The 8 limbs of Yoga - An Introduction




Why did you begin yoga?

To get fit?

A friend told you something about it? 

To lose weight? 

To feel better?

When you first become a yoga student and you get onto your yoga mat, if you stay some time in the studio, if you develop a regular practice, you start to play close attention to the movements of the body, you very quickly start to discover there is more to yoga than meets the eye.

There is an understanding that yoga is a philosophy or a way of life.  It was designed by very wise people 1000's of years ago in a highly sophisticated indian culture who were interested in the refinement and evolution of the human potential.

The ancient rishi's or wisemen, (very few women as far as we know) were concerned that that the path to enlightenment, the path to find a state of peace with the world was hampered in many ways.

They set about developing a set of guidelines, a way of life, which we have as the 8 limbs or angas of yoga passed down to us today.

The 8 limbs start with two sets of rules. The Yamas (retraints or Don'ts) and the Niyamas (observances or Do's).   These are guidelines the morals and ethics of yoga.    Limbs 1 and 2.  Not unlike the biblical 10 commandments, or the 5 pillars of Islam, or Buddha's 4 noble truths, these guidelines are there to help you navigate temptation, and weaknesses that all of us humans can be sometimes drawn to.

So although you may have got onto the yoga mat for one reason, often that reason is a macguffin. 

A macguffin is a plot device, it's a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock to point to a twist in the story that moves the story along, motivates the characters to do something.  Then it becomes irrelevant for the rest of the movie.

So your Yoga macguffin maybe weight loss, a sore knee or back, effects of aging, a wanting to get fit.  It maybe your friend wanting to do something together.  Whatever got you into yoga in the first place.  Then as you deepen into, and develop your own yoga practice you discover something else keeps you coming back.  Something intangible, something is speaking to another part of you and it feels good.

Yoga is a full system of holistic health and well-being, it is a spiritual practice, it speaks to your soul and it gives you a moral and ethical compass by which to live.

If you take time to study the Yamas and Niyamas and all of the  8 limbs of yoga, you can discover the deep wisdom of the ancient yoga teachers who developed codefied the yoga system so long ago.  You are tapping into a deep vein of knowledge that has been around for millenia.

Many westerners only practice the 3rd limb of yoga - the asanas or postures.  This is how yoga gets seen as a fitness exercise activity only.  A good teacher will incorporates the other limbs of yoga into the class.  And they will point you to the whole system. 

The same way someone can point you in the direction of Paris.  But you have to go there yourself.  You have to buy your tickets, get on the plane, arrive and look around.  You have to go to the restaurant and order your cafe creme.

You could talk and talk about Paris.  But until you make the effort to go there yourself you will never know it.

 And with yoga, your teacher can tell you all about it, can lead your through one part of it.  But until you experience the power, the wisdom and the whole system for yourself through your own practice on your mat, through your own study and dicipline, you will not know yoga for yourself.

Welcome to the 8 limbs of yoga.  

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