Bringing the 8 Limbs of Yoga Into Everyday Life
Some people think of yoga as a strictly physical practice, and it’s certainly true that yoga can take a very physical form whether practices as relaxation or as an intense challenge to body and mind. Patanjali is believed to be a yoga teacher who lived around 400 CE. He wrote a book that translates to the Yoga Sutras and in it he wrote about Astanga yoga which means the 8 limbs of yoga. When reading the ancient text in modern English, it can be difficult to tell exactly how the 8 limbs can bring something practical to modern life. This article will go over each of the 8 limbs and offer some thoughts on how this could be practiced by anyone for purposes of relaxation, discipline and peacefulness. Translations do vary, so the terminology may be a little different depending on which translation you read, so consider these as general observations.
The 1st is Yama: Vows of Abstinence
We can practice abstinence in many different pragmatic ways that can be of benefit to us. For some it may be abstaining in the traditional way from physical forms of affection, but it does not have to be applied in this way. It could be an abstinence from sugary foods, caffeine or alcohol. These can all affect our bodies in different ways and a temporary or permanent abstinence is a good healthy practice even if done as a part of training the body and mind to alter normal habits.
The 2nd is Niyama: Observance
Applying observance is very simple. It is surprising how often we actually do not pay attention to what is right in front of us. Take time to observe what is around you. Use your senses. What do you feel, smell, taste, see, and hear? Don’t act on it, don’t try to change it, simply observe it. You may be very surprised at what this can do in daily practice.
The 3rd is Asana: Posture
Posture is yet another thing that most of us don’t think about consciously. We may not even realize that we are slouching, sitting too upright with our shoulders up high, or leaning back far in a way that puts our back muscles in a slack state. Whether we are standing or sitting too tightly or too loosely, it affects our bodies adversely. Our organs don’t function as they should, we feel tension and get headaches or strain. For some time each day, take note of your posture while walking or being still seated or standing. Correct your posture and notice how much better you feel. Right after doing this, move on the the 4th.
The 4th is Pranayama: Breath Control
After correctly posture it is a great time to try controlling our breath. First, exhale as much as you can and empty your lungs of the stale air. We often breathe in a shallow way that doesn’t completely fill or empty the lungs. Second, inhale deeply while again keeping our posture straight and upright. Hold the breath for a count of 5 and then exhale normally and relax. You will feel instantly refreshed.
The 5th is Pratyahara: Sense Withdrawal
This limb is a little more difficult to achieve but has extremely useful purposes in daily life. At first you can focus on just one sense. Clear you mind and focus on one sense while gently withdrawing attention from the others. Perhaps you will close your eyes and listen, but let go of your thoughts about textures, sights, smells and tastes. At another time you can focus very intently on withdrawing one sense. Allow yourself to experience everything except sound, for example, but try to tune out on the things that you hear. With a great deal of practice you can learn to quickly withdraw one or all of your senses. This can be very, very helpful when experience anxiety triggers. You can learn to withdraw from the trigger sensation until you move away or it moves away from you, and prevent stress hormones and adrenaline from flooding your body.
The 6th is Dharana: Concentration
You can practice this in a different way from sense withdrawal by instead putting your concentration very intensely on just one thing. Many people use something visible, such as a candle or a photo of a loved one. Some people prefer to watch a stick of incense burning. It doesn’t have to be a visible object either, you can close your eyes and concentrate on the sound of your own heartbeat. While you do this, you will learn how to better focus on a single purpose when you need to, and use other practices to let it go when that time comes.
The 7th is Dhyana: Meditation
The simplest way to begin with meditation is to use another form of breath control. If you haven’t tried it before, simply sit comfortably and count your breaths to 10. When you get to 10, start again. Even if you have done this before, you might be amazed at how difficult it actually can be. You will often find yourself losing your thoughts and not realizing when in the count you did so. You may instead keep counting and realize you are on 25 before you catch it. If you’ve mastered meditating on the breath or just want to try something else, you can meditate on a spiritual saying that you like, a quote from a book, or a chant or prayer.
The 8th is Samadhi: Absorption or Superconsciousness
The 8th is the most difficult to attain, but it is easy to practice it each day. After working on the other 7 limbs, you will find it even easier to work on the 8th. Some people work on this by trying to become deeply absorbed in the contemplation of an object, similar to a meditative practice but on a much deeper level. Many like to practice instead the clearing of the mind, which is another form of absorption. Allow the thoughts to flow by you without trying to stop them or go into detail thinking about one thing that passes through your mind. By doing any form of Samadhi repeatedly and for longer periods of time, you can eventually achieve the highest state of being. It is difficult to explain, but if you haven’t attempted it before, just try it!
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