When people think of yoga, they often think of asana (the physical exercise in modern yoga). Unknown to them, that’s just one out of eight elements of yoga. Patanjali, the author of classical (post-Buddhism) yoga sutras, described them as the “limbs of yoga”:
- Yama (abstinences)
- Niyama (observances)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breathing)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absorption)
Together, they form a sequence intended to complement one another in totality. Else, nothing differentiates a yogi from a fitness freak with swollen biceps and a haughty temperament. We like to think one is more “awake” to our true nature than the other.
Understanding the meaning of the different pieces of these multifaceted topics alone can lead to a more “ethical living.” Perfecting a practice sequence for all eight elements of yoga can help you keep your body and mind in sync.
The Eight Elements of Yoga
1/ Yama: Live ethically
These are very complex ethical standards. We’ll highlight the sub-paths to accomplishing a life of decency, according to Patanjali’s eightfold path.
- Ahimsa: Nonviolence, resolve not to harm other living beings
- Satya: Truthfulness, detest falsehood
- Astray: Non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: Chastity, countenance, marital fidelity, or sexual restraint
- Aparigraha: Non-covetousness, non-possessiveness
2/ Niyama: Crave habits that encourage personal growth
Niyama is another whole category in itself. It’s about practice, meditation, habits, and rituals. Each of the five Niyamas encourages personal growth. They are:
- Shaucha: Cleanliness, clearness of mind, speech, and body
- Santosha: Contentment, empathy, acceptance of others and their circumstances, optimism for self
- Tapas: Heat, spiritual austerities, persistence, perseverance, asceticism, self-discipline
- Svadhyaya: Study of the sacred scriptures and one’s self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speech, and actions
- Ishvarapranidhana: Submission to (contemplation of) Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality)
3/ Asana: Try those relaxed, steady, and comfy postures
Asana is keeping a routine of the physical yoga practice or postures. It involves developing disciplines and sustaining them for some time. While there are no specificities about asanas, yogis are encouraged to stay relaxed – perfected with meditation – comfortable and steady during this practice.
4/ Pranayama: Breathing techniques that do wonders to the brain
Pranayama is an incredible reach practice about breath control. You probably must have thought about ways of enhancing your concentration and memory. Work on your pranayama. It comes loaded with a vast benefit to the body, including helping with grief and depression. There are different “breath exercises” you can do to bring energy into the body, strengthen the body with the breath, or cleanse the body from within.
5/ Pratyahara: It’s about minimalism and turning inwards
It’s about withdrawing from the sensitive experiences of external pleasures. That is, removing things that are too stimulating from our lives. Digital minimalism is a good example – like desisting from going on social media for the greater good. It encourages you to stop being under too much influence from the external world. Instead, focus on one’s self and relish the innate freedom of the inner world.
6/ Dharana: Concentrating the mind on a particular inner state
It’s holding the mind onto something specific. Vipassana Meditation explores this element succinctly. Vipassana (Buddhism), at the onset, urges you to focus on the sensation of your inwards and outwards breath. The theme of your concentration can be different things – a deity, God, sound, anything specific that helps the mind stay focused. Think of Dharana as a step towards meditation. Consequently, segueing from Vipassana into meditation can be easy.
7/ Dhyana: Deep awareness
Dhyana is a sense of deep awareness, not necessarily on a singular thing. You’re generally aware of the body sensations without focusing on specificities, say the flow of breath discussed in Dharana earlier. If you had focused on God in Dharana, Dhyana is contemplating it – non-judgmental, non-presumptuous. It’s a more profound state of contemplation that could take your concentration from one point to another.
8/ Samadhi: Transcendence (losing self to the process)
Samadhi unites you with the subject of meditation. It’s like an “enlightening” experience where the thinker, the thought process, and the thought are in harmony. You’re so absorbed in whatever you’re contemplating, the mind loses its identity, and it’s gone. Welcome to an all-new spiritual state of transcendence – it could happen to your perception of self, ego, or belief. It’s important to remember that feelings are fleeting, and nothing is permanent when you get to experience Samadhi.
The first half of these elements of yoga are more physical, while the last four are spiritual. This philosophy all ties together to help you stay happier, refreshed, conscious, and enlightened.
Hey Joyfreshers, how do you practice yoga? do you practice all the elements of yoga?