THE EIGHT LIMBS
Updated: Dec 7, 2018
Ashtanga Yoga is often thought of as a purely physical practice but asana (physical postures) is just one of the 8 limbs of yoga. This and the other 7 ‘limbs’ basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a map for moral and ethical conduct and self discipline directing attention toward your health and spiritual well being.
The translation of Ashtanga yoga is eight (Ashto) limbs (anga). The renowned Indian sage Patanjali, writing more than 2000 years ago, assigns eight limbs to the tree of yoga — each stage being a stage or step along the path to realisation.
FIRST LIMB: YAMA
The first limb is YAMA which teaches us how we should approach the world through 5 observances:
1. AHIMSA — Non violence
“Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
On the mat: We must respect the limits and capabilities of our own body and not become frustrated when we are unable to achieve a particular posture. Tolerance and understanding should be applied as we move through restrictions with patience and persistence.
Off the mat: Ahimsa teaches us to consider our actions, words and intentions through the lens of self-awareness, reflection and compassion. Cause less harm and cultivate compassion both to yourself and others. This is easy when times are good but try practising when things aren’t going to plan. This doesn’t mean that you become a pushover, Ahimsa works both ways — you should be aware when someone is taking advantage of you and react appropriately. Do no harm, but take no shit.
Question: What is the one thing you could do to create more peace for yourself in the world?
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2. SATYA — Truthfulness
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ~ Jim Morrison
On the mat: Satya relates because you need to be honest with yourself and practice without harboring egotistical expectations. It is important to accept where your practice is without always striving for more. Practice requires devotion, discipline and enthusiasm whilst working within reasonable limits.
Off the mat: Be honest with yourself at all times and try not to compare yourself to others. Their truth is not yours and you should find your own path. Life can be an exciting journey when you follow your own map.
Question: Reflect on how it feels to speak and live your truth.
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3. ASTEYA — Non-stealing
“Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.” ~ Chris Jami
On the mat: Asteya teaches us not to cheat, steal or be envious of others. Yoga Asana is a non-competitive practice, and students need to look to their neighbours for inspiration rather than to cast judgment or to make negative comparisons.
Off the mat: This relates not only stealing goods, money or property belonging to others, but also subtle things like attention, affection, time or goodwill. If we live in a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance we never appreciate the things we do have and seek to take things that are not freely given.
Question: What is the one way I steal from others and how can I stop?
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4. BRAHMACHARYA: Sexual moderation and seeing the infinite consciousness in everybody and everything.
“When you play the field selfishly everything works against you: one can’t insist on love or demand affection. you’re finally left with whatever you have been willing to give which often is: nothing.” ~ Charles Bukowski
On the mat — Whatever turns you on!
Off the mat — We should seek to see the light in all people and all things. A yogi believes that all things should be done in moderation and this includes our sexual activity. Yoga is a practice in which we honour another’s light and seek to raise all our relationships to a spiritual level.
Question: Are my relationships, sexual and platonic, respectful, of myself and others?
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5. APARIGRAHA — Greedlessness or non-hoarding
“There’s enough on this planet for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
On the mat: There is a tendency amongst many yogis to ‘collect’ postures. They no sooner achieve one posture before looking for another instead of focusing on how they can develop within the posture. Try developing not just the outward expression of a posture but feeling the internal elements of breath and bandha before moving on.
Off the mat: Aparigraha is the practice of letting go and allowing for change. Just as our inhale and exhale keeps us alive, there is an expansion and contraction of all things. We give and we take. We obtain and we give away. In this way, Aparigraha looks not only at physical possessions but also at the beliefs, ideas and even grudges that we hold on to (or hoard). Aparigraha is about inviting the present moment to just be what it is. When we notice what we have rather than what we lack all we need will be acquired.
Question: What are the beliefs, ideas that I have that no longer serve me? What possessions can I let go that are creating clutter in my life.
The first two limbs of the eight-fold path of yoga sutras--the basic text for classical yoga--are examined in this spiritual guide to the practice of yoga. Foundational to all yogic thought, they are considered to be the guidelines to the yoga way of living that free individuals to take ownership of their lives, direct them toward the fulfillment they seek, and gain the skills to choose attitude, thought, and action. The first five guidelines are referred to as the yamas--a Sanskrit word that translates to "restraints"--and encompass nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, nonexcess, and nonpossessiveness. The last five are referred to as the niyamas, or observances--purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender.