Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga)
1. Yama: Restraints - Five external disciplines
2. Niyama: Actions - Five internal disciplines
Yamas and Niyamas furnish the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
YamasAhimsa (non-violence) Violence usually arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance, or uneasiness. One of the most powerful aspects of ahimsa is the cultivation of gentle thoughts toward oneself and others - love. Metta meditation, which focuses on loving kindness, is one technique we can use to practice ahimsa.
Satya (non-lying) The practice of satya begins with being honest with oneself - self-awareness. During asana practice, emotions may come up. We can greet them with breath and relax, feel and watch what happens, and then allow them to be. Awareness, acceptance, and non-judgment about thoughts and emotions facilitates release, and helps to develop healthy boundaries.
Asteya (non-stealing) Stealing can show up as forcing a pose at the expense of alignment, breath, or mental peace. Refraining from feelings of jealousy or competitiveness are also ways to practice asteya.
Brahmacharya (moderation in the senses) Frequently interpreted to mean celibacy or chasteness, this yama can also be viewed as trading momentary pleasure for lasting joy by quieting the environment and nurturing a connection with the Divine. For example, instead of watching a TV show, spend time working on a creative project. Limit email time and take a walk instead. Allowing time for meditation is critical, and we can spend a few minutes in the sounds of nature or in silence.
Aparigraha (non-attachment) Non-attachment to thoughts and feelings is an important spiritual practice, and healing is facilitated by a releasing of emotions, including resentments and negative beliefs. Reducing clutter in your physical world and busy schedules helps to reduce mental clutter, increase peacefulness, and reduce stress. Know that you have enough. Simplify!
NiyamasSaucha (purity) Asana practice removes toxins produced by overindulgence. Pranayama cleanses the lungs, brings oxygen to the blood, and purifies the nerves. Another way to practice saucha is through the diet. While everyone has different dietary needs, most of us could benefit from eliminating certain unhealthy and processed foods. Purifying the mind is extremely valuable as well— keep external stimuli to a minimum, and practice meditation to create a break from the constant stream of thoughts.
Santosha (contentment) In order to cultivate contentment we must practice it—it is a skill which can be developed. Focusing on what is positive and where we find gratitude fosters a state of contentment. Stay in the present moment. Stop throughout the day for gratitude breaks.
Tapas (self-discipline) Tapas is the intensity which is created through focus. During asana practice, focusing on the breath and the integrity of alignment in poses helps to build tapas. Outside of class, practice tapas by developing daily routines and positive habits. Tapas may relate to body, speech or mental attitude.
Svadhyaya (self-study) Svadhyaya encourages knowledge of the self and study of inspirational works. Reconnect by coming into the present moment, especially through breathing techniques and mediation. Noticing the effects of various postures and any feelings that arise during Yoga practice is practicing svadhyaya on the mat. Off the mat, prayer, meditation, journaling, and reading spiritually uplifting materials can all be expressions of svadhyaya.
Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to the Divine). Many of us need to release our need to micromanage the universe and fix others. We can release into the stream of well-being that surrounds us as we meditate - “Breathing in, I am calm, breathing out, I let go.” As we stop over-functioning for others, we can better care for ourselves and allow more well-being into our experience.
3. Asana: Seat for meditation, postures
4. Pranayama: Breath regulation – prana means breath, life, vitality, wind, energy or strength; ayama means length, expansion, stretching or restraint.
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses, looking within
6. Dharana: Concentration
7. Dhyana: Meditation
8. Samadhi: Self-realization, oneness
Sources include but are not limited to the IAYT web site, BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, and Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga.