The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The Eight

Most of us are familiar with the physical side of yoga, known as Asana, but very few know that all together yoga comprises of Eight Limbs. There’s more to yoga than just stretching and trying to get some killer arms while working on your Chaturanga. The Eight Limbs were first recorded in the sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. While it might sound daunting, I will try and outline each limb as simply as possible.

Yama:
There are five Yamas and they act as moral guides on how to interact with the world around us. This is how we practice yoga off the mat. They are:
Ahimsa (non-violence)
Satya (truthfulness)
Asteya (non-stealing)
Bramacharya (moderation)
Aparigraha (non-greed and non-hoarding)

Niyama:
There are also five Niyamas which are seen as observances and  self-discipline practices. They are:
Saucha (cleanliness)
Santosha (contentment)
Tapas (discipline)
Svadhyaya (self-study and the study of spiritual or yogic text)
Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power)

Asana:
This is the limb we’re all familiar with and practice when we go to a yoga class. It’s the physical aspect of yoga. The idea behind Asana is to get the body ready for meditation.

Pranayama:
I have grown to love this Limb. Prana is energy or life source and can be described as the breath. Pranayama is the practice of controlling your breath. This can be achieved through different breathing exercises such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) which I do whenever I feel anxious.

Pratyahara:
This is the practice of withdrawing the senses. During meditation we draw our focus inward, letting go of the distractions around us.  Most of us experience this when we’re concentrating hard on something. It seems like the whole world falls away except for that one thing you’re focusing on.

Dharana:
Dharana is connected to Pratyahara. It’s the focussed concentration required when the senses are withdrawn to begin to meditate. We begin to focus on concentrating on a single point. Through extended periods of focused concentration we begin to meditate.

Dhyana:
Dhyana is when we become completely absorbed in our focus, this is meditation. Initially we might only be able to hold it for a second or two, but through regular practice you will be able to meditate for longer periods of time without any breaks or distractions.

Samadhi:
Samadhi is often referred to as enlightenment or bliss.

That is essentially the Eight Limbs in a nutshell. Each Limb works together with the next one to encourage your body to relax, your breath to come under control and for your mind to find clarity and peace. So next time you unroll your yoga mat, maybe try to sit still for a few moments and focus on your breath or save a few minutes for a meditation practice.

Your first yoga class

Your first yoga class

Yay! Congratulations on booking your first yoga class!
You might be excited or even nervous (don’t worry, I still get nervous whenever I attend a class at a new studio). The good news is, your nerves should disappear as soon as you walk in the door. But if you’re still unsure and wondering what you’re in for, I’m here to set you at ease with a little list:

General etiquette:
While in class, it’s polite to make sure your phone is switched to airplane mode, or at the very least silent. Of course there are occasions when you need to be on standby and that’s completely understandable. In those instances, just let the teacher know so you can keep your phone close.

Try to avoid eating a big meal just before class. Either eat a few hours before, or after. This is to avoid feeling uncomfortable, especially when doing twists. I have firsthand experience in this, trust me.

Pain is never an option. Try to move mindfully into each pose and avoid pushing into extremes. If any pose causes any pain, immediately come out of it and let your teacher know. They will be able to provide you with another variation to suit you.

While in class, teachers might offer physical adjustments. Good teachers always ask first before they assist you. Please remember that you are allowed to say no. If a teacher adjusts you without asking, definitely let them know if it’s not ok.

Clothing:
As you will be moving around, wear something that’s comfortable and you can easily stretch in. I’ve worn some ill-fitting tops to class before and it’s less that ideal to spend most of your class adjusting your clothes.

Definitely bring something warm as well for Savasana / Rest at the end. This can be a warm tracksuit top or a shawl. If it’s a cold day or night, make sure to keep your socks close by too so you can make sure you’re super toasty.

What to bring:
If you have your own yoga mat, it’s always a good idea to bring it along. Not all teachers have extra mats and those who do will need to disinfect the mats after every use.

If it’s a particularly dynamic class and things get a bit sweaty (pretty much any class in summer here!), bring a small towel with. They are great for placing at the top of your mat to prevent hands from slipping plus you can also use them as an eye pillow during Savasana.

Any big pieces of jewelry, watches or rings that get in the way is best left safely at home.

Arriving:
Try to make sure you’re on time for class by arriving 5 to 10 minutes earlier. This will allow your teacher to sign you in and also provides you with time to ask any questions. While teachers know life can happen and sometimes people run late for class, it’s always nice to be able to start on time. If you’re late, firstly try not to stress. Most teachers will still let you join the class. Once class is over, just make sure the teacher signs you in.

Please let your teacher know if you think you might be pregnant or if you have any injuries. You might need to adjust your practice to ensure you’re moving in a safe way.

Don’t skip Savasana:
I know, for the first few classes it might feel tempting to leave as everyone gets ready for Savasana but please resist the urge. There’s a reason Savasana is considered to be the most difficult yoga pose, and that’s because so few of us are able to take a few minutes of our day and lie still. We have so little opportunity in our day to soften our muscles and allow our bodies to recover that we all need to practice Savasana each day. The pose is there as a little thank you for your body for working hard throughout class and to begin to practice calming our minds. This is the moment we begin to reconnect with ourselves before we head out into the world again.

Leave the ego at the door:
I know this one is easier said than done, even for yoga teachers. It’s always tempting to compare ourselves with our yoga mat neighbours. They might be more flexible, or not confuse their lefts with their rights (for some of us it’s a daily struggle) or not lose their balance at all. But it doesn’t matter, because in the end yoga is an individual practice. The person you wish you were as flexible as might have hyper mobile joints and struggle to maintain stability in poses, or might be pushing their bodies beyond their capabilities.

It’s important to listen to your body and to remember that each day is different. What you could do yesterday you might not do today, or you might be able to do more today. By approaching your practice with no expectations, you can really focus on how your body feels in each pose in that moment and adjust accordingly. Remember, this is your practice, your time and your body.

Most importantly of course is to remember to have fun. I always have a laugh at myself when I lose my balance in a pose and fall over. Then I try again.