You could be excused for thinking that Yoga is a series of backbreaking stretches exclusively for athletes and fitness enthusiasts with superhuman levels of flexibility. Particularly when images of individuals with their legs behind their heads or holding their full bodyweight on their fingertips are commonplace amongst celebrities and fitness influencers.
However, the reality is the physical Asana practice of Yoga is just one part of the overall philosophy. In addition, the physical practice can easily be tailored to meet the ability level of the participant so it doesn’t matter if you are just starting out or have been practicing for years, Yoga practice is unique to the individual and will be an entirely personal experience.
At musclemary we love Yoga, every single limb of it and believe it has huge benefits for both mental and physical wellbeing. So much so that we want to emphasise that Yoga is not just for the few, but for the many and we encourage people to give it a go.
Through understanding the overall philosophy of classical Yoga, we propose that individuals will gain a greater appreciation for what Yoga truly is. To do so we want to define what yoga is, introduce the Yoga Sutras and shed light on the eight limbs of classical Yoga.
What is Yoga
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which literally means to merge, join or unite. It represents the union of the body, the rhythm of the mind and the ability to look at all aspects of life evenly. It is not a religion but a philosophy and way of life for those who practice.
The Yoga Sutras
Although it is estimated that Yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years it was around 2,000 years ago that the great sage Patanjali began to systemise the practice and produce detailed records that others could follow.
Prantanjali is the author of the Yoga Sutras, which contain 196 sutras, or rules contained within four chapters. The main aim is to still the mind and remove all ego, in order to become at ease with oneself and live peacefully.
Within the Sutras, eight limbs are proposed which serve as a path to live a purposeful and meaningful life and form the basis for classical Yoga. Collectively the limbs touch all areas of life with each of the limbs are equal, as no single limb is more or less important than another.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Yama, is the conduct towards others or social discipline. It can be described as the ethical and moral commandments of how we interact and treat others. If one follows the ethical disciplines of yama, we are helping to create good relationships and social harmony, regardless of time, status, or other circumstances. There are five disciplines within Yama:
- Non-violence. Within this discipline it is alleged that violence arises from a lack of love and is associated with fear, selfishness, a lack of confidence and anger. While non-violence is having respect for others and love of all creation. This can be extended to aggression within the physical Asana practice and not pushing too forcefully into the poses.
- Truthfulness. This relates to speaking the truth in a positive manner and not engaging in abuse, ridicule, obscenity, lies and gossip.
- Not stealing. This discipline proposes accepting only what you need and not craving wealth, power or fame. Letting go of status and if wealth is acquired using it for the benefit of others.
- Avoiding sexual indulgence. The goal of avoiding sexual indulgence is to enable individuals to become more loyal and faithful and not allow sexual desires to control life.
- Not indulging in greed. This relates to hoarding and collecting for the sake of it. It is believed that greed is a disease that is associated with the ego.
Niyama is the conduct towards oneself and includes both physical and mental discipline. As with Yama, there are five disciplines of personal conduct. These are:
- Cleanliness. It is proposed that cleanliness has an inner and outer layer. The outer layer being cleaned with good personal hygiene and the inner layer by good nutrition and diet. When the inner and outer layers are cleansed the mind is also.
- Contentment is essential for wellbeing to be realised. This asks the individual to review what they feel they truly need to be content and peaceful and not encourage greed, envy and jealously to be subdued.
- Self-study means to live in a conscious state and become aware of your mind and your emotions. This study facilitates a greater understanding of the true self.
- Dedication to the one who inspires. To become one with a greater universal power and acting without any sense or desire of return. Giving and loving for the sake of humanity.
- Austerity and the act of practicing purity in thought, speech and action. Through removing desires, it becomes possible to act without selfish motive or the hope of reward. It is also the removal of negativity, replacing with positivity.
Asana, the practice of physical postures and movements between postures. It is the process of exercising the mind and the body together in a single integrated system. Correctly performed asanas are said to bring lightness to the body, resistance against disease, improved self-awareness which ultimately leads to a calm and centred mind.
Pranayama, the control of the breath for mental discipline. Pranayama practice involves lengthening the inhalation, exhalation of the breath and using breath retention techniques to help awaken energy. It can be used as a preparatory technique for meditation or used as a tool for relaxation, concentration and awareness.
Each of the Asana postures should be performed with a clear awareness of the correct breathing pattern.
Pratyahara, withdrawal or discipline of the senses. This is concerned with balancing outwards consciousness with inwards consciousness. Ultimately working to control the constant mind chatter to bring about contentment by letting go of any limiting beliefs or attachments.
Dharana, concentration. Dharana is the study of concentration and channelling of all the senses inwardly. The goal is to restrain the mind and prevent it from wandering so students can progress to the next stage of meditation. The mind ultimately moves in a number of directions with the influence of each of the five senses so the goal of the dharana is to limit this distraction.
Meditation. This is a deep meditative state that is realised when one is able to sustain and maintain their attention in a manner that is not bound by time or space. The goal is to develop self-knowledge and realisation and liberate and release the mind from delusion. It also represents health, physical lightness, steadiness and freedom from attachments.
Self-realisation. Samadhi is the ultimate goal of yoga and can only be realised when all of the preceding seven limbs have been attained. Channelling the mind's intelligence into a field of pure self-awareness, where complete attention is given to the inner self. This bliss is experienced in the heart and allows you to detach from the material world.
As we have detailed each of the limbs of Yoga we hope that it is appreciated that Yoga is unique to the individual and a personal journey. Yoga is not simply striking stunning poses for a perfect Instagram. We encourage you to try it and see if you can feel the same benefits from the practice that we do.