by Jill Lawson: As asana becomes less accessible, we can grow into a deeper appreciation for the limbs of yoga that live off the mat. Discover how they can guide us through the aging process…
Nimble and spry, our youthful bodies alight atop the yoga mat. Pliable and limber, our frames fold, bend, and contort. Grateful to sweat our prayers and leave our worries behind, we look forward to the next time we find sanctuary on the mat.
As time marches on, our bodies suddenly cry out for attention. Aching knees, a sore low back, and tender wrists knock loudly. We open the door to a body different from the one we used to know. While this discovery can shock and plague us all, aging is inevitable. And so is the need to adjust our practice as the years pass. As we mature, the lifeblood that once nourished the roots of our asana practice takes another course and we have new branches to discover. Aging is a perfect time to explore the rest of yoga’s limbs.
Growing Into All Eight Limbs of Yoga
Patanjali outlined a system in the Yoga Sutras, referred to as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. While most modern-day yogis may be overly familiar with the third limb, asana (yoga poses), perhaps acquainted with the fourth limb, pranayama (breathwork), and the seventh limb, dhyana(meditation), many are unaware of yoga’s other jewels of wisdom that branch out beyond an asana practice. Leaving the mat behind to climb deeper up the tree of yoga can give us a lofty view as the leaves of change pirouette back into the soil and we enter the winter season of life.
The First and Second Limbs: Yamas and Niyamas
The first two limbs, the yamas and the niyamas, are meant to prepare the practitioner for the journey of yoga, much like tilling the land before planting a seed. However, it’s never too late to dig through the fertile soil of yoga’s ethical restraints and observances. Each and every yama(yoga don’ts) and niyama (yoga dos) supports a spiritual path, and as we age, concepts such as letting go (aparigraha) and surrender (ishvara pranidhana) are of great service as we say goodbye to our youth and learn to embrace getting older.
The Fifth Limb: Pratyahara
A departure from a conventional mindset may seem appropriate once we experience the soul-stirring effects of yoga. But, as we age, we tend to set furrows in the landscape of our minds and they get harder to till with passing of time. Practicing the fifth limb, pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), helps us to find shelter from the stressful influences of aging. We become better able to retreat from the thorns of societal judgment as we wander through the garden of self-realization.
The Sixth Limb: Dharana
Joy can wilt by our remembrance of how resilient our bodies used to be while we struggle to defy the physical reality of aging. Looking back is one thing, wishing to be young again only invites weeds of anguish that suffocate the buds of happiness. It is of utmost importance to stay focused, as in the practice of dharana (concentration), and muse about the sweetest nectar that comes out of ripened fruit.
The Eighth Limb: Samadhi
We all seek freedom from suffering and have hope of renewal. Much like turning the soil at the end of a long, winter season, we do our work to continue to awaken our spirit. From chimes ringing at the end of an asana practice to songbirds singing at the first hint of light on a spring morning, after a period of silence and tranquility, comes rebirth. Samadhi (bliss), is the manifestation of heaven on Earth. Awakening in the orchard of paradise is yoga’s best gift. We can use this gift to face the fear of death (abhinivesa).
Let your practice of all the magical limbs of yoga plant a new seed in the soil of your soul. Nurture yourself, and the incredible cycle of life. As it helps you, it helps cultivate the spirit of everyone you encounter.
Jill Lawson is a yoga and fitness teacher, writer, and yoga studio owner living in Southwest Colorado. With a master’s degree in exercise science, Jill understands the body in motion. But it is her deep connection to nature and her personal yogic practices, that provide the source of happiness and inspiration she is so passionate about sharing. She began her yoga studies at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram and continues to explore the heart of yoga in all aspects of life.