The Philosophy:

In Ashtanga yoga, we follow the 8 limbs (or principles). During our practice, we focus on incorporating these principles both on and off the mat. The strength and endurance we gain from our asanas teaches us spiritual strength and endurance. A person doesn’t have to agree with or follow the 8 limbs of Ashtanga to do yoga, but I’m in favor of anything that promotes being a better, more thoughtful person. Whether you agree with all or part of these principles, I hope that like myself, you also strive to live a more thoughtful life in pursuit of a higher calling, whatever that may be. We are all flawed people, living with other flawed people, and we can neither expect perfection from ourselves or others.

The 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

Yoga can take you as deep as you want to go. I know people who practice purely for the sake of exercise, and I also know people who are deeply devoted to its spiritual meanings. I like to find a balance between the two, because you can’t live a full life without a full spiritual life and you can’t live merely with your head the the heavens so to speak. In Ashtanga yoga, we follow the 8 limbs (or principles), so as we try to incorporate these concepts both on the mat and off. I’m in favor of anything that promotes being a better, more thoughtful person. Whether you agree with all or part of these principles, I hope that like myself, you also strive to live a more thoughtful life in pursuit of a higher calling, whatever that may be. We are all flawed people, living with other flawed people, and we can neither expect perfection from ourselves or others. We can however, pursue inner sanctification and purification. We can live a life of compassion. We can maintain principles that allow us to live a beautiful, kinder life. The yoga philosophy is not unique; almost every religion ranging from Buddhism to Christianity adhere to these concepts. Yoga merely helps us sharpen our focus and strengthen our ability to follow these guidelines for a more enriching experience. Yoga feeds the soul as we work the body.

1 Yama – Virtues

The first limb, yama, deals with one’s discipline integrity in behavior, the ethics of cleaning up one’s act. These universal practices relate to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others” but are also easily summarized as “Cleaning House”. Yama is social behavior, how you treat others and the world around you. These are moral principles. Sometimes they are called the don’ts or the thou-shalt-nots. There are five yamas:

Non-violence: Ahimsa

kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things.
It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too.

• Speak from your heart.
• Express gratitude and your appreciation for the normal.
• Harm no insect, no moving, living thing. If you must, bless it first.
• Reduce apathy.
• Kind use of words; never, always, I hate that, whatever.

Truth and Honesty: Satya
• Honesty as speaking up
• Truth as being forthright, not just not telling lies.
• Don’t say anything if you can’t say something good

Non-Stealing: Asteya
• Be considerate.
• Speak wisely. Take up less time to say the same thing.
• Don’t steal intangibles like (time) the center of attention or your child’s chance
to learn responsibility or independence by doing something on his own.
• Don’t steal objects, like paper clips, pens, towels.
• Be on time.

Non-lust: Brahmacharya

Avoids meaningless sexual encounters
But, as B.K.S. Iyengar says, “sees divinity in all.” Use sexual energy to regenerate connection to spiritual self.

Non-possessiveness: Aparigraha. Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth

• Take only what you need. No second helpings.
• Take only what you have earned.
• Let go of hoarding & collecting – come to know the providence of God.
• Release attachments – change is the only constant.

2 Niyama – Personal Observances, “Re-decorate Your Home”

Yama sets the stage for Niyama, for doing right. Cleansing sets the stage for right activities and energies to take root. Niyama is concerned with discipline and spiritual observances – how we treat ourselves, or begin to cultivate the inner being. These are sometimes called observances, the do’s, or the thou -shalts. There are five niyamas:

Purity: Sauca

All of the 8 elements !
• Clean and fresh … self, clothing, and surroundings.
• Less pizza, coffee, sugar. More greens.

Contentment: Santosa

• Appreciate what you have.
• Appreciate who you are.
• Appreciate the small things every day.
• Seek happiness in the moment, take responsibility for where you are, and choose to grow from there.
• Live graciously.

Austerity: Tapas heat
Show Disciplined use of energy, in body, speech, and mind.

Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns – these are all tapas.

Study of the sacred text and one’s self: Svadhyaya

Read Sacred texts that are relevant to you and inspire and teach you.

As Iyengar says, a person starts “to realize that all creation is meant for bhakti (adoration) rather than for bhoga (enjoyment), that all creation is divine, that there is divinity within himself and that the energy which moves him is the same that moves the entire universe.”

Live with and awareness of the Divine: Isvara pranidhana

Surrender to God, to an omnipresent force that guides and directs the course of our lives.

• Regularly attend temple or church
• Say grace before meals
• Maintain a personal meditation or reflection practice
• Enjoy the habit of taking contemplative walks alone

3 Asana – staying/abiding in the inner being. 

Niyama sets the stage for Asanas, for resting in the body. Asanas, are postures which discipline the body in order to develop the ability to concentrate, the pre-requisite for meditation. The poses offers the practitioner the challenge and opportunity to explore and take charge of all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and the sense of unity between the physical and the ethereal body.

Yoga practice reattaches us to the body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we connect with the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of the body. As B.K.S. Iyengar states: “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he know that He is within.” Move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience.

Although the asanas are regarded today as a kind of Hindu calisthenics designed to promote health, it is clear from Patanjali’s comments that the product on health was not the primary reason the ancient yogis developed these postures. As he notes in the Yoga Sutras, the main purpose is to bring about a condition of imperviousness to “assault from the pairs of opposites” by lessening input from the external senses.

• Ground your feet.
• Open your pelvis.
• Engage your spin

4. Pranayama

The raja yoga theory tells us that prana is animating the mind. Very much like the wind creates the motion of the leaves, prana creates the motion of the mind which gives rise to the vrittis. Air is the primary physical medium of prana and breathing is our best method to gain control over the prana. To meditate, the practitioner should calm his breath down until it is very shallow and even. If this is not possible he should practice the different pranayamas of hatha yoga.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from their objects. The natural tendency of the senses is to go out towards the objects of the world. In doing so they pull the mind out and away from the inner Self and create powerful waves on the lake-mind. Therefore, the yogi must be able to pull the senses within if he is to keep a balanced and peaceful mind.

The analogy given to us is that of the tortoise which, under perceived danger, pulls in all its limbs and head:tortoises

6. Dharana

Concentration. One-pointedness. The meditator is fully focused on the object of concentration, his mind as still as the flame of a lamp in a windless room. When this state is maintained long enough, it will lead to dhyana.

7. Dhyana

Dhyana is translated as meditation. It is a natural flow of thought or consciousness between the meditator and the object of meditation. It is a very joyous state and is compared to the flow of oil from one vessel to the next. Very natural and effortless.

In dhyana there is still duality of consciousness which is the feeling of separation between the meditator and the object of meditation. When maintained long enough this state will lead to the highest rung of the ladder of ashtanga yoga which is samadhi.

8. Samadhi

As described by Swami Sivananda this is “The state of consciousness where Absoluteness is experienced attended with all-knowledge and joy; Oneness; here the mind becomes identified with the object of meditation; the meditator and the meditated, thinker and thought become one in perfect absorption of the mind.”

Much practice is necessary to attain this stage. Regular (daily practice) of all these eight limbs is absolutely necessary.

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