Introspective Yoga: Introduction to the Eight Limbs

I hope you have a happy new year. If you follow me on Instagram, you may know from my stories that I struggled with 2017. I was either unhappy or out of touch with myself for most if it.

I was in Seattle as the new year rang in. Under the moon light of the full moon in Cancer, I was walking from the Space Needle to downtown. I felt like I wanted to walk forever. I wished I could just keep moving and wandering. I felt unsettled.

So I began to ask myself why... Why are you so unsettled? Why does it feel so tough for you right now?

The truth was... I wasn't living purposefully. I had forgotten my why in life while I tried to get through the day. And that's why it felt so unbearable to get through the year. I wasn't being intentional in my daily choices. I was beginning to feel like things happened to me, and I was just trying my best to juggle them and get through it all.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

As I begin the new year, I want to think hard about my whys in life:

Why do I practice yoga and meditation? Why do I care to teach it? Why do I care so much about how it's taught? Why do I want yoga and meditation to be a part of my life?

During this introspective time, I will be sharing with my readers each of the yamas and niyamas - concepts on yoga ethics. It'll be topic of the week for the next 10 weeks. The yamas and niyamas are a great way to reflect on your own ways of thinking and behavior. This week, I will start with an overview of the eight limbs of yoga.

The eight limbs of yoga are described in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, a text from around 400 CE. The eight limbs are a pathway toward liberation. Although the limbs can be interpreted as steps you need to take in order, they can be combined or you can practice them in an order that makes sense to you.

What the Sutras Said

Sutra 2.28: yoganganusthanad ashuddhi-ksaye jnana-diptir aviveka-khyateh

"By practicing the (eight) limbs of yoga - upon the diminishing of impurities, there is a light of knowing, up to (leading to) viveka-khyati-the identification of viveka." (The Yoga Sutras Workbook by Vyaas Houston MA)

Let's talk about viveka for moment, in my yoga sutra workbook it is defined as "distinction between drastr and drysa." This refers to the distinction of being the Seer vs. the Seen, here's a text that dives into that. Simply put, viveka is when you're able to discern between the self and non-self, the real and unreal - it's being able to see clearly. 

The sutra suggests that by practicing the eight limbs of yoga, we can remove the things that cloud our vision and have the truth be revealed to us. We can look toward the light, the wisdom of viveka. 

Consider Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Prisoners trapped in the cave think that shadows on the wall are all there is to know, but the truth is there is a whole other world outside. When one of them breaks free, they are able to see the sun and know the difference between the cave and the real world... The eight limbs is a practice to go outside the cave. 

#ThrowbackThursday Check out my top 3 blog posts from last year... 1. Self-Care Tips for Those Taking A Stand 2. How to Keep Your Heart Open After Heartbreak 3. A Meditation For Finding Your Truth

How to Practice Living Outside the Cave 

Yama: ethical restraints, or what I like to call the "don'ts"

  • ahimsa: don't harm
  • satya: don't lie
  • asteya: don't steal
  • brahmacharya: don't overindulge
  • aparig raha: don't be greedy

Niyama: ethical observances, or what I like to call the "dos"

  • saucha: be clean
  • santosha: be content
  • tapas: be committed
  • svadyaya: be self-aware
  • ishvara pranidhana: be in the flow with the Universe/God

Asana: posture

Pranayama: controlled breathing techniques

Pratyahara: sense withdrawal

Dharana: concentration

Dhyana: meditation

Samadhi: spiritual enlightenment, sense of one-ness

We are exposed to asana the most because it's the most visible part of the eight limbs and it's easier to sell. But asana is there to remind us to prepare the body for meditation. The sutras suggests we get into a posture with steadiness and ease so we can do pranayama and so on.

What do you think? Are you ready to learn how to live outside the cave? :) Tell me in the comments below.