People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons: injuries, stress, tight hamstrings, or even to help them get more sleep. To be honest, no matter how you get there, you’ll eventually notice the amazing benefits it has to offer.
Studies have shown that yoga does a lot more than just get you flexible, but because most teachers focus solely on the physical practice, we miss out on the many other incredible benefits that will serve us in more ways than touching our toes.
So what’s the #1 mistake you’re making when practicing yoga?
You’re only practicing yoga on your mat.
Don’t get me wrong - flowing through a series of poses has its benefits, but the poses are only one of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, and I’ve yet to see Warrior 1 transform a life like what I’m about to share with you.
The Eight Limbs are like a roadmap for how to live your life in the present, not sweat the small stuff, let go of the things that aren’t serving you, to be content where you are, and to be happy for those around you, even if it seems like their lives are a gazillion times “better.”
Once you put all Eight Limbs into practice you’ll marvel at how you no longer are irritated by your kids fighting over the X-Box, or your jerky co-worker who stole your idea and presented it to your boss as his. Even the five pounds you gained on vacation won’t put you into a tailspin, because once you start living in the present without reacting to every outside obstacle, then you look at situations for what they are, figure out a way to handle them, and move on.
No complaining or eating a pint of ice cream necessary.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga work together as a team. They start off with practices that are more about being more mindful of our actions than perfecting the poses, and they’re taught to be followed in order. So ironically, nailing the first two limbs that deal with personal growth and serving others is more important than getting into that handstand you’re coveting on Instagram- because asana, or the actual poses, are number three.
Breaking Down The Eight Limbs of Yoga
- Self-restraints that teach us self-discipline. Ever heard of The Ten Commandments? These are just like them minus the religious aspect, and they relate to how we can best co-exist peacefully with our neighbors, and those aforementioned credit-stealing co-workers.
- Observances to guide us along our yoga practice and they’re important to be learned before stepping foot on a mat.
Can you see why it’s been said to practice those first two limbs before moving on? They have so much to do with how you treat people, and yourself, that these mental practices are given much more value than balancing on your head, as they should. Yogi masters believe that once you begin to practice those, you are ready to get “physical” on the mat.
- Self Study
- Asana is the physical part of yoga; the poses that most westerners are familiar with. The number one thing to remember when doing physical yoga is that the posture should be steady and comfortable, and the breath flowing freely- nothing else matters.
- Breath regulation is one of the most underrated aspects of yoga, yet one of the most powerful. The breath takes precedence above the postures, as it’s usually a mirror of what’s going on in your mind. If your breath is steady and comfortable then your pose probably is as well. If you’re holding your breath or gasping for breath then you’re probably pushing yourself past where your body should go.
- Sense withdrawal is all about focusing your attention inward so as to not be distracted by each buzz on your phone or mosquito biting your arm. On the mat, can you stand in Warrior II with your thigh on fire and stay focused on your breath without constantly having the urge to straighten your leg? Great, then you’re already practicing this limb. Concentration is a constant battle with the senses, so turning inward essentially prepares you for the next 3 limbs.
- Concentration leads us closer to peace. It could be a candle flame, a mantra, or a picture - whatever it is, you practice concentrating so intently on that object that time disappears. All this concentration is a set of training wheels for meditation, which is next.
- Meditation is uninterrupted focus - where the real magic happens. So what are you thinking of? Some teachers say nothing at all, but for beginners that can be discouraging as it takes years to have glimpses of concentrating on absolutely nothing without any thoughts of disruption. I’ve been taught and teach to use the same tools that you use to begin concentrating- your breath, a mantra, a candle flame, etc.
Then what’s the difference you ask? Think of your object of focus as water flowing from a pitcher- in concentration that flow stops and starts and stops and starts while pouring into a glass, and in meditation it continually flows freely.
- Bliss is when they say you have reached enlightenment, the ultimate goal. (Uhh, I’m still working on this last one). But seriously, instead of looking at it like I’m aiming at some unattainable nirvana, I’ve made my goal something much more tangible, that of being present in each and every moment and in every interaction, and on some days I reach it, but not every day.
I promise, even if you focus on practicing just one of these limbs at a time, alongside your physical practice, it will have a profound effect on your mental well being as you begin to integrate them into your daily life.
It takes practice to stay calm on your mat—and in life, but if you ditch the notion of yoga just happening on that 8 x 2 foot rectangle, you’ll notice a radical change in the positive light that is you yourself and the world around you.
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