The third instalment of our eight-part series on Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga.
The eight limbs of yoga
Almost 2,000 years ago an Indian sage, Patanjali, created the Yoga Sutras, a collection of ancient yogic texts. One of the main teachings is the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga) which can be described as the foundation of yoga and is commonly practised today by yogis all around the world. The Eight Limbs comprises of eight steps that lead us to enlightenment. If practised regularly they can help us to live a happy and meaningful life.
Patanjali’s Eight limbs are:
1. The Yamas (restraints)
2. The Niyamas (self-disciplines)
3. Asana (yoga poses)
4. Pranayama (breathing techniques)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (absorption)
When most people think of yoga it is the physical poses that come to mind. However, asana is only one limb in Patanjali’s eight limb path to enlightenment. Originally it was the physically of asana that drew me to my first yoga class many years ago. In fact, the very first class I attended was a Bikram Yoga class which was extremely intense and took me a few hours of laying on the couch drinking electrolytes to recover from. I persisted for a few weeks (as I had heard so much about the benefits of this new hot yoga craze) and after feeling dehydrated and experiencing headaches I came to the realisation that sweating in a stinky, humid, 39° room for 90 minutes was not for me. I later found a great yoga studio that held hot yoga classes (power was my favourite), but they also had a variety of other classes that were less intense and more restorative. Later, I discovered the joys of Yin Yoga and how complementary it is to a Yang (stronger) practice, along with its many other benefits.
Hatha literally means sun, ha, and moon, tha. The sun represents masculine qualities such as strength and persistence whilst the moon represents feminine qualities, such as softening and nurturing. In our asana practice, as in life, we aim to have a balance of both. There are so many different styles of yoga ranging from restorative to power vinyasa style classes. Neither is better than the other, it really depends on the needs of the yogi at the time.
A common phrase I hear when talking to students, particularly beginners, is that “I am not flexible enough” or “I am not strong enough”. The main goal of asana class is not to achieve those postures that we see on Instagram that may require super flexibility or strength. The purpose of asana, is to prepare the body for meditation. When we focus on the process rather than th