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YOGA - Pretzel Maker or Soul Shaper?

Yoga practice is much more than a physical practice but if you were unfamiliar with yoga you would be forgiven for thinking it’s sole purpose is to give you a trim, strong and bendy body. A body that you can bend into a Pretzel.

I’m here to tell you it can be and is so much more.

Yoga is an ancient practice dating back thousands of years and for a very long time its main focus was to bring harmony to the mind and body through the practice of meditation, breath work, self study and observances. A mainly “Asana” posture based practice is a relatively recent addition when yoga practice became much more popular in the West in the mid 1900’s. Whilst the introduction to yoga to the West has been a good thing it has created something that can sometimes feel akin to an exercise routine rather than a holistic and healing experience.

Lift the lid and you’ll find that Yoga is rich and diverse and has something to offer anyone who cares to look.

Contemporary Yoga is founded on the writings of Patenjali’s classification of classical yoga set out in his Yoga Sutras.  Patanjali organised the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path’ or the Ashtanga Yoga System (not to be confused with Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga developed by K Pattabhi Jois in the 20th century) 

The Ashtanga Yoga System consists of eight parts or limbs that direct the practitioner from the outward practices - Asana (postures) to prepare the body ready to sit in a steady and comfortable position - to the inner practices of Pranayama/Breath Practice and Dyhana/Meditation practice. 

The goal or aim of the Eight Limb Path is to cultivate the ability to access a place of peace and harmony for a period of time. 

So what are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

1 Yama - Ethical rules or moral disciplines

2 Niyama - Positive habits or observances

3. Asana - Posture

4. Pranayama - Control of the breath

5 Pratyahara - Drawing our senses inwards

6. Dharana - Focused concentration or one-pointedness of mind

7. Dhyana - Meditative absorption or contemplation

9 Samadhi - Bliss or I-am-ness

For me yoga practiced without attention to Limb 4,5 & 6 as well as 3 Asana, somewhat misses the point. Whilst still enjoyable the richness available is lost in this type of practice and so is the opportunity to explore your inner world. A rounded yoga practice is an invitation to reflect upon who you are as a human being and how you want to grow. 

So the next time you attend a class ask yourself “What do I need from my practice?” And “Does my experience meet my needs?”

If I’ve peaked your interest and you’re keen to know more look out for further articles that I post which will explore the individual limbs and their application in our lives today.

Jane is a Life Coach and Yoga Teacher, she lives in the UK with her two boys and two dogs

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