The secret to a “perfect” yoga practice: follow the “limbs”

With so many different types of yoga, studios and teachers to pick from these days, discovering a class that involves much more than the physical side of yoga and which is neither too hard nor too easy can sometimes seem elusive.

Yet teachers at some studios like Yoga by Degrees still know the importance and effectiveness of a traditional and balanced yoga class experience.

So what constitutes this experience? Just as every reliable structure must be constructed with time-tested rules and regulations, every yoga class should be built in accordance with the first book of yoga teachings called the Yoga Sutras. Its a compilation of one hundred and ninety six aphorisms based on the ancient Vedic texts.

The Indian sage Sri Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras approximately two thousand years ago. Sutra 2.9 lists the “Eight Limbs of Yoga”.

The Yoga Sutras, by nature, imply that as many of the eight limbs of yoga as possible need to be practiced in order to gain all of the benefits that yoga has to offer.

In a yoga class, using the eight limbs can serve as a powerful tool in encouraging students to challenge themselves but also accept where they are. The eight limbs are as follows:

  1. Yama :  Morality
  2. Niyama :  Personal observances
  3. Asanas :  Physical postures
  4. Pranayama :  Breath control, i.e. breath exercises
  5. Pratyahara :  Sensory control
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and inner awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Meditation on a higher power
  8. Samadhi :  Union with a higher power

It is possible for well-educated and skilled teachers to “weave” all of the above limbs of yoga in to a class. (Except perhaps the last one, then you no longer need yoga!) For example, a teacher could instruct students to turn their awareness inward, noticing what they are “feeling” and by encouraging them to practice with truthfulness (Yama number two) and contentment (Niyama number two).

While it is the yoga teacher’s responsibility to make sure he or she instructs a well-rounded class, as a yoga practitioner, once learned, you can be mindful and creatively weave the eight limbs of yoga in to your practice yourself both on and off the mat!

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