Out On A Limb

By  Vanessa Webb | 


One of my great teachers once said “If you want to reach for the stars, it is essential that the Soul learns through experience”. The richness that is brought to our experiences through Yoga, is so deep and so true and so vast, it is a universe unto itself. Sounds a bit dramatic, even as I write it. But how can it be anything other? Life, itself, is magical. To put the first Limb of yoga into practice will change things about your Life because the Yoga system changes Your system. You won’t be the same.  The Yamas and Niyamas can’t do anything but change you by changing how you choose to see things and experience them. It shakes everything up, it stirs it all up, it loosens it all, it shifts what was reality and a habitual way of treading through life, whether any of it or all of it was learned or self-taught. Practicing the First Limb of Yoga will have you reassessing what is useful to you now, what is really relevant, and what hinders. It’s like a juice detox cleaning out the system of the mind. This is why it is essential to begin at the beginning, to establish a foundation in the practice like having our feet on the mat. 

The Yamas and Niyamas being the First Limb of the Eightfold path, are therefore, as our feet are to asana practice….this is our rooted foundation from which everything else unfolds.  Every asana engages some muscles actively while others are at ease and passive; likewise, with the Yamas and Niyamas, some are more active in a given situation while others ease back…until it’s time to activate the passive and release those which have been active.  This means learning to observe whatever serves as the appropriate stabilizer in any given moment, but always from the foundation. We trust this type of grounding because it is our bedrock…this serves our commitment through fear, while we shake and shimmy through what can be a turbulent practice.  Then, at last, sensing the inner calm. Putting the commitment into our practice of the Yamas and Niyamas as we do our asana practice, eventually guides us into the meditation, the peace and freedom that follows any emotional turbulence that moves through as we establish a new norm.  So often we feel happier after asana practice because we feel physically lighter and move with more agility…same with the affect of the Yamas and Niyamas on the mind…we feel happier and more at ease mentally, and in the heart. 

Like picking them up off the dusty shelves, practicing the Yamas and Niyamas activates them, they begin showing their life, they begin to resonate within you they become living, breathing qualities. They infuse your life with their essence and this is the embodied practice of them.  From this point we’ll resonate with their message in layers of understanding and wisdom because they are alive now.  We’ve elevated our experience by a notch or two (or more), where the magical connection with Life begins. We’re more in tune, more aligned, the division between the man-made world and Life thins.

It’s so important to walk Ahimsa alongside our practice, so practice it and practice it well. Ahimsa reveals itself in layers and will never force you to practice more than you’re ready for. The only surprise might be that you’re ready for more than you realized. This is where the discomfort is, and this is where your relationship with the Yamas and Niyamas is essential, so you can lean into them with all your trust to get you through.  The truth is, you will consider backing out when you hit those edges, as we do when we want to slightly ease out of an asana posture when it starts to challenge us. We’re tempted to cheat here, but the Yamas and Niyamas will hold us in line, because through them, we’ve become more of who we are.  So we stay the course.  We stay the course because innately that’s what we do, innately we’re reliable, and accountable, and trustworthy, and courageous enough to see things through.  These principles are just helping us to rediscover this. 

Always be guided by Ahimsa we’ll remember our purpose when the shaking and quivering begins. This shaking is the awe and reverence for the practice; staying the course through this demonstrates our deep respect, not only for ourselves but the practice of Yoga.  Practicing the First Limb will make us tremble as we hold true, as anything that is sacred and loving will do. This is where we feel our awe for the practice and what it gives back to us when we commit to the path and all it holds. This is how it gives back, by holding our hand whispering, “I’m here with you”.  So lean on them into greater awareness of self, into greater enlightenment of how you fit into all that is; and revealing that you do indeed have a purpose in being here, and that it is your duty to honour that purpose and fulfill it the best you can while you’re here. The Yamas and Niyamas won’t leave you once you are in the habit of remembering them, and how they serve you in the way that you serve them.  The First Limb is a system worked progressively; yet as you work them, you begin to see how they fold into one another as though separate but one at the same time. 

One caveat, be wary of “Oh I got that”, never lose respect for step one; guaranteed there will be a slip, because the Yamas and Niyamas are bigger than we are, and if we lose that respect for them we lose the practice.  They guide us toward our Being, if not into our Being…it’s what got you where you are now…there is always more to learn from returning to the basics.  There is such great value within step one, as it reveals more each time we return with the new wisdom and knowledge gained from the steps which follow…which all emerged from step one. Never be too arrogant or too good for step one because it is reflected all around us on a daily basis.  Each moment is a new opportunity to step onto that platform and be supported to grow into greater wisdom, compassion, and understanding…a connection to the unity. We have the willingness then to do good…which we often forget when we’re so stressed that we drop the steps.  We become self-absorbed in stress, and often do harm in those times.  But if we’ve practiced the steps during easier times, the practice will unfold more naturally during times of stress. 

We have to know that we are resourceful and the Yamas and Niyamas bring to light that we are…but we have to practice. Life will become lighter, but we need to commit to the practice. Never lose respect for step one because you never know when you’re going to need it.

From the First Limb you will live your life differently because you will approach Life differently. You won’t be able to go back…because you won’t want to.