Astanga — Patanjali's 8 Limbed Path of Yoga
Move beyond the mat to a greater understanding of the philosophy of yoga
Before we go any further, let me preface this by asking, will you learn with me?
As a student of yoga, as a student of life, I choose to live through the lens of a sadhaka, or student. There is always room to grow. There is always more to know. So I invite us to learn together, create a conversation and move toward a greater understanding of Truth.
With that being said...
The West has a history and a heritage of appropriating indigenous customs, beliefs and traditions. Colonization runs deep in our inheritance. It's a challenging truth that is often easier to avoid because it challenges everything we know, what we've been taught, our way of life. But facing it is necessary to restore balance, connection, equilibrium. In the West's race to steal what suits our interests we've diminished the ancient history and knowledge that indigenous people's have known for generations, for centuries.
The philosophy of yoga goes back millennia and we're watering it down at a rapid pace. Stick with me as I break it down a bit and work to reframe the "yoga" that we've come to know in the West.
Yoga as Asana
“We practice Sage Patanjali’s 8 limbed path of Yoga which is far more than asana to find our balance internally and externally. We are then better able to utilize our practice off our mats to become agents of change within our communities moving away from harmful cultural appropriation and toxic spiritual bypassing rooted in racism and white supremacy.” — Anusha Wijeyakumar
The yoga we know today hasn't been around all that long. In fact the real trend of it — the physical practice — has really only been around for about 100 years. Asana is one of Patanjali's 8 limbs, but it isn't as central as we've made it out to be. In the Yoga Sutras, the space Patanjali gives asana only makes up about 2%. That's a very small percentage of the whole. That means 98% of the Yoga Sutras talks about everything but asana.
Now asana is great. Asana is a real way to connect with our bodies. It's an excellent stepping stone into the greater philosophy of yoga. It isn't all of it though.
Taking Yoga Off the Mat
So if yoga is only 2% of the whole of yogic philosophy, what makes up the rest?
The other 7 limbs are —
The Yamas, or ethics
The Niyamas, or self-care
Asana, the physical practice
Pranayama, breath practice
Pratyahara, detachment from our senses
Dhyana, meditative absorption
Yoga is a whole way of life. A whole, complete approach to how we live and move through this world. The 8 limbs are a process to restore the mind-body-soul connection, which is the whole meaning of yoga.
I'll dive into each of these more in another post, but you can see that the 8 limbs cover our whole interaction with life. Moving from the most external, the Yamas, to the most internal, Samadhi. It's comprehensive. To truly practice yoga, a practice in each limb is necessary.
It's great if asana is a form of exercise for you. It's just important to differentiate that it's not a yoga practice — it's a physical asana practice.
That's truly a brief, brief overview of Patanjali's 8 limbs. I'd love to continue the conversation though! Drop your comments, thoughts, questions below. Head to this post that goes more into the first limb, the Yamas. And be on the lookout for more coming soon!