I’ve been interested in the big picture of yoga for many years. I’m talking about the way the system of yoga thoroughly considers all aspects of a person – you could say, human and even divine.
Tree of yoga is how the structure is described in that it is comprised of eight limbs, listed below.
As a budding yogini, in my twenties, I was only interested in the third limb – asana – the practice of postures. This was typical for my age and culture, and reflective of how most westerners have come to understand yoga.
About 20 years ago, I started thinking, is this all there is? Mid-life crises, knock backs, broken relationships will do that to a person. It’s probably ultimately a good thing, though these upheavals feel horrible at the time.
I found the ‘more’ of what I was looking for in all the other limbs, especially the first one – yama, which concerns difficulties in relationship with others, and the second one – niyama, which gives guidelines for personal daily behaviour.
Renowned yoga teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, gives a kindly view in his commentary on Sutra II-29. He says that we don’t necessarily have to follow the order of presentation, from 1 to 8; there is no definitive route anyway. What matters is that we achieve yoga citta vrtti nirodhah - the ability to direct and focuss our mental activity. Then we can trust that the other limbs will develop at the same time.
It’s important to detach from unhealthy motives when following the eight limbs. I practised yoga for selfish reasons in the beginning: attaining physical perfection and longevity. Opening up to the other limbs doesn’t mean I’ve transcended having difficulties but they can be put into perspective with yogic skills.
There are eight components of Yoga. These are:
*Patanjali’s Yogasutras, translation and commentary by T.K.V. Desikachar