"Through sustained focus and meditation on our patterns, habits and conditioning, we gain knowledge and understanding of our past and how we can change the patterns that aren’t serving us to live more freely and fully.”
~ Yoga Sutra III.18

Happy 2018, yogis! May this year be your year! May all the lessons, challenges, trials and triumphs push you into the magic of what is 2018. This year, I encourage you to re-connect with your practice, your awareness and your appreciation of The Eight Limbs of Yoga. With this practice, may your resolutions, commitments to excellence and yourself remain with you throughout the year.

(First, you may want to take A Journey Through The 8 Limbs of Yoga.)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The first two limbs that Patanjali describes in The Yoga Sutras are the yamas and the niyamas. They suggest how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.

Yama

A yama is a moral virtue or belief describing the restraints needed to live an ethical life. The five yamas are: ahimsa, satya, asteya, Brahmacharya and aparigraha.

Niyama

A Sanskrit term meaning "rules" or "laws," niyamas are the intimate and personal attitudes we adopt towards ourselves. They are a way of applying ethical codes to mind, body and spirit, helping to create a positive internal environment. The five niyamas are: saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya and ishvara pranidhana.

To help further commit to yourself this year, "Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice" by Deborah Adele has broken down the 10 yamas and niyams to practice on a weekly and monthly basis. Taking up just one yama or niyama to practice per month, you'll have 10 months of focused re-connection to your mind, body and spirit.

(More on Yama and Niyama: The Yogi's Moral Guiding Lights.)

Asana

Asana is the practice of moving the body into postures. Asana has many benefits including improved health, strength, balance and flexibility. It stimulates all of the physiological systems of the body and is used as a tool to calm the mind in order to move into the inner essence of being (meditation). The challenge of poses offers you the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of your emotions, concentration, intention, faith and unity, creating balance between the physical and the ethereal body.

One way to reconnect with this limb is by trying a new yoga type. Here is a list with quick descriptions about 10 popular yoga styles.

  • Hatha -- moving the body with the awareness of the breath, holds each pose for about 5 breaths, fairly accessible for most students.
  • Vinyasa Flow -- moves in and out of poses on each inhale and exhale, faster pasced flowing between poses.
  • Ashtanga -- dynamic and vigorous to a set series of postures.
  • Iyengar -- alignment oriented, uses props for optimal positioning
  • Anusara -- taught vinyasa style, holds some poses for a longer time and believes "movement as a celebration of nature."
  • Bikram -- hot yoga (between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit) having a set 26 poses.
  • Kundalini -- meditation, mantra chanting, breathing techniques, repetitive and invigorating movements.
  • Restorative -- slow and relaxing, utilizes props for support.
  • Yin -- relaxing longer passive holds, targets connective tissue.
  • Acro -- acrobatic postures also playfully incorporating partner yoga.

Test the waters, be open, remain curious and explore! You may find the proper fit right away or it may take a while. Remember its about the journey, not the destination.

Pranayama

Prana, meaning "life force," and ayama, meaning "extension," pranayama is the conscious awareness of breath: the life force that both energizes and relaxes the body.

An integral part of yoga, the controlled breathing enables both the rhythm movements and the relaxation of the mind. In The Yoga Sutras, the practice of pranayama and asana are considered to be the highest form of purification and self-discipline for the mind and the body. The proper rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and reduce cravings. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes fit for concentration, which is also the fifth limb of yoga.

Breath is life. Learning to breathe consciously and with awareness helps heal and restore balance within your mind and body.

Try These Breathing Exercises

Changing Rhythms

Play around with breathing deeply and consciously, increasing both inhalation and exhalation at different rates and rhythms. Try gradually inhaling for three, five and then seven breaths. Then match the exhalations with inhalations three, five and seven. Maybe add a pause between inhalation and exhalation. Experiment with your breath capacity, learn your rhythms.

Complete Belly Breath

Inhale, starting at your navel (expanding your belly). Let the breath enter into your lower ribs, then finally into your chest. Place your hands, one at your belly and one at the top of your chest right under your collar bone, to feel the rise and fall of your breath in each area. Pause. Exhale slowly, starting at your chest, then ribs and belly. Feel as you your belly relaxes in a slight contraction. Try five to seven rounds, experimenting with your capacity and rhythms.

Remain aware of your thoughts and feelings during and after these exercises. Maybe sit quietly for a moment to be with the experience afterward. Write down what you notice. Allow yourself to be in the moment.

Healing is every breath. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Pratyahara

A "withdrawal of the senses," pratyahara is derived from the Sanskrit roots, prati, meaning "away" or "against"; and ahara, meaning "nourishment" or "food." The entire word combined denotes a withdrawal from what nourishes the senses. It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensory distractions as we constantly return to the path of self-realization and the achievement of internal peace. When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, vital force is flowing back to Source within.

Try These Exercises

Notice Your Senses

Allow yourself a few days and notice the types of things your letting into your world. How do you feel while/after experiencing negative/positive stimulation? How long after stimulation is gone do these feelings last? Notice how you act/behave/speak after a negative/positive experience.

Fast for Your Senses

Every January, many people go on fasts/cleanses/elimination diets in order to improve their health and habits. Instead, try a fast/cleanse/elimination practice with pratyahara and your senses in mind.

  • Sight -- Remove the clutter, keep the TV off, don't read/watch violent things.
  • Sound -- eliminate harsh, hateful, violent sounds/music; listen to positive uplifting messages/music; and pray more.
  • Touch -- hug a friend/family member/pet, sun bathe, walk barefoot, take a soothing bath or have a massage.
  • Taste -- eliminate all unnatural, artificially flavored and processed foods from your diet.
  • Smell -- burn soy candles, light incense, use essential oils or bring in fresh flowers.

Explore and play around with this; by withdrawing the focus from the senses and the external environment, the mind can turn inward.

(More on Pratyahara: The Fifth Limb of Yoga.)

Dharana

Dharana is fixing the mind to one thing. B.K.S. Iyengar states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect and ego are "all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service. Here there is no feeling of 'I' and 'mine.'"

Try This Focusing Exercise

Choose a calm/quiet place and sit comfortably. Close your eyes for inner focus (chakra or mantra), or fix your focus on an external object (candle, mandala). Practice dharana for about five to 10 minutes, increasing in duration as you advance. Set a timer and don't get discouraged!

Recommit to yourself, goals, resolutions and intently focus your attention. Remember to always be kind to yourself. This is a lifelong practice and some days will be more challenging than others.

Dhyana

Dhyana (meditation) is a practice that requires deep mental concentration. There is an awareness of the observer, the object of observation, and the observed. Meditation becomes our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind.

Try These Preparatory Practices

Practice sitting in silence. Resolve to be focused on the present moment. Put your devices down. Spend time with your children/loved ones. Do something you love and indulge yourself completely within it.

(Dharana and Dhyana: Misconceptions of Meditation Explained.)

Samadhi

Samadhi is the state of BEING. Union with the Divine. Enlightenment. Nirvana.

Here, the body and the senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the mind and reason are alert, as if awake. Here one journeys beyond consciousness. The mind and the intellect have stopped, and there is only the experience: union.

By the End of the Year...

Hold these practices with you throughout the year in order to nurture, deepen and grow your connection with self and Spirit. Resolve, commit, heal and reconnect this year to your body, mind and spirit with yoga and its eight limbs. Finally, a Sanskrit mantra to send you off on your journey:

Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu

"May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all."