A comprehensive guide to the 8 Limbs of Yoga

^^^^ Check out a photo shoot I did with Rachael, a beautiful yogi. Her spirit is so amazing, and as I let her do whatever pose came to her while a thunderstorm echoed under the bridge, I realized how the 8 limbs of yoga can translate from the art form of yoga to my art form, photography.

The 8 limbs of yoga. Us yogis, we live by them in our practice, and we all aim to take them from the mat and into our daily life. And the truth is, without them, where would the evolution of yoga have gone (if anywhere)?

Click the link up there ^^^ for a very cool timeline of important moments in the shaping of modern yoga, including when the sutras were written.

Confession: I didn’t know about the 8 limbs until I bought a new mat about 4 months ago. I know I know, I’m sorry! I’m not worthy! But better late than never, right?
On the paper label wrapped around the mat, there was a section entitled “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.” The description was this:
“The following wisdom is from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written thousands of years ago. The practice of mystic yoga can be categorized into the following eight parts:” etc etc. Obviously I cut it out, and it now lives on a shelf above my bed. I read it from time to time to remind myself why I came to practice, how far I’ve come, how far I have to go and what yoga is meant to be. And let me tell you, as a twenty-one-year-old whippersnapper in the midst of a city, they mean something totally different than older yogis who are wise and more stable than I am. But that’s also what yoga is about: applying these basic principals to ourselves, no matter how different we may be. So here’s what they mean to me, and how I learned about them. I could go on and on about these eight limbs, as I’m sure you can too, but I’ll keep it brief so you don’t fall asleep on me (or quit reading because you’re bored, that woud be bad too). Bear with me, there’s some really cool infographics to simplify all this for you as you go along.

  1. Yama: universal morality, control of the senses. Yamas are our attitude toward others and how we are to deal with things outside of ourselves. The five wise characteristics in yamas kind of remind me of the commandments of the Bible, except softer, gentler (and totally less daunting). The gist of them is this: don’t take more than you need (don’t steal), neutralize your greed, have compassion for all living things, speak the truth and control yourself. Pretty easy, right? Simply put, control yourself. Think about your actions, pay attention to the world around you and live to your means.
  2. Niyama: Personal observances, or how we relate internally to ourselves. There are also “rules” for this, ranging from cleanliness, finding self awareness in everything we do, staying fit, keeping pure and being content with what we have. Personaly, I need to remember this one. It’s really easy to get caught up in all the Continue reading

I’m such a tease: a massive post coming very soon!

That’s right folks, I’ve been working on a really cool, super awesome, fantabulous post for you all this past week.

I’ve been waiting to write a post on the 8 Limbs of Yoga for a while now while I dove into research about yoga, its roots and experiencing the 8 limbs for myself. I have you a post that I will warn you about right now: get a cup of coffee or tea and sit on down, because you will be reading for a while! But honestly, who doesn’t love reading something adequately researched and written in (slightly) witty 21-year-old language? Like the photo above, the post will have shots from a beautiful photo shoot I did last week with the yoga instructor you’ve all heard about this whole semester, Rachael. I’ll also be bestowing some more data visualizations on you, maybe another timeline and some much needed found photographic excellence. Who knows, maybe I’ll even put up another playlist! We’ll see how ambitious I get here (finals are tough).

So if you’re ready, like this post! And send some good vibes my way in the next few days as I finish up my undergrad degree!

Namaste, y’all.

Data journalism & yoga: an (un)likely pair

Journalism changes day-to-day nowadays, and one of the coolest things about journalism is its delving into data. Comment boxes, open questions and surveys allow us to create visualizations about trends, likes, dislikes, history and basic information. And that’s what I did here: I sent out a survey (which, if you participated, THANK YOU!) and created visualizations out of my answers. Click on the graphs to be taken to a more detailed version; I hope you find these relationships and visualizations as interesting as I have. I will be distributing out another survey soon for my final in my multimedia class (I promise I’ll keep this blog going once the semester is going!), so stay tuned!

View Surveygoers in a full screen map

First, above is a link to a map of the hometowns of 11 of the over 20 people that took my yoga survey. Check it out, and next time you could be on it!

Every bit of my survey data, in a word cloud customized and based on the frequency of the text.

Every bit of my survey data, in a word cloud customized and based on the frequency of the text.

Next, above is a word visualization. The larger the word, the more frequently it came up in the survey questions and answers.

Relationship between practice and benefits in yogaPurple: mental health benefits
Green: physical benefits
Mustard: emotional health benefits

Above: A matrix chart of the relationship between what brought people to practice yoga in the first place (stress management, physical exercise, a spiritual experience) and what the people within these categories felt the best benefit of yoga is.

relationship between yoga practice and benefits

Many EyesGreen: mental health benefits
Blue: physical health benefits
Red: emotional health benefits

Above: A multi-faceted matrix chart detailing the relationship between what brought people to practice yoga in the first place (stress management, physical exercise, a spiritual experience) and what the people within these categories felt the best benefit of yoga is. This relationship is then broken up into categories of what my survey participants think yoga is, a spiritual discipline or a mental/physical fitness program.

yogis and thoughts on yoga in the olympics

Many EyesBlue: I’m confused, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of yoga?
Green: Yoga in the Olympics is an okay idea.
Red: yoga has no place in the Olympics.
Tan: yoga in the Olympics is an awesome idea!

Above: A matrix chart shows the percentages of surveygoers that practice yoga on various levels, and in those percents, what those people thought about the idea of yoga in the Olympics (which is not happening, but what people said was interesting nonetheless).

Yoga: a youngin in the USofA.


Click the link above to see a timeline of yoga history in the United States!

We are so young, it’s true. Some cultures started literally thousands of years ago; histories date back to biblical times and before that, with ancient legends of mystic gardens and brutal wars, but the United States? We date back a whole 250 years.

God, we are like, sooooo behind.

Similarly, we got a bit of a late start to the yoga culture as well. Yoga is one of the ancient arts, dating back 3000 years to its traditional roots. The United States didn’t even have a Swami in its midst until 1893, when Swami Vivekenanda came to Chicago. It wasn’t until 1947 until Indra Devi brought hatha yoga to the United States, opening the first hatha studio in the west. Consequently (and ironically), I thought yoga in the United States was actually younger than that. That means that my grandma could’ve been a yogi as early as her her late teens and early twenties, being the first generation of yogis in the United States.

So how did it take so long to catch on, and then over quadruple in size in just ten years?

Media, my friends.

It’s really amazing (and quite funny) to think that there was a TV show in the 70s about yoga. Did a lot of people watch it? Was everyone wearing brightly colored spandex and headbands with their big hair? I hope so.

But with the advent of social media and the Internet in general (and, you know, the US catching up with the times), yoga has spread across the continental United States as it gains attention for its various health benefits, both physical and mental. I know I don’t have to list this all for you, since you all already know, but seriously, how did it take us this long to figure out how great it is?

Better late than never though, right?

Namaste. Have a great week, y’all.

Where’s your next destination?

View A condensed list of yoga studios in Pittsburgh, PA in a full screen map

Click the link above to see a map of Pittsburgh, PA studios sorted by zip code and class type.

The best thing about technology is that it gives us power at our fingertips. With the touch of a few keys, we can find places to adventure to, places to eat, things to buy, ideas for inspiration and chronicle our entire lives. Okay, maybe it’s the worst thing too. But technology is great, and it’s powerful, and helpful!

I think that maps are the coolest piece of technological advancement yet. For instance, the map above has 23 yoga studios pinpointed in Pittsburgh (that I could find). What astonishes me is how popular yoga has become, and how versatile it is, as a hobby, a lifestyle and destresser. There is a class for just about everyone, ranging from cheap to expensive, early morning to late night, beginners to advanced practitioners, meditation classes, private sessions, corporate sessions and even skype sessions for long-distance practicing.

The studios above don’t even encompass every place to practice yoga in the Pittsburgh area. I mapped studios only with a “Pittsburgh, Pa” address. The surrounding areas have even more studios, and the compilation doesn’t include places like the YMCA or Gold’s Gym that offer yoga classes in addition to their fitness classes.

Even in my little hometown off the beaten track, population 9,000, there are yoga classes offered at the YMCA, gym and even a studio in town. Yoga has gotten so popular in the past year that it’s spreading to even the smallest of towns.

Maps. They tell us all the possibilities of places to go. They also tell us about these places, how to get there, and how to get back home again.
Check out your area and see what new places you can try!

Technology. Isn’t it really amazing?

Review: My Newest Practice Playlist

We all have our favorite playlists for our practice. The songs may have lyrics, they may be contemporary songs, traditional songs, or if you’re like me, they’re instrumental, meditative songs that reach out  into the realms of the new age genre. For some time I’ve been looking for the perfect playlist to practice to when I’m at home, and this playlist, entitled Blissful Moments, has an hour of perfection for me whether I’m practicing, meditating or even studying in my room.

Here’s a quick link for you:

blissful moments

A screenshot of Blissful Moments

If you’ve never heard of 8tracks, you should go there right now and start exploring. The gist of 8tracks is sharing personal playlists: create a username, create playlist, appropriately describe and tag playlist, and let others “like” it to have it in their own personal dashboard of their own customized music playlists. It’s kind of like Pandora.

But I digress, back to the playlist.
The user who created this describes Blissful Moments as “one hour of music therapy, as a platform to enhance concentration and memory. Ideally as a companion for meditation, healing sessions and inner peace. Including works by Nat Grant, Byron Metcalf and Daniel Waples with Flavio Lopez” (source: blissful moments playlist description). Now, many playlists I’ve found have a few gems in them for me to really get in the zone for my practice, but Blissful Moments has really been a game-changer for me, where all ten tracks really stand out as stellar pieces of music. 

Here’s a piece from the playlist, slightly remixed (in a very good way):

If you’re looking for a practice playlist to vinyasa flow to or free flow whatever is in your heart at the time, then this playlist is for you. You’ve got everything from ocean and water sounds to chimes to flutes and marimbas, and it’s all designed to guide your mind to that beautiful, calm state of connection. Blissful Moments is also perfect for studying, meditation and even falling asleep if you really need it. All ten pieces are soothing and definitely designed for a flow, so it’s not something to listen to if you’re looking for a power practice.

Beware: one thing about Blissful Moments (and this is an 8track thing) is that each time you play the playlist, it’s on shuffle. So if you’re used to a set playlist and like to know what song is coming, you may not like this. But I will say that the pieces flow together very nicely, no matter what order they play in.

These ten songs make up an hour of music, which is also perfect for a not-too-short, but not-too-long practice. Bottom line: I’m really diggin’ this playlist right now, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a great practice playlist without going through too much effort to find one (oh look, I’ve found one for you!).

If you end up being as into this playlist as I am, check out the user who created it, Acoustic Ecology, who has some other really great mixes for your meditative pleasure.

Have a yoga playlist or song you really love? Comment with it, I’m always looking for more music to practice and meditate to! 

Namaste, all. Have a great week.



My top 6 yoga styles

Floreana Island yoga

Portrait doing yoga on Floreana Island (Galapagos Islands, Ecuador)
Photo credit: Rachael Kinley

There are so many styles of yoga to try, so how do you decide which one is for you? In the three years I’ve been practicing I’ve tried some variety in my yoga life to find the perfect fit for me, but the truth is, that really depends on my mood and what my life is like at that moment. Many styles are similar, but they all have differences that make them unique experiences when practicing. So here’s a list of 5 styles I’ve tried and how they rank:

hatha yoga

6. Hatha Yoga: When you say “hatha yoga,” you’re actually describing any practice of yoga. As the most classic style of yoga, and a style that is the basis for many other yoga forms (iyengar and astanga, for starters), hatha yoga nowadays is great for beginners. Many people go to hatha classes to get a feel for yoga, learn beginners’ poses, relaxation techniques and get comfortable with yoga in general. In most cases, hatha classes have a gentle, relaxing feel revolving around poses without flows between them. But you’re past beginning stages, yogi, so you need more challenge.

bikram yoga poses

5. Bikram Yoga: Typically practiced in a room with a temperature around 105 degrees, bikram yoga centers around a 26-pose asana that yogis go through twice in a single 90-minute practice. But don’t get this confused with hot yoga, which will come later. In a nutshell, bikram yoga is hot, but hot yoga isn’t always bikram. If you’re into routine, bikram may be for you. But be warned, doing yoga in 105 degrees is something you have to get used to.

Sun Salutation

4. Vinyasa Yoga: One of the yogas derived from hatha yoga, vinyasa syncronizes postures and the breath as a flow-oriented style of practice. Vinyasa is one of the most popular styles of yoga and is a great practice. One of my favorite things about vinyasa is that it doesn’t have a set rulebook, so personalities can come out through each practice. I really like vinyasa yoga, especially when I’m at home. There are a variety of sequences that are “typical” in this style of yoga, including variations of sun salutations. I love flowing through sequences after practicing a pose, and vinyasa can be practiced at the individual’s pace.

Iyengar yoga standing poses3. Iyengar Yoga: There is a saying: “the pose begins when you want to leave it.” If you’re a perfectionist looking for something challenging, then iyengar yoga is for you. Iyengar is a deep study of postures and the breath. A big emphasis of iyengar is correct body alignment, students of iyengar often hold poses for minutes (yes, minutes) at a time, wherein lies the challenge. Iyengar yoga is about precision, discipline, correct body alignment and breath control. Iyengar utilizes the use of a lot of props (blocks, straps, blankets, etc) to help yogis with their poses. The great part of this style: it helps not only with aches and pains, but the style has been proven to help with medical conditions as well.

power yoga2. Ashtanga/Power Yoga: If you’re fit and athletic, ashtanga yoga could be for you. In my experience, ashtanga is very similar to vinyasa, but with more rigor (for lack of a better term). With Ashtanga, the pace is faster and more agility is used. It’s more physical, designed to maintain stamina and strength, and high-energy (unlike vinyasa flow). I put this as runner up in the list because I’m busy, as I know much of you are. Ashtanga yoga is a full-body workout that encompasses the calming, intellectual benefits of yoga as well as toning and strengthening the body. I leave exhausted physically and recharged mentally. It’s a beautiful feeling.

hot vinyasa yoga1. Hot yoga: I know I know, this isn’t a textbook, formal “style,” but let’s face it (and pardon my french), hot yoga is the shit. While Bikram yoga is set at about 105 degrees, hot yoga is set at 85-95. The benefits of the heat are incomparable once you get used to it. Heat loosens up your muscles quicker and warms up your body. It makes it easier to stretch out and the sweat just feels good. Hot yoga makes the body flow better, but it’s not too hot. Hot vinyasa flow yoga is my absolute favorite because it combines heat and vinyasa, and my body feels incredible both while I’m practicing and when I leave. If you’re looking for a better explanation about this, check out this article: Hot Yoga Changed My Life, Body, and Spirit Animal.

So there you have it: my 6 favorite styles. If you’ve got a favorite, feel free to share!

Namaste, all. And have a great week.