More than just postures, set into a sequence, followed by savasana (corpse pose), Yoga is complex. It weaves together inner and outer disciplines, physical practice, and breath work while guiding us through the ups and downs of emotions, thoughts, and interactions with others.
Yoga is also a guide for how to live free from suffering and full of happiness. Patanjali defines the eight limbs in the Yoga Sutras. These guidelines take into account our inner and outer worlds, the layers which we must shed to gain enlightenment, and an attention to the process, not the end result. This supports us in living with presence and intention, creating our reality with each choice and action taken.
Below you will find the first 4 limbs of yoga, as well as questions, meditations, and affirmations to cultivate the yogic lifestyle you desire.
Read, reflect, practice, repeat.
The Yamas and Niyamas are universal guidelines, which support our connection with others, creating harmony.
First Limb: Yamas (Outward Conduct)
Ahimsa (non-violence towards the self and other beings)
“How we treat ourselves is, in truth, how we treat those around us.”
- Create balance in your life
- Face your fears
- Practice courage
- Cultivate kindness and compassion to the world, others, and yourself
Make a list of all the ways in which you can treat yourself, the people around you, animals, or the earth with more kindness. Try one each day. It could be as simple as changing your self talk from judging to complimentary, buying clothes from an environmentally friendly company, or eating more vegetables instead of meat.
“The truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry” – Overheard in a Washington D.C. bar
- Be real rather than “nice”
- Tell yourself the truth
- Get and stay authentic with yourself
For reflection: In what ways are you living an inauthentic life? Take the challenge to spend one 24 hour period without telling a lie, not even an exaggeration! It will change your life.
Affirmations: I accept the abundance of health, love and success that surrounds me with gratitude. I am complete. I am enough.
- Refrain from stealing from the earth
- Refrain from stealing from the future
- Refrain from stealing from others
- Refrain from stealing from yourself
- Practice reciprocity with all things
- Become excited about what you do have in material goods, relationships, your own unique gifts and talents, and the gift of life itself
For reflection: Where are you stealing in order to feel better about yourself?
Brahmacharya (non-excess/ self-control)
“When gratitude and wonder sit in the heart, there is no need for excess.”
- Learn to tell when the nourishment of enough turns into the dullness of excess
- Separate what the body really needs from the extravagant message the mind is telling you about these needs
- Live your passion
- Honor all things as sacred
- Honor yourself as sacred
For reflection: Where is dullness keeping you from the full expression of your life?
Affirmation: I trust the universe to provide for my every need.
- Let the breath teach you: if you don’t fully let go of the exhalation, the full nourishment of the inhalation is not available. Holding on is a toxic action.
- Fully enjoy each thing without needing it to repeat itself.
- Live with curiosity, not expectations
- Let go of control and be willing to be surprised
- Practice generosity and trust
For reflection: What fears are leading you to grasp and/or possess? Know that you are okay, taken care of, in this moment.
Second Limb: Niyamas (Inward Conduct)
Affirmations: (1) “I let go of my attachment to the material things that surround me—I can take these or leave them; it is all the same.” (2) “I give up the negative emotions that have created a comfort zone for me—they no longer serve me.” (3) “I release the need to judge others’ thoughts and beliefs.”
- Lighten your “load” wherever it is:
- Physical weight
- Mental clutter
- Emotional rigidity
- Messy living space
- Allow things to be as they are, not as you wish they were
- Be pure “with” something; don’t try to “make” it pure
- Let go of judgments, expectations, opinions, disappointment
- Keep from attempting to change yourself or hide from yourself
- Slow down
- Do one thing at a time
For reflection: Where do you feel a heaviness in your life?
Affirmation:I am infinitely content, now and always, eternally, easily, effortlessly, with increasing magnitude!
- Look “inside” the fence, not over it.
- Avoid seeking what you “like” and avoiding what you “dislike”.
- Stop giving others power over your emotional status.
- Develop a still, calm center through meditation.
- Stay in gratitude
Make a list of all the people, objects, events for which you are grateful. If still connected to those people, send them a text, email, letter stating your gratitude.
For reflection: What pulls you out of contentment?
“My actions are my only true belongings, they are the ground upon which I stand” -Thich Nhat Hanh’s, The 5 Remembrances
- Make choices that support the “you” that you want to become
- Forsake momentary pleasures for future rewards.
- Food choices
- Spiritual practice
- Choose to build character when times are tough
- Hold on for the blessing For reflection:
For reflection: Moment by moment, who are you choosing to become? Who would you like to be? What steps can you take to ensure those two align?
The hero’s path: Intentionally seeking to know who you are.
- Notice your conditioning
- Notice your projections
- “Trace it back”
- Understand the role of the ego Develop your “witness”
- Read sacred texts of any tradition
For reflection: Name some of your beliefs, roles, characteristics, likes and dislikes. When all of these are taken away, who are you?
Isvara Pranidhana (Surrender)
“Surrender is ultimately a stance of devotion that takes place in the heart and permeates all of our attitudes and actions.”
- Participate in self-less service
- Give up trying to control, manipulate, and fight with life
- Find your faith and trust
- Pay attention to what life is teaching/telling you
- Get in touch with the feeling of expansion
- Be vulnerable, undefended, and available
- Care deeply about something other than yourself
For reflection: What does your heart care about? Does this line up with your thoughts and actions?
Third Limb: Āsana: Physical Postures
Designed to enhance the body’s function, which allows one to sit in meditation. In these postures one should be steady and comfortable, yet firm and relaxed. Below are links to two basic yoga sequences: One is flow yoga and the other is traditional Hatha.
Fourth Limb: Prāṇāyāma:
The breath cycle and how it directs the prana, or life force
Controlling the breath allows us to control the life force as it moves through our body. Here are two Pranayama practices to invite more prana into your day.
Kapalabhati Pranayama – Skull Shining Breath:This is one of the six cleansing actions of hatha yoga. With its emphasis on the exhalation, kapalabhati enhances elimination of volatile metabolic wastes and dispels sluggishness and congestion, while engaging the seat of apana in the lower belly. 5 Minute Kapalabhati with Sandra (click here).
Living the life of a yogi, first and foremost, means cultivating a deep interest in each moment in your life.
“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life” – Omar Khayyam
Yama and Niyama Guide (PDF)