The name “8 Limbs” comes from the Sanskrit term Ashtanga and refers to the eight limbs, or aspects, of yoga: Yama (ethical disciplines), Niyama (rules of conduct), Asana (postures), Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (absorption). At 8 Limbs Yoga Centers our drop-in classes focus on asana and pranayama. We also offer classes on other aspects to guide practitioners on their path, sometimes under the heading “Beyond Asana.”
BENEFITS OF YOGA
Yoga’s benefits affect each person in a different way. Many find that it helps them to relax; others find themselves feeling healthier and more energetic. All the systems in the body-from the lymphatic to the digestive to the cardiovascular-benefit from yoga. Yoga benefits every aspect of our bodies, inside and out.
On the inside, yoga enables relaxation. Many practitioners find that yoga helps them to focus and feel relaxed in both work and play. In 2003, scientists studied both long-time yogis and beginners; they found that the stress hormone cortisol had decreased, even after just one session of yoga. Yoga has also been found to increase alpha and theta waves in the brain, meaning that yoga can relax the brain and increase access to the subconscious and emotions. And by simply increasing the feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins, enkephalins, and serotonin, yoga practitioners just feel better.
On the outside, yogis look terrific. This is probably from improvements on the inside! Since yoga balances the metabolism and provides exercise, many find yoga brings their body into balance. Physical yoga strengthens and tones the muscles while improving balance and posture. And yoga is a great way to cross-train for other sports; it can ease strains from injuries and increase strength and flexibility.
When all the body’s systems are balanced, yoga practitioners feel healthier and find they want to make other healthy choices in their life.
BRANCHES OF YOGA
Hatha Yoga is the physical practice of yoga. The asana practice of hatha yoga symbolizes the connection of the sun and the moon, bringing the world and the physical body into balance. Hatha also means “to strike,” meaning to strike the body with the challenge of the postures and to “yoke” (the meaning of yoga) the mind into singular focus. Most styles of yoga in the United States are based in Hatha with different philosophies, practices, and terminology that allow yoga to fit the individual practitioner. Its traditional source in relation to the postures is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. See below for more information on styles of Hatha yoga.
Raja Yoga is the Royal Path (“raja” means king), the yoga of meditation. Its focus is to quiet the mind. The practitioner’s attention is fixed on an object, mantra, or concept. Whenever the mind wanders it is brought back to the object of concentration. In time the mind will cease wandering and become completely still. Raja yoga practitioners aim to establish “a mental link with the supreme source of all spiritual energy and power, the Supreme Soul, with the purpose of freeing the individual soul from misery, pain, fear, illness, and phobias, and enabling the soul to experience peace, happiness and lasting health and prosperity.”
Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge. Jnana yoga is closely associated with Advaita Vedanta, one of the six philosophies of Hinduism. Advaita Vedanta believes that everything in the universe shares a single soul, including all living creatures and God. Jnana yoga is the wisdom associated with discerning the Real from the unreal or illusory.
Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion. In Bhakti yoga, the practitioner’s emotional force is concentrated and channeled toward the Divine. Bhakti practitioners are openly expressive; their devotion is sometimes compared to a love-relationship with a divine being. Kirtan, devotional singing, is a popular practice of Bhakti yoga.
Karma Yoga is the yoga of service to others and to God. Karma yoga practitioners renounce the fruits of action. Activities are assumed for the benefit of the greater good, without concern for personal benefit. The path of Karma-Yoga is described in detail in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Be intent on action; not on the fruits of action.”
STYLES OF HATHA YOGA
There are many styles or schools of Hatha Yoga. Here are a few that inform the teachers here at 8 Limbs, as well a recognition of the “grandfather of modern yoga”, Krishnamacharya.
T. Krishnamacharya, a South Indian yogi born in 1888, is said to be the “grandfather of modern yoga.” One of Krishnamacharya’s key philosophies was that yoga should be adapted to the individual, not the individual to yoga. This rule informed his practice as he taught many of the 20th century’s leading yogis, including Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar, and his son, TKV Desikachar, who were instrumental in bringing yoga to the West. These are the teachers that have most inspired 8 Limbs’ philosophy. The schools or styles of yoga that were developed by these teachers are the first three mentioned below.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a fast-paced, flowing series of sequential postures as prescribed by yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, who was an early student of Krishnamacharya’s. There are six series of asanas that increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace. Asanas are connected by the breath and are linked with sun salutations. Most classes taught in the United States focus on the Primary Series.
Iyengar Yoga was developed in Pune, India by BKS Iyengar, one of the most influential yogis of his time. Iyengar was a student of Krishnamacharya’s and took what he learned to cure himself of disease through asana and pranayama. In the Iyengar method, special attention is paid to precise muscular and skeletal alignment. Poses (especially standing postures) are typically held much longer than in other schools of yoga to allow for adjustments to be made. The Iyengar system also uses props, such as belts, chairs, blocks, and blankets, to help accommodate any special needs such as injuries or structural imbalances.
Viniyoga means yoga for the individual. As Krishnamacharya aged and taught his son TKV Desikachar, he focused on the adapting asana, pranayama and other yoga practices (ritual, chanting, prayer) to the individual. Viniyoga focuses on the traditional teachings of yoga and the adherence to a practice that serves the individual needs of the practitioner.
Asana means “seat” in Sanskrit and refers to the postures or poses that we practice in Hatha Yoga. Asana is the third limb of the 8-limbed path of yoga as prescribed by Patanjali.
Ashtanga refers to the 8-limbed paths described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. “Astha” is the number eight and “ang” means limb.
Ashtanga Vinyasa is a faster-paced, flowing series of sequential postures as prescribed by yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, who lives in Mysore, India. There are six series of asanas that increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace. Asanas are connected by the breath and are linked with sun salutations. Most classes taught in the United States focus on the Primary Series.
Chakra means the “wheel of a wagon.” Metaphorically, the term refers to our energetic centers, the powerhouses in the body’s electrical system. There are seven main chakras (pronounced “ch” as in chocolate, not “sh” as in Shalimar), which run along the front of the spine from the perineum to the crown of the head.
Dharana, the sixth limb of yoga, is “holding,” or concentration, and refers to the ability to focus exclusively on one object.
Dhyana is the seventh of the 8 limbs of yoga. It takes the practice of concentration on an object, dharana, to the deeper level of meditation.
Guru literally means “remover of darkness” or “he who is heavy” as s/he helps to remove our burdens. A guru is also known as a teacher, one who leads the way rather than tells a student what to do.
There are five Koshas or sheaths of existence which include the food sheath, annamaya kosha, the energy sheath, pranamaya kosha, the mind sheath, manomaya kosha, the consciousness or personality sheath, vijnanamaya kosha, and the sheath of bliss, anandamaya kosha.
Namaste is translated as “I honor you” or “The divine in me sees the divine in you.” We often end our yoga classes with this traditional greeting with our hands in anjali mudra (hands together at the heart).
Niyama is the second limb of yoga, referring to self-restraints or personal ethics, which include saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (self-study) and Isvara pranidhana (surrender to a Higher Consciousness).
Pranayama is the fourth limb of the 8-limbed path of yoga and means life/energy retention or expansion. Pranayama refers to control of the prana (breath), puraka, (conscious inhalation), kumbhaka (retention of the breath) and rechaka (exhalation). Pranayama is the foundation of any Hatha yoga practice.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga and is the practice of withdrawing the senses from the outer world. Through this withdrawal, yoga practitioners heighten their inner awareness.
Samadhi is the final of the 8 limbs of yoga in which the person meditating merges with the object of meditation. It has been defined as “Ultimate Bliss”, “putting together”, and “going towards sameness (sama).”
Satsang refers to a gathering of people seeking truth, as in students of yoga studying with a teacher or disciple. It is said that spending time in company of others seeking truth leads to realization of the true Self, that which is changeless and timeless.
Surya Namaskara are salutations to the sun. “Surya” is sun and “namaskara” is another way of saying “namaste.” Sun salutations, a series of linked asanas, are a foundation of Hatha yoga.
Vinyasa means “linking” and refers to the linking of the breath to movement. Vinyasa Krama refers to sequencing (postures, daily activities, travel) towards an end with purpose.
Vipassana meditation is usually translated as “insight.” Insight is the ability to perceive clearly or deeply, and can be the sudden understanding a complex situation. Vipassana is the immediate understanding of the significance or truth of an event or action. For vipassana practitioners, this meditation is one of the two factors essential for the attainment of enlightenment; the other is shamatha (calming the mind).
Yama is the first of the 8 limbs and means “restraint.” The five Yamas are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (moderation) and aparigraha (not hoarding).
- Anatomy of Movement, Blandine Calais-Germain
- The Heart of Yoga, TKV Desikachar
- Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon and David Life
- The Poetry of the Body, Rodney Yee
- Yoga for Wellness, Gary Kraftsow
- Yoga Mind Body and Spirit, Donna Farhi
- Yoga, The Spirit And Practice Of Moving Into Stillness, Erich Schiffman
- Bhagavad Gita, commentary by Eknath Easwaren
- Bhagavad Gita, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller
- Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi
- The Essence of Yoga, Bernard Bouanchard
- Light on the Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar
- Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates
- Yoga for Transformation, Gary Kraftsow
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchitanada
- A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles Moore, eds.
- A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, Jack Kornfield
- Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das
- Faith, Sharon Salzberg
POETRY AND INSPIRATION
- The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
- The Gift, Poems by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
- Words to Live By, Eknath Easwaren
PREGNANCY AND PARENTING
- Birthing from Within, Pam England Horowitz
- Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, Penny Simkin
- The Birth Partner, Penny Simkin
- The Spirit of Pregnancy: An Interactive Anthology for your Journey to Motherhood, by Bonni Goldberg
- The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth, Shiela Kitzinger
- A Good Birth, A Safe Birth, Diana Korte and Roberta Scaer
- After the Baby’s Birth…A Womans Way to Wellness: A Complete Guide for Postpartum Women, Robin Lim
- Becoming the Parent You Want To Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser
- The Natural Nursery: The Parent’s Guide to Ecologically Sound, Nontoxic, Safe and Healthy Baby Care, Louis Pottkotter
ONLINE YOGA RESOURCES
YOGA TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS