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Yoga: A Road Map to a Healthy, Happy and Fulfilling Life - An Introduction to the 8 Limbs of Yoga

What is yoga, really? You may be surprised to learn that the practice of yoga is so much more than doing poses on your mat. In fact, most of yoga can actually be practiced off your mat! Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means to “yoke” or “to unite” and is a practice that cultivates the interconnectedness of body, mind and spirit. Yoga is not just a physical practice, it’s an entire lifestyle---a way to live your life more mindfully to help you be happier and healthier.

Yoga is a Way of Life

A great resource for this practice is Patañjali’s ancient text, the Yoga Sūtra, which is considered to be the foundation of yoga. Within this text is an 8-limbed path known as the 8 Limbs of Yoga, or Ashtanga Yoga. It is a road map on how to mindfully navigate through your life. Chip Hartranft describes the 8-limbed path in his book, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjail, as follows:

“Patañjali conceives of the yoga program as a holistic process with eight components. Ashtanga-yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoking,” with each “limb” meant to address a different aspect or threshold of being….Like the limbs of an animal, the eight components of the yoga program work together in concert. Structurally, ashtanga-yoga addresses eight strata of personhood, moving from an externalized to an internalized perspective.”

The eight components include ethical principles, self-care practices, physical postures, breath work, and meditation practices. Each limb is interconnected with the next and they are designed to be practiced in a circular and ongoing manner.

Benefits of the 8 Limbs of Yoga

There are many benefits you can receive from yoga, but the one concept that threads through the entire yoga philosophy and practice is that it opens your hearts to create more intimacy in your life. Intimacy with yourself, with others and with all of life. This yogic path can also help you understand 3 powerful concepts:

1st – yoga teaches you to feel and listen with your heart instead of your head,

2nd - that everything is impermanent, and

3rd, that everything is interconnected.

When you are able to see the world through these 3 lenses, you tend to respond more skillfully (instead of reactive) and, therefore, able to create conditions for a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.

Overview of the 8 Limbs of Yoga

Here is a brief overview of the 8 Limbs of Yoga:

Limb 1 is the yamas. The yamas are a set of ethical principles that serve as a guideline on how we treat others and our planet. They emphasize our connection to other beings as an integral part of yoga because everything is interconnected. We are not separate. What we think, feel and do has a direct impact on our world. We are therefore encouraged to be mindful of our actions, because every action we take has an effect. The yamas breakdown into 5 ethical pra