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What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient Sanskrit word with many uses. Today, most people in the United States associate the word yoga with a system of physical postures knowns as asanas. Yoga however, is much more than poses. Viewed holistically, yoga is an eight-limbed system that includes ethics, postures, breathwork, and meditation techniques that are intended to lead the practitioner to samadhi, which can be understood as “enlightenment” or “bliss”.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The ashtanga (eight-limbed) system of yoga was initially described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. According to Patanjali, the yoga system includes an ethical code including moral observances (yamas) and personal observances (niyamas), postures (asana), breathwork (pranayama), sense withdrawal (pratyahara), focused concentration (dharana), meditative absorption (dhyana), and samadhi. Before moving forward, I think it’s important to briefly explore these limbs.

The Yamas and Niyamas

There are five yamas and five niyamas. The yamas provide guidelines for our relationship to other beings (both human and non-human). The niyamas are personal observances often considered to be “good habits”.

Yamas

Ahimsa – non-harming or non-violence in thoughts, words, or action

Satya – truthfulness

Asteya – non-stealing  

Brahmacharya – celibacy or “right use of energy”

Aparigraha ­– non-greed or non-hoarding

Niyamas

Saucha – cleanliness

Santosha – contentment

Tapas – discipline, austerity, “purifying fire”

Svadhyaya – study of self and texts Isvara Pranidhana – contemplating the divine

More to come!

Check back soon for more on the eight limbs of yoga!