Ann has been a yoga student at Peace Yoga for about seven years. She is a busy mom of three, and she also works outside of the home. Ann emailed me recently to tell me that although she wasn’t able to make it to my live classes as often as she’d like, she was doing a lot of yoga “off the mat.” Ann explained that she would try to take a few slow, deep breaths before each meal and at every red light on her way to and from work. Each morning, before getting out of bed, she would mentally list things she was grateful for in her life right now. And, she was working to implement the yogic concept of ahimsa, non-harming, by practicing kindness, compassion, and patience with herself and her children.
I was thrilled to read that Ann was using several of the 8 limbs of yoga in her daily practice, even if she wasn’t unrolling her yoga mat!
Yoga is More Than the Poses
Many of us were introduced to yoga by taking a class. We may have learned how to position our bodies into various shapes while trying to breathe. Perhaps you couldn’t wait to get to the final resting pose, savasana, or maybe you dreaded that quiet time without movement. Regardless, it was probably the poses (asana) that most of us learned first.
But did you know that yoga is more than just the poses? There are actually 8 limbs of yoga, and I imagine you’ve learned several of the limbs without even realizing it!
Have you ever been in a class where the teacher taught you how to do a three part yogic breath or alternate nostril breathing? Mindful breathing (pranayama) is one of the limbs of yoga.
You may have taken a yoga class that focused on practicing moderation, (brahmacharya), one of the yamas. Maybe you chose to rest in child’s pose instead of taking another push-up as a way to explore balancing effort and ease. Perhaps the teacher suggested applying the principle of brahmacharya off the yoga mat by noticing how you moderate food choices, purchases, and work.
How about that time in the beginning and end of the class when you sit quietly and observe your breath, physical sensations in the body, and your thoughts? That’s another aspect of yoga philosophy, pratyahara, which means turning inward to observe without judgment.
Eight limbs of yoga
The 8 limbs of yoga are:
- Yamas ~ there are 5 principles for living in harmony with others
- Niyamas ~ these are 5 guidelines for living peacefully within ourselves
- Asana ~ yoga poses
- Pranayama ~ mindful breathing techniques
- Pratyahara ~ turning inward, noticing how your body is feeling, whether or not your thoughts are helpful, the quality of your breathing.
- Dharana ~ concentration
- Dhyana ~ meditation
- Samadhi ~ enlightenment
Although they are listed in sequential order, all of the limbs work together to create the science of yoga. I like to think of the 8 components as the spokes on a bicycle wheel…each one is necessary in order to maintain the framework of the tire, or, in this case, a yogic lifestyle.
You could spend months, years, or a lifetime, studying the 8 limbs of yoga. But, the goal of this article is to simply give you an overview. As a dedicated student of yoga, I think it’s important to have a broad understanding of yogic principles, and to know that you don’t have to unroll your yoga mat, flow through sun salutations, or stand on one leg in tree pose to be practicing yoga.
If you want to take a deeper dive into the 8 limbs of yoga, there are two books I’d recommend.
One of my favorite books is by yoga teacher Rolf Gates. Meditations from the Mat, is a fantastic way to learn about each limb in relatable daily reflections. The short readings in this book are easy to digest and can help you understand yoga philosophies through “real life” applications. I discovered this book in 2006 during my 200 hour teacher training, and I often reach for it when I plan classes that focus on specific yoga philosophies.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Sri Swami Satchidananda, serves as a philosophical guidebook and outlines the 8 limbs of yoga. This is required reading for most yoga teacher trainings.
Want to learn more?
Several of the 8 limbs are incorporated into the yoga classes that I teach. Each class is composed of yoga poses (asana), mindful breathing techniques (pranayama), an opportunity to look within (pratyahara), and time to simply be still and observe without judgment in meditation (dhyana). There are also themed classes that focus on each of the yamas and niyamas. Check out the calendar of my live virtual classes.
Get a FREE 7-day trial of the Peace Yoga at Home Unlimited Membership here. You can access all live classes as well as the on-demand library of pre-recorded classes.