration from the sutras and see where we land.
To give you an overview of the 8 limbs, please see below:
Yama – Restraints, rules of moral code and include ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (restraint) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
Niyama – Rules of personal behavior, inwardly focused including saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual studies), and Ishvara Pranidhana (constant devotion to God).
Asana – Posture. In Patanjali’s initial practice it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation. The practice of yoga asanas came about eight centuries later, which helped disciples ready their bodies for meditation.
Pranayama – Yoga Breathing Techniques designed to control prana or vital life force.
Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal.
Dharana – Focused Concentration.
Dhyana – Meditative Absorption.
Samadhi – Bliss or Enlightenment or merging with the divine.
Ready to learn more? We will dive in in the coming weeks, however, for some previews here is a link from Ekhart Yoga with an overview. Prior blogs have additional links if you are interested.
Our Practice – Keep On Twisting
I continue to spend much time in our classes talking about feeling good in the lower back. For many of us, the key to a life without chronic back pain (or a regimen of painkillers) is a strong core and back as well as a regime of stretching and lengthening. This twist that we have been incorporating into class does wonders for my spine. It is a seated twist with windshield wiper (or 90/90) legs. Since it is a twist it follows our prior discussions about detoxifying and “wringing out”.
First start with traditional seated windshield wiper twist:
Start seated on mat with knees bent in front of you hands on mat slightly behind you for support – feet are mat width apart.
Drop knees to the right (legs are both in approximately 90 degree angles).
Bring your left hand across your body to the right side next to your right hand as you begin twisting gently to the right.
Adjust your twist so it is comfortable not going too far. Stay up on hands or gently lower to forearms (or down to the floor).
Breathe in and out 3-10 cycles. Gently push up and take it to the other side.
Meditation - What Is Yoga?
As we begin our exploration of the eight limbs of yoga this poem by Danna Faulds is inspirational.
Yoga – Danna Faulds
Yoga is not about the pose.
it’s not the alignment of
toes or hips or shoulders.
it’s not about the form.
Yoga in an invitation to
explore, not a command
performance. It speaks
the language of the soul.
In the flow of breath and
motion, yoga coaxes us
from the confines of the
known, across the silent
threshold into vastness.
Yoga is the union of prayer
and movement, guided from
inside. It is healing and the
joy of saying yes to life.
Breathe, relax and feel the
body receive its own truth.
the seed of freedom flowers
within each of us whenever
we are open to what’s real.
Nurturing with Food – Minestrone Soup
I felt like elves had been in my house today. I headed out into the rain this am to teach yoga in the studio (my husband had already gone off to a meeting). After class I cleaned the studio for a bit and then headed back in. When I got inside there was a pot of homemade minestrone on the stove, groceries in the fridge and my husband was not around. Somehow in the hour and a half or so that I was gone he had unpacked groceries, made a pot of soup and left again (I am sure to play pickleball).🤣😂
There is nothing like delicious healthy and hearty soup to take the chill off of a nasty wintry day. Below find a link to my recipe for Minestrone. You can swap vegetables to what you have in your crisper (do not venture out in the cold!) 🍲
See you on the mat!