I started teaching yoga at my studio one year ago, and in that time people have asked how my studio is different from others. My response is that I take the whole person into consideration. The environment is very comforting, with calming light, an almost warm temperature, and colors that are calming..When you come through our doors, your nervous system is greeted by a space where it doesn’t have to respond with continuous protection and can instead rest.
When I was very close to getting the studio up and running a very close friend and supporter of my dream asked “what if people just want to do yoga and not do all the extra yoga stuff?” She was referring to the other limbs of yoga that I insisted on incorporating. There are eight limbs to yoga and the physical practice, asana, is what we here in the west call yoga. It recently occurred to me that she might not know what the other stuff was and probably thought I was going to push people into a cult-like situation. (Ha!) The truth is that yoga is wellness at its very core.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Let me explain the eight limbs as I see them.
YAMAS can be looked at like our personal conversation with the people in our world and how we treat them. This is huge for wellness! How to treat people and build community to ensure we are all healthy and happy and most importantly CONTRIBUTING to overall happiness. Great example: coming to your yoga mat and doing your practice with others and supporting their practice just by being there.
NIYAMAS are your personal conversations with yourself. Your self-talk and the act of getting on your mat to deal with the negative stuff, and allowing the positive stuff to push you through your practice, is yoga. Getting onto the mat regularly helps you get out of your head.
PRANAYAMA is breathwork, and if you have been keeping up with the latest on the wellness front, whether in fitness or nervous system regulation, you know how important breathwork can be. Just breathing deeply into the belly and allowing it to stretch the receptors there can prompt your nervous system to be calm. I will come back to this so don’t forget.
ASANA is the physical practice, or what we know of as yoga postures. This is critical for strength, flexibility, longevity, lymph drainage, and so much more! I could write a whole piece on why the physical practice of yoga is important, but I will save that for another day.
PRATYAHARA is the withdrawal of one’s senses. I think of this as an elimination diet to see how you are reacting to stimuli outside our bodies. When we lose touch with our ability to go without, we become intolerant to many things and hyper-aware of things we want to control.
DHARANA is the ability to focus on one thing. What are you doing right now while you read this? How many tabs are open on your computer, how much is on your to do list? Modern-day life makes it easy to lose focus on the moment. Deep contemplation is the practice, and it can be supported by the other limbs to drive a singular focus.
DHYANA is meditation on the universe and connecting to what you believe to be the reason you are here, and finding the peace that this brings. I like to think of this as perspective. This is all temporary. So it’s important to take time to meditate and see the beauty and chaos that is this life.
SAMADHI represents non-judgment or lack of attachment to this place, or the ability to be here in this present moment with your total consciousness. Now this is a hard one, but what a great thing to strive for.
I believe most of us are too stressed in some areas, and are not pushing the stress envelope in others. With a continuous yoga practice you practice becoming tolerant and resilient, and you bring into focus that life is precious and should be lived fully.
Yoga is all-encompassing when you see the overall picture and when you look at wellness for your mind, body, and soul.