Eight Limb Yoga

Asanas, or the poses we practice in yoga, are not even part of the first two branches of "yoga" even if they are the aspect of yoga we tend to focus all of our attention on. Ashtanga yoga, or eight limb yoga, separates the philosophy of yoga into eight distinct parts. The first two limbs are observances, the things we do and do not do as we take on the practice of yoga. 

1. Yamas

- Ahimsa (non-violence)

- Satya (truthfulness) 

- Brahmacharya (Self-restraint/celibacy) 

- Asteya (non-stealing)

- Aparigraha (non-covetousness)

2. Niyamas

- Saucha (purity) 

- Santosha (contentment)

- Tapas (austerity) 

- Swadhyaya (self-study)

- Shwara Pranidhana (surrender to God's will) 

So the first two limbs are no small order. First we practice restraint and self-control and then we put into practice great efforts towards many lovely qualities and attributes. 

The third limb is asana and yet we place so much emphasis on the poses themselves, almost to the point where we consider the physical practice to be "yoga" and nothing more. The poses are a vehicle for self-transformation, but they alone will only change your body. What is the difference between a contortionist and a yogi? The answer is found in the first two limbs, the yamas and the niyamas. 

As you embrace your yoga practice find more time to practice the restraint of the yamas and the purity of the yamas and forgive yourself more if your back is too tight for backbends or your fear too great for inversions. The asanas will come. They will come with greater ease and acceptance if they come ushered in by a greater understanding of the yamas and the niyamas. 


Sara Moncivais

Ashtanga Yoga Teacher at Raíces Yoga