I have been practicing yoga for around 18 years now. It came to me when I was living in Peru. A dear friend was a yoga instructor and she started off by giving classes 3 times a week in a small hall in San Blas, Cusco. It was a complete revelation to me. It brought me calm in what was a very difficult moment in my life. It taught me about breathing and how focusing on your breath can bring you back to the present moment. Breathing is pranayama one of the limbs of yoga.
The 8 limbs of yoga
Yoga has 8 limbs, in the west we focus on the asanas, the postures. We should be looking at all 8 limbs together.
Yama is the first limb, yama is to do with our standards and ethics, similar to the commandments. Be truthful, do not steal, do not hoard or be greedy, use your energy well, be kind.
Niyama are positive activities towards oneself. Self discipline which includes cleanliness not only of body but of mind. Practice of contentment, which includes living in the present. We tend to focus on worrying about the past and what may or may not happen in the future. Bring it back to the present and what we are doing right now in this very moment. Self study is another part of Niyama as is surrender to god.
The limb that most people have heard of is Asana which is the postures. Our bodies are temples and we need to exercise and stretch to keep them like that. The asanas assist our bodies to be able to sit comfortably in meditation for an extended period of time.
Pranayama is the control of breath. There are many different pranayama exercises which are normally carried out while seated.
Pratyahara is the 5th limb and a little more difficult to describe, withdrawal of the senses is the most common description, what does that mean. Mindfulness and focusing inwards.
Dharana is the focus on one single point. The state of concentration.
Dhyana, the next step of the limbs is commonly translated as meditation however I think it is more than that and meditation helps us to reach the state of Dhyana.
The final limb is Samadhi. Bliss, pure awareness, transcendence, oneness. I would also call it enlightenment,
We will look further into the limbs of yoga on our yoga retreats and holidays.