“I’ll have eight pieces of pie, please.”


Eight Limbs HandoutWhen we go to a yoga class in the US, we expect to move and breathe, and perhaps gain some positive inspiration. But yoga has so much more to offer than just the physical postures (asana). There are actually eight pieces in the full yogic pie, as delineated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The picture above shows the full pie in a very simple format.

Most people start learning about yoga via asana for many reasons…often times they’re in pain, and someone told them that yoga might help. Indeed it might, and all the more so if they partake in more than just the physical postures. Nevertheless, physical wellness is a strong motivator! Consistently stepping onto a mat with a skilled teacher’s guidance, you learn to appreciate the very aliveness in your body, as new sensations arise and you understand your limitations and strengths. If a student allows himself to be influenced on the mat by the other parts of the pie, the physical practice is enriched with ideas such as non-violence (ahimsa), truth (satya) and moderation (brahmacharya). Learning about your body, mind, and spirit (svadhyaya) becomes an essential part of your time on your mat.

As an asana practice grows, a breathing (pranayama) practice will naturally arise. We breathe about 20,000 times per day, and seldom do we think about it. In fact, many of us breathe just enough to not die! Staying alive is a good thing, and so is more healthful breathing. There are many pranayama practices, and they don’t have to be complicated to be helpful. For example, equalizing the inhalation and exhalation can calm the nervous system and bring mental clarity. Connecting pranayama with asana in a mindful way enriches both practices. This is often a person’s first taste of more than one piece of the pie, and so dawns the understanding that each piece supports the others. This is not linear learning, but rather, everything all the time. A bit of this and a bit of that, motivated by the individual’s interests and abilities.

For many devoted yogis, taking what we learn off the mat into our lives is the most rewarding part of the yoga journey. As we learn to physically align our bodies and to breathe more healthfully, the seeds of mindfulness are sown. We feel better among the new growth, and we want that growth to flourish. The initial seeds grow by adding in more pieces of the yogic pie…what a relief to learn how to tune out the 21st century noise periodically (pratyahara, dharana), how to engage more healthfully with others (yamas) and take better care of ourselves in the ways that matter most (niyamas). Meditation (dyana) is hip in pop culture nowadays, but it’s always been part of yoga. The fruit of dyana is peaceful contentment and union (samadhi). Considering samadhi, noted scholar Nicolai Bachman had this to say, “When we are so completely focused that our own sense of individuality vanishes, then our heart-mind field of consciousness reflects only the object of focus and nothing else. Our attention is so riveted and unswerving that external sensory input is totally turned off. We are in a zone, having let go of the outer world, and now experience a feeling of unity.”

All of this just by stepping onto a yoga mat? Are you skeptical? Or perhaps already sold? I hope our yoga journeys cross some day so we can chat about it.

Check out my website for class and workshop schedules, home practice help, and more!

2 comments so far

  1. Ann Farese on

    Your “simple format” is so helpful to a yoga student. Thank you so much for being such a thoughtful teacher. Namaste

    • colleenyoga on

      Thanks, Ann! It’s so fun practicing with you.

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