I’m guilty of it myself. In America, we tend to focus on the postures more than anything else. As I type this, I am waiting for my husband to finish writing an email so he can take a picture of me in the pose of the day for the February Instagram challenge. But the truth is, there are eight limbs to yoga, with postures being but one of them. And the only purpose to the postures is that they are meant to prepare your body to sit in meditation for long periods of time. The asanas are meant to open your hips and still your mind so you can better meditate – without all the fidgeting.
The eight limbs are as follows:
1. Yama: which refers to the five abstentions we are meant to subscribe to with regards to relating to the external world:
- Ahimsa: non violence (all set there)
- Satya: truth in word and thought, non-illusion (I get in trouble for being too truthful sometimes!)
- Asteya: to not desire something that is not one’s own (I’m pretty good at this. Sometimes I think about the Hermes Cape Cod watch, but for the most part I am not envious of things)
- Brahmacharya: abstinence, particularly in the case of sexual activity (moving on)
- Aparigraha: to not hoard things (do marathon viewings of Hoarders count?)
2. Niyama: how we relate to ourselves, our consciousness, our esteem, our inner-being:
- Shaucha: cleanliness of the mind and body (doughnuts are of great help here)
- Santosha: satisfaction with what one currently has (I am a very lucky woman, and I know this)
- Tapas: discipline of the body which leads to mental control (working on it, Shavasana is great for this)
- Svadhyaya: study of scripture to know more about God and the soul which leads to introspection (sorry, agnostic here)
- Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to God (see above – ha, I made a pun)
3. Asana: discipline of the body, most often interpreted as postures/the poses we do in class. It is also the idea that discipline of the body will help it remain disease free and in turn preserve energy.
4. Pranayama: control of breath – steadies the body and thus allows better concentration in the mind.
5: Pratyhara: a withdrawal of the senses, to step away from the external and bring focus inwards towards breath. I think of it as meditation but not necessarily in a seated position in a quiet room. It’s working on being able to do this at any given moment. To be able to take a step back from an argument, to calm yourself when you sense things are getting a little crazy. To take a deep breath when your kids, your boss, your life is making you crazy. This step is seen as the bridge between the first four limbs which are external and the final three which are internal.
6. Dharana: concentration upon a physical object as an aid to meditation.
7. Dhyana: steadfast meditation, undisturbed but with a maintained understanding of a distinction between yourself and the object on which you are meditating.
8. Samadhi: oneness with the object of meditation. There is no distinction between act of meditation and the object of meditation.
I’m thinking I’m not deep enough in to my practice but it seems like the last three aren’t exactly distinctive of one another but rather levels of the same idea. My main question is, can you practice some of the eight limbs but not all and still have a fulfilling practice? Is it like people who pick and choose which passages from the Bible to harp on – yelling about how homosexuality is a sin while in a Red Lobster. I don’t know. But I will keep working on all of these, not just the postures and the breathing, and see how it goes.