Read on if you are interested in knowing the breadth and depth of what yoga has to offer through the practice of the eight limbs. I will also share with you how I stumbled upon the different limbs at different points in my life.
Each of us is motivated to explore yoga for different reasons or purposes. Each of the eight limbs of yoga offers its own path towards self improvement and towards self awareness and awareness of our surroundings and relationships.
These are the eight limbs. Practice the first six, and you will attain wholeness, completeness, fullness, and awareness. Introduce your children to yoga, and they will learn the lifetime skills to cultivate themselves into the persons they want to be. The first five limbs are included in my classes for adults and children. An understanding of Yoga through practice teaches one that ignorance is not bliss, but rather, full consciousness is bliss. Wahe Guru!
1. Yamas: Non-violence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Non-excessiveness, and Non-possessiveness. Said otherwise: deal with people and our planet in a compassionate and an ethical manner. For children, they should follow the school lunchroom cafeteria rules (do not throw food, do not take food from another’s plate, speak kind words while eating) at school, at home and everywhere.
2. Niyamas: Purity, Contentment, Self Discipline, Self Study, and Personal Observance. Said otherwise, take a shower, wash your dishes, appreciate what you have, self-start your work or other obligations, learn something new, and devote some of your time to self improvement. For children, the basic Niyama is to know that they should do the best that they can do. Not only is that good enough, but each child who does her or his best will fulfill all their obligations and attain self esteem.
3. Asanas: Exercises and body postures for health. Adults will become limber, physically strong, and boost their immune systems. Children will become coordinated, graceful, alert and self-confident. Many yoga exercises for children are found in brain gym and other therapies to enhance mental functioning and motor coordination.
4. Pranayama: Using breath and breathing to facilitate asanas and meditation, or to create physical warmth or coolness or calmness. Adults will learn to use breath to wake up or to take a nap. Children will learn how breath can be centering and calming.
5. Pratyahara: Meditation to still one’s thoughts or senses, or to create mental calmness. Adults and children alike who practice this will become inwardly aware and outwardly alert. Pranayama sets up the ability to practice this meditation.
6. Dharana: One pointed concentration meditation. Adults and adolescents who are practiced at Pratyahara meditation may also do this form of mediation to achieve a feeling of well being. I incorporate chanting or the silent repetition of a mantra to assist in achieving this form of meditation.
7. Dhyana: Deep meditation, or focusing on reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind without ego. Being able to observe in stillness without making a judgment, which is without ego.
8. Samadhi: Union with the divine, or experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.
Each of the eight limbs of yoga offer answers, remedies, solutions, elixirs or the like. For me, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was following the path of the times by exploring alternative life styles in my quest to find meaning. The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” of the late 1960s lead to their musical joint venture with an Indian musician, Ravi Shankar in the early 1970s. Meditation as a concept piqued my interest. The limbs of Pratyahara and Dharama offer the ability to get into meditation.
In 1973, I did not know that I was introduced to Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara and Dharama. I only knew that the Hatha Yoga class I took, with exercises and prescribed breathing techniques, followed by quiet relaxation, made me feel good physically and mentally. Thereafter, I used certain of the exercises and poses to self create relaxation after sitting for hours at my desk job, or when feeling stress. In 1996, after being infected with a staff infection in my lungs, such that one and a half of my lungs collapsed, continued to breathe for two days before diagnosis and medication while sitting on the edge of my hospital bed with my head resting in my arms on a meal tray holder, doing a breathing exercise I learned in 1973 in Hatha Yoga classes, very similar to the "breath of fire" I have learned in Kundalini Yoga.
In 2000, with the birth of my third daughter, I had a different reason to explore yoga. I wanted a physical fitness regimen at home instead of spending hours of time on the street training for and running marathons. The training and marathon running kept me fit and young in body. I remembered how my practice of yoga in the 1970s made me fit like a soldier. Using VHS and DVDs, I practiced the limb of the Asanas, and a little Pranayama, and my body maintained the same strength level I achieved from running 625 miles over 16 weeks to run that 26.2 mile marathon.
About 2005, I began a Kundalini Yoga class which added more Pranayama and added meditation to my practice.
In 2009, I studied the eight limbs, and after seeing how the first two limbs of the Yamas and Niyamas were incorporated into children's yoga, I decided to incorporate those limbs of yoga in my practice and to make those limbs of yoga known to the adults in the adult classes I teach.
I do not know why the eight limbs of yoga are called “limbs”. I see the first two limbs as the roots of the tree. The fourth limb, Pranayama may be used by itself, or to assist in deepening the practice of the Asanas or getting into the fifth and sixth mediation limbs of Pratyahara and Dharana. My practice of these “limbs” makes me think of a child’s puzzle board. Shapes to be fit into openings to create a picture of of a fire truck or a flower. You can explore any limb just as you can choose any puzzle piece to fit into its space. The more pieces you choose and fit together, the more you will see the big picture created from the pieces.
It is certainly okay to only take up the Asanas to become and stay physically fit forever. It is OK to only learn Pranayama to control or manage emotions, like anger, and always know how to keep your cool under the most tense and most irritating situations. You will know what you want to explore.