Mindful Living - The Eight Limbed Path

Photo: Jared Rice via Unsplash

Photo: Jared Rice via Unsplash

If you had asked me a few years ago what yoga was I would have said stretching. But, if you ask me today my answer, just like my practice, has evolved and I would tell you that it is a lifestyle. And seeing as how this blog kind of evolved in the same way, I feel like this post is long overdue. 

Yoga is a philosophy of which the poses, or asanas, are only a small part. 

To truly practice yoga we must integrate all of the yogic principles into our daily lives; our thoughts, actions, and words, and continue to practice this mindfullness even when we step off our mats. 

The Eight Limbs of Yoga - Short and Sweet of it…

Yoga in Sanskrit means union. When we practice yoga we connect body, mind, and soul which will eventually lead us to absorption; a deep connection with the divine. The eight limbed path is presented in the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali , a sacred text containing the foundations of yoga philosophy. Keep in mind that there are a lot of interpretations of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The descriptions that I share here are what each one means to me and my practice. Find what resonates with you; what is your truth, your practice, your mindful.

1. Yamas

The yamas are a code of ethics that guide our interactions with others.

  • Ahimsa - non-violence
    Ahimsa goes beyond physical harm, but includes practicing non-violence in our words, thoughts, and actions towards all living beings, including ourselves. Even though the yamas refers to our interactions with others, self love and being mindful in how we think and treat ourselves is paramount. 

  • Satya - truth
    Be impeccable with your word. Speak your truth or say nothing at all.  Our thoughts and words are powerful, what we think we become. 

  • Asteya - non-stealing
    Beyond material items, withholding information and misusing others time is also a form of stealing. 

  • Brahmacharya - innocence, abstinence, fidelity
    I have seen many interpretations of Brahmacharya. The one that has resonated with me the most is to be mindful of how and with whom you share your energy and strive to maintain a sense of youthful innocence. 

  • Aparigraha - non-coveting
    There is no need to want what others have.  You are everything that you will ever need in this lifetime. 

 2. Niyamas

Niyamas are our moral observances. These are how we interact with ourself. 

  • Saucha - cleanliness 
    This goes beyond taking a shower. It envelops all forms of self care and spiritual healing. And as an advocate for a cleaner planet, to me this one also includes living sustainably and leaving the planet better than you found it. 

  • Santosha - contentment
    To quote the ever inspiring Bob Marley “every little thing is gonna be alright” and I use this reference because santosha doesn’t mean that you have to be happy and bubbly all the time. But its about staying positive in trying times and finding happiness in the little things. Its living the life that you want, not the one that one that someone else (or society) has planned for you. And being unapologetically your best self. 

  • Tapas - discipline
    Tapas is about living with purpose. Its about making things happen, following your dreams, and having the discipline to stay true to yourself and your practice no matter the circumstances. 

  • Svadhyaya - self study
    Svadhyaya is about doing the research, taking the time to fully understand the yogic philosophies and what they mean to you and your practice, and learning from your mistakes so that you can connect with your true Self and be the best possible version of yourself. We cannot serve others if we do not have the knowledge to serve ourselves. 

  • Ishvarapranidhana - surrendering yourself to God
    I wasn’t going to use ‘God’ because it is such a loaded word, and before I started to integrate these principles into my life I absolutely wouldn’t have. But this isn’t about religion, its about having faith; surrendering to something bigger than yourself. There is energy flowing through every single thing in this universe and it connects us all. I don’t know what exactly I “believe in” but I have faith… in myself, in others, in something bigger than me that I can only hope to understand one day.  

3. Asana

These are the physical postures and the most popular limb of ashtanga yoga. We practice these poses to prepare the body and mind to sit for mediation. Additionally, they give us strength and flexibility so that we are able to serve others. 

4. Pranayama

Prana in Sanskrit is the “life force”; it is our breath.  Pranayama is the practice of controlling of our breath and tapping into the life force.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing from external stimuli and focusing your attention within. As you remove yourself from external distractions you are able to turn inward, quiet the mind, and connect with the true Self. 

6. Dharana

Dharana is the practice of intense concentration; turning your entire awareness to a single object. This practice works to quiet the mind and increase focus. 

7. Dhyana 

Mediation. This is when the subject and the object become one. It is the practice of existing completely in the present moment. Meditation is not about learning to control your thoughts, but about acknowledging thoughts and letting them pass without judgment or attachment. 

8. Samadhi 

Absorption into the divine. A state of pure bliss, enlightenment, and connection with all things in the universe.

It is a challenge to live completely by these principles, but that is why it is called a practice. We are always learning, always evolving, and always bettering ourselves.  These practices not only allow us to see our true Self, but they allow us to better serve others and take care of our planet.  

The next time you step off your mat, ask yourself what your practice means to you.