In the West, many people see yoga as a series of postures that are used to enhance health and are often coupled with meditation and breathwork. However, this only accounts for only 3 of the 8 original principles of yoga. That said, even when you only use part of a complete yoga practice, you still get yoga’s myriad of health benefits, even in comparison with other exercises. What researchers have found is that while both regular exercise and yoga have obvious marked effects on health outcomes, yoga improves our perception of health, happiness, and decreases anxiety. Given this, what could the potential benefits be if all 8 principles of yoga were to be included in the practice? To answer these questions, it is perhaps best to look back at the original understanding of yoga before it’s modern-day simplification.
The Eight Principles of Yoga
Also known as the limbs of yoga, the eight principles is the translation of the Sanskrit term Ashtanga. The eight principles include Yama – our attitude and understanding of our environment, Niyama – our attitudes toward ourselves, Asana – the physical postures of yoga that many audiences consider generalized yoga, Pranayama – using breathwork to connect with the lifeforce shared between all things, Pratyahara – our ability to focus inward, withdrawing from the 5 senses of the body, Dharana – the practice of singular focus, Dhyana – meditation, and finally Samadhi - complete integration of all the limbs of yoga practice, and ourselves.
Yama Yoga - Deepening Your Yoga Practice With Herbs
Just as the ancient scholars wrote of the 8 limbs of yoga and their abilities to affect the mind and body, they also purported the use of herbal products to enhance yogic practices. For instance, ashwagandha is used to calm the mind while powerfully strengthening the body’s ability to perform Asana, or movement based, yoga, while also enhancing the experience of Dharana or singular focus yoga. Another herb prominently called on to enhance meditation ability is tulsi, or holy basil. This herb is said to be the gateway to the divine found within nature, and as such, drinking holy basil tea supports and correlates with a deepening of Yama yoga, or the relationship of one’s self to nature. Meanwhile, gotu kola has been called the most spiritual of all herbs, used by yogis to develop the crown chakra. Its leaf even resembles the brain, reflecting its ability to balance the left and right hemispheres, which yoga itself also does. Gotu Kola is a tonic for the mind and nerve tissues, nourishing the central nervous system and rebuilding energy reserves, making it a key herb in mental health support and for enhancing the experience of all yoga practices. Lastly, bacopa, also known in India as nira brahmi, is used to enhance focus and concentration while also expanding the mind’s ability to weigh and consider. Taken together, employing these herbs, much like therapeutics of yoga itself, will continue to help us unlock deeper aspects of health, wellness, and serenity in our daily lives.
Connecting the Outer World with our Inner World
Yoga will continue to grow in favor worldwide without question, perhaps even as the best medicine of the modern day when considering its myriad of benefits, it is important to consider deepening your yoga practice with some of the other aspects of yoga. By taking these additional facets into account, perhaps we will see yoga’s therapeutic value grow even more exponentially. Additionally, by incorporating herbal teas and products into our daily yoga practice we honor the yama yoga, that is, we connect the outside world with our internal one. It is this union between ourselves and the world that we all share that will ultimately lead to the greatest growth and healing of all.