Yoga International recently published an an ashtanga yoga Q&A with seasoned yogi Richard Freeman.

Among other things, Freeman talks about the importance of breath, practicing mindfulness, and acting compassionately, but the question — and more specifically, answer — that caught my attention was about the 8 limbs of yoga and which ones students tend to overlook…

…and why.

According to Freeman:

Depending on their circumstances, students tend to overlook the particular limb of yoga — that aspect of the practice — that exposes the hidden side of their ideas about who they are. One may be likely to overlook meditation because they can’t be with chaotic, frustrated, sad, or other uncomfortable mind states. Another might, lacking compassion, overlook the effect of their yoga practice on their own body or how their actions impact others. Still another might overlook or demonize asana because of not understanding the purpose and the subtle internal technique of the practice or because they have somehow developed a fear of the full spectrum of physical and emotional feeling that will occur in a consistent practice.

The reason that there are so many limbs is so that we may learn to apply the insights of yoga to all aspects of our lives. This is particularly true in terms of how yoga impacts our relationships with other beings, for these basic relationships have the most powerful emotional influence on our body and mind.

So, we tend to avoid what we don’t want to deal with. Not exactly a new idea in general life, but I find it fascinating how it applies to yoga.

For those who don’t practice yoga or who’ve just started practicing yoga, there are 8 limbs of yoga. Yoga Journal provides an excellent explanation of the 8 limbs of yoga, but here’s a quick breakdown of each limb and what it deals with:

  1. Yama: Yama deals with our personal ethical standards and sense of integrity.
  2. Niyama: Niyama deals with self-discipline and our spiritual observances.
  3. Asanas: Asanas are the yoga postures, which help us work on our self-discipline and concentration — both of which help with meditation.
  4. Pranayama: Pranayama deals with breath control and the connection between our breath, mind, and emotions.
  5. Pratyahara: During pratyahara, we practice drawing our attention inward — away from outside stimuli, which gives us a chance to look at ourselves.
  6. Dharana: Dharana deals with actually dealing with our inside selves, after we practice pratyahara (see above).
  7. Dhyana: During dhyana, you practice the concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana).
  8. Samadhi: Samadhi has been described as the “state of ecstasy,” when the point of focus merges and the Self is transcended.

Now that you have a working knowledge of the 8 limbs of yoga (or, for you seasoned yogis, a much better understanding), which of the 8 limbs do you think YOU overlook? Why do you think you avoid that limb, and what changes can you make to draw attention back to it?