Originally written in 2015 and re-published
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a two and a half day 8-Limbs of Yoga course. We focused on the 8-limbed path of yoga, which was originally written by Patanjali thousands of years ago. This course was very informative, both for my own practice and for my teaching as well. It allowed me to put theory into practice and allowed me to deepen my yogic knowledge and practice.
So, naturally, I got to thinking… (A bit randomly, but stick with me here!) for the past few years, we have had a preconceived idea of “what yoga is supposed to look like.” Or, the “Yoga Body.”
The phrase “Yoga Body” may cause you to think of a skinny body wearing tiny shorts and effortlessly balancing in a handstand… Because really, that is what social media and yoga publications (for the most part) is pushing on us. Or maybe it brings to mind the image of any body type that is both strong and flexible.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being skinny, wearing tiny shorts, doing handstands, being strong or being flexible (basically any of the images and ideas that are pushed into our minds from yogic publications and media) but there is, however, a limitation in seeing only the outside of a person (yourself included!) and what a body can achieve physically.
Think about it: a “Yoga Body” is a mixture of tissue and bones connected to a beating heart, a deep breath, a focused mind—and a steady spirit. A “Yoga Body” is a body. ‘Nuff said.
For many of us, our yoga practice began by wanting to achieve a healthier relationship with our body. For many of us, perhaps we began our practice in pursuit of said “Yoga Body.” But a Yoga Body is one part of a complete person—not only a collection of bones, muscles, and organs but a body of heart, mind, and spirit too.
The practice of yoga may have led us to a deeper understanding of our mind, emotions and our consciousness as well. And understanding these aspects is important – very much so – but don’t overlook the value of treating the body with the love and respect it deserves.
Our bodies are the essential vehicle for all of these practices.
So, back to the 8-Limbs that got me thinking… The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two steps upon the eight-limb path that is yoga. They offer a simple yet profound way of looking at our bodies as more than a collection of exterior physical features.
As an alternative to any preconceived cultural notions of what a yoga body is supposed to be, consider this instead:
- Ahimsa (non-harming) is a Yoga Body (a mindset) that replaces harmful thoughts with helpful words—one that embraces tears when they come and allows joy and ecstasy to pulse through, uninhibited.
- Satya (truth) is a Yoga Body that is aligned with reality. It acknowledges the pain and welcomes a challenge. It knows when to be still and when to move. It acts with the truth—but when it does not, it forgives, accepts and moves on.
- Asteya (non-stealing) is a Yoga Body that receives all of the freely given gifts of sunshine, fresh air, friendly embraces, and beautiful music. It recognizes the beauty in all things, accepts what is freely given, and does not take what is not.
- Brahmacharya (self-direction) is a Yoga Body that honors all aspects of life through honest, deliberate actions. It directs passionate energy toward meaningful work and being of service to others.
- Aparigraha (non-grasping) is a Yoga Body that accepts what is and loves. It embraces the present moment and does not bury itself in greed beyond necessity.
- Saucha (purity) is a Yoga Body that consistently cleanses and purifies all the senses through a judgment of what is consumed.
- Santosha (contentment) is an accepting Yoga Body that is content with life and all that is contained within. It lacks nothing and exudes happiness with what is.
- Tapas (cleansing through fire) is a disciplined Yoga Body trained to withstand hardship, heartache, and loss. It can relax each night and begin again in the morning, taking on a bright new day with hope and courage.
- Svadhyaya (self-study) is a curiously attentive Yoga Body, always listening for new cues. It wonders why, and moves without judgment. It listens to the language of pain and adjusts itself accordingly.
- Ishvaraparanidana (surrender) is a Yoga Body that surrenders to rest and restoration when needed. It recognizes that it is everything and nothing at the same time.
The next time the temptation arises to compare yourself to the body on the mat next to you or in the Instagram photo on your phone, come back to this thought instead, replacing “Yoga Body” with “I am.”
Make this thought into an affirmation or mantra, honoring the body as a beautiful part of the complete person.