Did you know that the physical part of yoga is only 1/8 of the whole practice? Yep. True story. As the popularity of yoga grows it’s easy to forget that there’s more to it than snazzy leggings and pretzel-like Instagram posts.
Despite being a small piece of a much bigger puzzle, the postures (asanas) are something we tend to focus on the most. It’s the most tangible element of yoga and the easiest one to ‘see’, whether that’s getting sweaty in the studio, practicing at home, or even doing a few sneaky stretches while at work.
But what about those seven other aspects? Good question! Here’s a little insight into the bigger picture according to a man named Patanjali…
Way-back-when (nobody knows exactly when) there was an Indian Sage called Patanjali. He’s widely considered one of the most important people in yoga, mainly because he’s believed to have written the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras are a foundational part of yogic philosophy and are made up of 196 short verses that are essentially words of wisdom on how to live a happy and healthy life through yoga.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there are eight limbs of yoga:
1) YAMA (five moral ways/golden rules to live your life by. Think of them as yogic ethics)
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (being truthful)
- Asteya (not stealing)
- Brahmacharya (nothing in excess)
- Aparigraha (not being greedy)
2) NIYAMA (five things we should do to improve ourselves)
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (discipline)
- Svadhyaya (self-study/self-improvement)
- Isvara Pranidhana (devotion)
3) ASANA (the physical practice of yoga)
4) PRANAYAMA (breath control and techniques)
5) PRATYAHARA (withdrawal of the senses, so you focus on what’s inside rather than outside)
6) DHARANA (concentration)
7) DHYANA (meditation)
8) SAMADHI (a state of bliss/the ultimate end goal)
It might sound complicated, but the good news is that you’re probably doing most of these without even realising, although, bringing more awareness to your actions is always encouraged. A lot of these points are self explanatory, but to make this easier to digest and understand, here’s how I adopt a few of these principals into my own life…
Ahimsa (non-violence): I hope it goes without saying that I don’t make a habit of beating people up (and at 4’11 I doubt I’d do much damage). Physical violence is easy for me to avoid, but emotional violence is more difficult. I’m not saying my thoughts resemble a horror film (far from it), but sometimes I’m very hard on myself and I need to remember to be more accepting when things aren’t perfect. Other good examples of Ahimsa are being vegan and being kind to the planet. It goes beyond being nice to humans.
Aparigraha (not being greedy): Easier said than done when it comes to chocolate, although in most aspects of my life I like to think I’m good at ‘non-greed’. Aparigraha also means not wanting unnecessary things, or being jealous of what other people have. You’re also not supposed to get attached to things but I’m bad at this! I actually enjoy attaching meaning to things and some things are really special to me; I’d be gutted if I suddenly lost them.
Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana: I’m the first to admit that my meditation practice is ‘iffy’ at best. Sitting still and being quiet aren’t my strongest skills, but the good news is that meditation is more than sitting cross legged and trying to empty your mind. For me, these three limbs are very connected; first you become less distracted, then you can focus, then you meditate. I prefer moving meditations like going for a walk or repeating a really simple sequence of movements. I also find it much easier to count, or say a phrase (mantra) over and over. Mala beads are good for this kind of meditation especially when your mind is prone to wandering. It’s impossible to simply switch-off your brain so I always encourage my students not to think of it this way as it only leads to frustration. Just be more aware of your thoughts and feelings. That’s often enough.
So there you have it, seven new ways to practice yoga when you’re not in Lycra. Although if you want to keep the leggings on no-one will blame you, they’re pretty comfy!