Yoga is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy that emerged in India. The foundational text for yoga – or the historical codification of the principles of yoga – are the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali, presumably in the early centuries CE. They consist of 195 sutras (aphorisms) but, interestingly, only 5 of them even mention the word “asana” (bodily posture). The eight limbs of yoga are the following:
Sometime limbs 1 - 4 together are referred to as Hatha Yoga and limbs 5 - 8 together are referred to as Raja Yoga. Patanjali described the eight aspects of yoga as limbs of a tree. Patanjali’s analogy is the perfect image. Wisdom and spirituality unfold in the same manner as a tree grows. Nature is steady and gradual. The world of yoga, with its myriad styles and approaches, may be likened to a forest filled with variety and colour. Every tree in a forest has the same goal: to reach toward the light. One tree’s method is not better than another’s. Each species has individual characteristics which enable it to grow to its greatest potential. The various yogic systems are unique, yet all have the same purpose: to grow towards enlightenment or self-realisation.
Through regulation of practice, the eight limbs are nourished. Personal insights begin to manifest. We become aware of what we put in our bodies and how we interact with the world around us. From this type of introspection, the qualities of Yama and Niyama begin to develop. Asanas and Pranayama grow when focused awareness of the breath is applied while practicing each posture. As we keep the mind fixed on the sound and quality of our breath, the senses are encouraged to turn inward and the element of Pratyahara manifests. As we improve our abilities of controlling the senses from wandering during practice, the subtle quality of concentration deepens in the form of Dharana. In time, the practice moves further internally and refinement of concentration develops as our ability to remain present is enhanced. The practice then grows into a deep resounding meditative experience known as Dhyana. At this stage, we are creating greater potential to explore the finest realms of yoga known as Samadhi, in which we realise the pure essence of all that exists.
The development of these limbs does not unfold in a linear fashion. They sprout when the time is appropriate. There is no way to rush the growth of a tree. It will expand as our understanding of the depths of yoga matures. Patience may be the greatest tool to assist in our journey down the scenic path of Ashtanga Yoga. It winds through all facets of life. Ashtanga may be utilised as a method of keeping physically fit or it may be traversed as a pathway to explore the subtle realms of spirituality. Whatever purpose we choose, there is only one method do reap its benefits: Practice!
At YogaKula you can practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with Daniel, who follows the Ashtanga tradition of Sri BNS Iyengar, the last surviving student of Sri Krishnamacharya (“the godfather of modern yoga”) who still teaches in Mysore at the age of 95. In contrast to the mainstream Ashtanga method, Sri BNS Iyengar’s method of asana practice is somewhat more accessible especially for beginners.
Daniel teaches every Wednesday 17:30 and Saturday 11:00 Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Classes in English and German.