The 8 limbs of yoga in cancer survivorship

By now you’ve heard me say 100 times “yoga is so much more than just asana (postures)”, and you’ve seen discussion about individual yamas or niyamas in some of my blogs, so you may be thinking “what in the world is she talking about?!”.

The original written text on yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written nearly 2000 years ago, outlined an 8-limbed path to freedom or enlightenment, a holistic guide for all parts of our lives. Yoga asana, or the physical postures/exercises, now commonly understood to equal “yoga” is really just one of these 8 limbs. So let’s learn, briefly, about the whole system.

1. Yamas: Moral guidelines, restraints, how we deal with the world

2. Niyamas: Duties, inner observances, how we deal with ourselves

3. Asana: physical postures

4. Pranayama: breathing practices

5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of/from the senses

6. Dharana: focus, concentration

7. Dhyana: meditation

8. Samadhi: Bliss, enlightenment

In a fabulous TED talk, I recently heard a woman (who is a psychotherapist and a yoga teacher) describe Patanjali’s 8 limbs as “the original cognitive behavioral therapy”! And it truly is! It is a comprehensive guide to practices that will positively affect every corner of our lives, making us kinder, happier, healthier, more peaceful, more patient, more understanding, more fulfilled human beings, more in line with our true selves and our purpose. And maybe, eventually, with enough practice, we reach that place of pure joy and bliss, completely free from suffering of any kind. I believe that we, as cancer survivors, can benefit from this path and these practices as much (or maybe more) as anyone!

So asana is just one part of the system. However, it can be a great starting point, and a springboard to developing our practice of all the other limbs. For example, asana practice clearly encourages pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana. And with time, your asana practice truly becomes a moving meditation, or dhyana. So as we grow our asana practice, we automatically develop in the other areas as well.

It is important to clarify that yoga is not a religion. This system of practices is compatible with whatever spiritual or religious tradition you already identify with. In fact, as you progress in yoga practice, you may become even more connected to whatever spiritual practice you currently have, because of the way yoga helps us become more in touch with ourselves, understanding our true natures, our higher selves, our inner wisdom, and our truth.
If you are interested in more, and how this relates to cancer recovery specifically, check out my educational video on the topic.

In any event, keep practicing and know that if you begin to feel better in general, more peaceful, physically healthier, more at ease in your own skin, more connected to those around you, more compassionate, and more joyful — those are sure signs that you are doing it right, and yoga is working for you, regardless of what your postures look like.


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