There’s a saying in the yoga community, “Yoga is not a workout, it’s a work in.” But what exactly does this mean?
Do you burn calories practicing yoga? Yes. Can it help you lose weight? Yes. Do you tone your muscles? Get stronger? And leaner? Yes, yes, and yes. But as much as yoga is touted as an incredible physical activity, it’s a mental exercise as well.
In fact, if you look at the history of yoga, you’ll see that the physical component of yoga is only one part of an overall yogic lifestyle. In classical yoga, there are eight limbs that encompass true yoga. Asana, or the physical practice of yoga, is just one of these eight.
Many modern practitioners of yoga develop their physical practice in order to train their mind and body before they move on to the other seven limbs. By learning to become consciously aware, hold poses for long periods of time and overcome uncomfortable situations, we can build up our mental capacity and willpower. With that strong foundation, we can then move on to focusing on the other limbs of yoga.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
- Yama is based around five ethical standard: nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, continence and noncovetousness.
- Niyama is based around five pieces of self-discipline: cleanliness, contentment, spiritual austerities, study of scriptures and one’s self, and surrender to God.
- Asana are the postures or physical poses we practice.
- Pranayama is breath control.
- Pratyahara is withdrawal from the external world and instead focusing our attention inward.
- Dharana is the practice of deep concentration.
- Dhyana is meditation or contemplation – also known as uninterrupted concentration.
- Samadhi is the point in which you reach a state of ecstasy and uncover your true Self.
It takes years of dedicated practice to achieve all eight limbs of yoga, and many yogis never truly get there. And that’s ok! We continue to practice to the best of our abilities, and we get stronger (physically and mentally). Everyone practices for a different reason, and if the physical practice is all you’re looking for – that’s just fine. And even if you want to delve deeper, asana will always be an integral part of a complete yogic lifestyle.