Yoga has a system of steps that turns everyday schleps into badass yogis that can understand the universe.
There are 8 basic steps. Yogis call them the eight limbs.
Physical postures and exercises are one of those steps. Actually, they’re the third step, but more on that below.
Physical yoga postures have lots of benefits, such as weight loss, strength, and flexibility, but those physical benefits are not the goal of yoga. They just come with the territory.
The goal of a traditional yoga practice is to achieve a state of enlightenment. Some people call this state “zen.” Others call it happiness.
The 8 steps of yoga get your body and your mind ready in order to try and achieve that state.
Most yoga practices today fall somewhere along those 8 steps. Some practices, like Body By Yoga focus on just one step, while other practices take you through more.
We’re going to use the English terms for each of the eight steps below. We’re not going to use Sanskrit because its confusing, and because it’s 2015, and that is what Google translate is for.
The first two steps are external – with rules for how to live.
The next four steps are internal – with rules for how to get your body and mind ready.
The last two steps are a byproduct of going through the first 6 steps.
Confusing? Here’s an info graphic from Alison Hicks Yoga to help clear things up.
1) The First Step Is Restraint
Think of it is as morality. Basically, don’t do these things:
1)Don’t be violent and do not harm things
2)Do not lie
3)Do not steal
4)Do not have sex. Ever? Well, these days we can interpret it to me mean, ,do not have sexy time before marriage, and do not have sex outside your marriage.
5)Don’t be greedy, materialistic, or possessive.
2) The Second Step Is Filled With Personal Rules
Another words, do these things.
5)Be contemplative, introspective, and self aware
6)Surrender to an “it is, what it is” attitude. Things happen that are outside of your control. So deal with it.
3) Third Step Refers To Physical Postures
The use of these physical poses is meant to focus the mind in order to get you ready for what is next. Indeed, recent research has shown that just 20 minutes of yoga leads to improved brain function than spending the same time doing aerobics or hitting the gym. and calm the mind in order to get it “focus” ready.
4) Fourth Limb Is Breath Control
This is what separates yoga from pilates and other types of exercises and where so many of yoga’s benefits come from (such as its effects on the parasympathetic nervous system, blood pressure, and stress relief). Slow methodological breathing techniques coordinate with each strength building physical exercise.
5) Fifth Step Is To Withdraw From The Senses
Yoga started out as a deeply ascetic practice (picture Buddhist monks high up in the mountains with no material possessions). Withdrawing from the senses in order to look inwards and avoid material distractions was the next step in the yogi toolkit.
Today, you might think of this step as practicing introspection and emotional balance. Not paying attention to other people, avoiding emotions like jealousy, and mastering control over your impulses is what this step is all about. Think of it like a “eat to live,” attitude, rather than to “live to eat.”
6) Sixth Step Is Concentration
This step is about developing unshakable concentration. Everything that’s preceded this point was about getting you ready to achieve a “state of complete absorption.” It was put eloquently here, “When the mind has become purified by yoga practices, it becomes able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now we can unleash the great potential for inner healing.”
7) State Of Meditation Is The Seventh Step
Using the skills and the concentration developed earlier, one can enter a state of mediation to see the world for what it really is. Today, this aspect of yoga is useful for staying in the moment, staying alert and aware, and for keeping unwanted thoughts away.
This is when it all comes together and everything just “clicks.” This is when you achieve a union between your body and your mind and the rest of the universe. This is a state of enlightenment and clairvoyance when you realize that you are a part of something much greater.