The 8 Limbs of Yoga

When many people think of yoga, they think of poses, or asanas. While we confess to being suckers for pics of little yogis rocking these poses (and no worries - you’ll find plenty of that here), we want to share the full yogic experience. There are actually eight limbs of yoga, laid out for us over 2,000 years ago in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The most commonly known limb is Asana, the poses that promote physical health, strength and flexibility. Here’s a quick hit of the other facets of a deep (dare we say “true”?) yoga practice and their descriptions. You don’t need a fancy yoga studio membership or a perfect pedicure to practice them - life provides nearly constant opportunities for us all to become more yogic.

-Yamas: This is the Sanskrit word used to describe ethical discipline including but not limited to non-violence, truthfulness and simplicity.  

How to DIY: These are things you’re hopefully already practicing with your children, like teaching them to tell the truth even when it’s hard, reminding them not to physically harm friends and siblings, helping them learn to purge toys and clothes as they receive new items, etc.  We already know deep down that these little people are modeling after the adults in their lives, so a very meaningful and on-going Yama practice exists in the constant consideration of what we are teaching these little creatures with our own actions. (No pressure!)

-Niyamas: This limb is all about self discipline, including but not limited to physical and mental purity, inner contentment, perseverance and self-analysis.  

How to DIY:  Again, you are likely already working on things like teaching your child to bathe regularly and clean up after themselves, or you successfully did so when they were little. Parents and caregivers are presented with ample opportunities Every. Single. Day. for teaching (and modeling!) positive thinking, hard work and perseverance. Watching an adult try new things and work hard to meet goals can teach a child valuable lessons without saying a word. So grow - for you AND for them!

-Pranayama: Breathwork - ahhhhhh.  Hold your breath as long as you can.  (We’ll wait.)  How does that make you feel?  Not good, huh?  People, young and old, have breathing disorders and . . .get this. . .they are self-induced.  We learn to hold our breath or breathe too shallow or too forced and these problems create larger problems physically and emotionally. So breathe deeply, as often as you think of it. Literally stopping to smell the flowers can be breath work, and what a day brightener. Try it!

How to DIY: Grab something that smells nice (ex: a flower, a candle, coffee beans, a favorite fruit - whatever makes your noses happy) and practice taking deep breaths by smelling and sighing out that yummy scent with your child.

-Pratyahara: This limb focuses on the all-important practice of relaxation. Don’t take it for granted - take a look at the pace of the world around you if you need a quick reminder. Then imagine how quickly things are moving for our kids. Whew. Relaxation isn’t something you schedule or manufacture - it is more a process of leaving space where relaxation can naturally occur.  

How to DIY:  Take time to cuddle and give your child a massage while you both escape the demands of the day. Sit down and eat dinner together, or better yet, pack your dinner in a backpack and go for a hike. Movement can be very relaxing - and get ready for the creative flow that ensues when you slow down your thoughts!

-Dharana: This refers to meditation in terms of “doing” meditation or concentrating. By now it’s not news that our busy, tech-filled lives are taking a real toll on our attention spans. Human brains are just not meant to multi-task all day long.  It is crucially important to teach our children how to concentrate and focus.  (And, just as important, to re-train ourselves as well.)

How to DIY:  Turn off all electronics and grab (or make) beaded necklaces.  Decide on a mantra such as “be calm” or “just be”, close your eyes and touch each bead while repeating your mantra.  

-Dhyana: The aspect in meditation of “being” - this is stillness sometimes found AFTER Dharana practice.  While Dharana is concentration and focus, Dhyana is a state of awareness without focus, a deep stillness with few if any thoughts. This one takes a lot of practice, but is blissful to attain. What is your brain doing right now? How many thoughts/worries/distractions are bouncing around in there, even as you read this? Imagine stillness - that might be all the motivation you need to work towards Dhyana!

How to DIY:  Light a candle and stare into the flame in silence. Daily.

-Samadhi: A level of super conscious awareness.  This is the big daddy limb...the hardest to attain and explain, also known as enlightenment - a true peace and understanding of the interconnectedness between all things. Sorry, no quick DIY here...you have to practice the other seven limbs regularly in order to reach Samadhi.  We’ll be cheering you on all the way!

Our plan is to use these 8 limbs as a way to tag and organize our posts, so it’s easy to find just what you need, and to illustrate opportunities to make things a bit more yogic in your world.