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What Are The Eight Limbs Of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali Refers To 8 Limbs Of Yoga Each Of Which Offers Guidance On How To Live A Meaningful And Purposeful Life Learn About Each One And How To Incorporate Them Into Your Practice

Emma Newlyn

The word ‘yoga’ means to connect, unite or ‘yoke’. The thing we look to connect to is the true Self, also known as the ‘divine essence’, ‘ultimate self’, or atman. You might also think of this as the soul.

If that way of thinking doesn’t resonate with you, then consider that the word yoga can also mean separation or disentanglement. The thing we’re disentangling from is whatever stops us from feeling free, as the ultimate goal of any yoga practice is to attain mokshameaning liberation or freedom. 

So how does one go about attaining this freedom through yoga? Does it come at the cost of an expensive pair of yoga pants? Can you reach it by signing up to a detox retreat or finally touching your toes? Probably not…

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path leading to liberation, known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ . 

These 4 Pranayama Breathing Techniques Allow You To Enter A Heightened State Of Awareness

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that translates to “the control of life force”. With Prana meaning “life force” and ayama meaning “extending or stretching”, this practice cultivates the extension of breath as a means of regulating the oxygen within our body on a cellular level. Controlled breathing stimulates the autonomic nervous system , as well as the vagus…

Asana Is The Practice Of Physical Postures It Is The Most Commonly

As one practices asana it fosters a quieting of the mind, thus it becomes both a preparation for meditation and a meditation sufficient in and of itself. Releasing to the flow and inner strength that one develops brings about a profound grounding spirituality in the body. The physicality of the yoga postures becomes a vehicle to expand the consciousness that pervades our every aspect of our body. The key to fostering this expansion of awareness and consciousness begins with the control of breath, the fourth limb – Pranayama. Patanjali suggests that the asana and the pranayama practices will bring about the desired state of health; the control of breath and bodily posture will harmonize the flow of energy in the organism, thus creating a fertile field for the evolution of the spirit. “This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself. … This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body.”To this B.K.S. Iyengar adds: “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he know that He is within.”

The Different Types Of Yoga And Their Classifications Explained

Yoga can be classified in various different types each having a distinct name derived from their particular features. It has been seen that the beginners who are new to Yoga tends to get confused by all the terminologies and unable to decide which type of Yoga to choose. But it should always be kept in…

The Eight Limbs Of Yoga: Patanjalis Pathway To Bliss Explained

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Emma Newlyn

Whether you’re completely new to yoga or have been practising for years, its likely you’ve heard in at least one class that yoga is ‘not just exercise’. Of course, some forms of yoga can be physically demanding and help build incredible strength, but alongside the sweating and stretching, there’s a hint of something else, something deeper, and something steeped in ancient wisdom.

With a growing mainstream focus upon yoga’s physicality, more people are practising yoga and becoming involved in their local yoga community, benefiting from the movement and postures, breath regulation and sense of wellbeing and one-ness the practice can provide. However, with yoga as a more accessible and modern practice, the ancient roots of yoga itself seem to be slowly fading amongst new generations of practitioners, meaning the deep philosophical wisdom we once knew and benefited from is becoming blurred and lost all together.

The Essential Guide: 8 Limbs Of Yoga By Maharishi Patanjali

Around the second century BC, there lived a rishi named Maharshi Patanjali who was the first to systematize the already existing ancient practices of yoga. Considered as the Father of Yoga, his 196 yoga sutras have become the basis of yoga practice today. 

Modern notions of fitness have equated yoga to a practice that only helps us in losing weight, toning different parts of the body, and building muscles, limiting our understanding of this holistic way of life. An unfortunate consequence being that we have lost sight of what yoga is really about – all-round development of the body, mind, and spirit. A tool for us to walk the path of wisdom and enlightenment.

Particularly famous are Rishi Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga or the eight limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that these eight limbs of yoga should all develop simultaneously for us to experience Divine consciousness and eternal bliss.

Common Issues Which Should Not Prevent You To Practice Yoga

If you are one of those people who think Yoga is physically not suitable for you – well, think again. No matter what “condition” you are physically, there is always scope. Yoga is such a fantastic art that it can be pretty much suitable for anyone. Hence its rising popularity all over the world. The…

Pranayama Regulation Of Life Force Energy Via The Breath

‘Prana’ refers to the life force/ vital energy flowing in and through everything in the universe. 

Prana flows through the subtle energetic channels and also through the seven main energetic centers that run up and down our spines .

With every breath, prana is absorbed into our bodies. 

Our thoughts are also a form of prana, so quieting the mind helps to regulate our internal vital energy. 

Ancient yogis might not have had the science to back it up way back when, but they knew that there was a significant connection between breath and emotions. 

They knew that we could learn to quiet the mind and soothe moods via breath control

In Sutras 1.34, Patanjali made it very clear that “calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.” 

According to a growing body of research, a regular pranayama practice offers a host of mental and physical health benefits

This fourth limb is all about breathing techniques and breathing exercises that can either energize the body, calm the mind, help the body relax, increase sleep, and even boost immunity. 


Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali: The 8 Limbs Of Yoga Explained

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are one of contemporary yoga’s favourite sources of inspiration and guidance on how to live a balanced and ethical life both on and off the mat. While the complete Yoga Sutras consists of 195 aphorisms that yoga scholar David Gordon White calls “a Theory of Everything,” most of modern yoga’s attention is focused on the 31 verses that describe the ‘eight limbs’ of yoga, which form a practical guide on the subject of how to attain liberation from suffering. A study of the history of the Yoga Sutras reveals that much of our understanding of this ancient work has been filtered through numerous commentaries on the original verses. Our version of the eight limbs acknowledges the context of their creation and then finds ways to apply them in contemporary life.

Barbara Stoler Miller’s Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali is the translation and commentary upon which our interpretations are based.

Postures And Breathing Practices: Asana And Pranayama

Postures and breath work are the limbs of yoga that focus most directly on the physical body. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, asanas were mentioned only to describe how to prepare the individual for the practice of sitting in meditation. Pranayama is the practice of working with breath to control how energy circulates throughout the body. Asanas are the most advertised and promoted of the limbs in popular media related to yoga . Expectedly, asanas and pranayama were the limbs most commonly endorsed by our sample. This was not surprising and reflects how yoga is promoted and portrayed in the United States. Historically, yoga embodied all aspects of the human experience conducive to health and wellbeing. If the asanas become the sole or primary focus of yoga practice, other integral aspects that support and vitalize the practice may be neglected, thus leading practitioners to miss the most important part of yoga – namely, the integration of mind, body, and spirit.

Meditation: Pratyahara Dharana Dhyana And Samadhi

Dharana and dhyana are limbs aimed toward creating a sustained meditation practice. Meditation is an essential part of yoga practice that creates lasting positive changes on the brain and its functioning. For example, longtime meditators create high-amplitude gamma synchrony, thus evidencing greater concentration. The attentional stability of dharana supports cognitive flexibility, capacity to withstand stressors, and ultimately enhanced self-regulation by practicing how to focus the mind on a single object of meditation, . In our sample, approximately 60% of respondents identified dharana as important. Attentional awareness and exercises, such as body scans and relaxation training, were recognized by a large portion of respondents, though to a lesser degree than more conventional Western yogic practices of postures and breathing. Dhyana is an essential yogic skill through which the mind is opened to stillness, awareness, and insight because the individual is able become absorbed in the object of focus with concentrative ease and complete awareness. The majority of practitioners identified the aspect of dhyana involving the practice of letting go as essential; however, fewer perceived sitting or walking meditation as essential practices.

Dharana Concentration & Focus On A Single Point

Once the senses are transcended we move onto the sixth limb, which is all about one-pointed focus and sustained concentration. 

Dharana is a form of mental training and can involve the use of a focal point such as our breath, a symbol, a candle, or a mantra. 

The trick here is not to become fixated on holding the focus forcefully because then we become rigid and miss out on the present moment awareness available to us at this moment. 

Instead, allow your focus to loosen and with enough practice and dedication you will begin to flow with your focal point; you’ll begin to merge with it. 

A great way to begin practicing Dharana is by cultivating daily mindful breath awareness. 

This is how the Buddha taught monks to meditate and you can learn this too if you’re committed and devoted to the path. 

Will you jump in and out of focus and become lost in your thoughts again? 

Yes, totally. 

And this is part of the process. 

The trick to Dharana is not to never lose your focus, instead, it’s all about the Return. 

Once you notice you’ve drifted off – return your attention to your focal point whether it’s your breath or even a mantra. 


The sixth limb gradually leads to the seventh limb – Dhyana. 

This is where a state of deep meditation can be experienced. 

In deep meditation, our personality takes a back seat and our atman or soul/spirit takes over. 

This is where heart intelligence, intuition, creativity, and inspiration are born. 

Studies link meditation to changes in the brain. 


The Practice: What Are The Eight Limbs Of Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Increasingly, the practice of Asana, or the physical poses we understand as yoga, is being alienated from the very source of its conception; its moral, ethical, and philosophial raison d’être and foundation. Perhaps this is because the modern practice has separated the metaphorical wrapping paper from the gift itself, interchanging the two and taking the wrapping paper instead of the gift.

Most practitioners of Yoga have heard of the eight limbs of yoga: Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. These eight limbs are integral to one another: they are neither dispensable nor separable. Why, then, does Asana remain the centerpiece of the modern experience of yoga? Why are they understood as a progression on the path of yoga, when in fact they are a composite and part of an organic whole?

The Complete Guide To Ashtanga 8 Limbs Of Yoga

Do you want to stay healthy without using any artificial stimulants or supplements? How about giving yoga a try? This ancient art has been a part of many different cultures around the world for centuries. Moreover, with time various yoga practitioners came up with different yoga styles which made yoga a global phenomenon. One of the prominent yoga styles that are also effective when it comes to enjoying overall well-being is Ashtanga yoga.

For yoga beginners, the word Ashtanga is broken down into two different parts namely Ashta meaning eight, and Anga means limbs. Ashtanga yoga refers to the eight limbs of yoga. This yoga style came into being over 2000 years by Sage Patanjali who wrote Yoga Sutras. However, there is a lot more to Ashtanga yoga. The yoga experts have come up with a complete guide.

Let us first find out a bit about this yoga style.

Comparison Between The Eight Branches Of Yoga

Bhakti YogaBased on devotion to a deity

Hatha YogaBased on strict physical practices

Karma YogaBased on using the mind as an instrument without attachment or expectations

Mantra YogaBased on repeating a mantra

Jnana YogaBased on the belief of oneness

Guru YogaBased on meditating on Guru

Raj YogaBased on the desire to unite with the divine

Tantra YogaBased on activating the latent Kundalini energy

Bringing The Eight Limbs To Teaching Practice

The challenge for me as a teacher is to meet the expectations of the student but also appropriately integrate some of the teaching and philosophy of the limbs to my classes.Shearer identifies “the settling down of the mind, to whatever degree, that right from the beginning of the path is responsible for perfecting and coordinating all the other limbs”. With this in mind we are foolish to overlook the full path by simply focusing on asana.

Students generally expect the teacher to lead them in a series of asanas. However these can be delivered mindful of yama and niyama . It is also possible to meditate on concepts such as of contentment, reverence, discipline and more.

As I have already stated, it is also important to incorporate pranayama into the class, making time specifically at the beginning, which will also help to still the mind and also at the end prior to a time of deeper relaxation. Students should also be instructed in and reminded of the breath during the asana practice.

Iyengar calls eight limbs the “stages” of yoga and Patanjali helps us understand that yoga is a process. Recognising this as a teacher is helpful. Few of us will ever fully embrace all eight, and students will often access the spectrum that is yoga with a single idea, limb or objective in mind. It is the role of the teacher to gently encourage consideration and exploration of the other limbs, and to be exploring each ourselves in our private practice and study.

Nd Limb: Niyamas Our Behaviour With Ourselves

There are five Niyamas and they are an internal practice that one must follow after mastering the Yamas. After working on your relations with the world around you, the second Limb is about yourself.

  • Saucha or cleanliness has for objective to purify your body but also your mind. You can practice mindfulness to identify the negative thoughts and release them away.

  • Santosha or contentment is what is believed to be the first step towards true happiness. Santosha can be practiced by counting your blessings to express gratitude for the life you have and maybe also towards things or people you take for granted.

  • Tapas or self-discipline is about your inner fire, your willpower. It teaches you to commit fully to your goals and to act positively in your life. Basically, Tapas is waking up early in the weekend to go for a run or to a yoga class, and not pressing the snooze button!

  • Svadhyaya or self-study requires one to be humble to see both their flaws and strength and to keep learning to become the best human you can ever be. Svadhyaha is also about finding your true self, and not necessarily doing what everyone else’s or society is telling you to do.

  • Ishvara Pranidhana or devotion is the connection of the self with a greater power .

The 8 Limbs Of Yoga Explained In Easy Terms

Once you start learning a little more about yoga, you’ll find out that it is way more than a physical exercise. It is a thousand-year-old system to help you live a fuller, better life.

To do that, yoga employs 8 different pathways to get you closer to “oneness”. These 8 “limbs of yoga” were collected by the sage Patanjali in his “Yoga sutras”.

These texts are many hundred years old, however, and have been written in Sanskrit. Not ideal for us to learn about his idea. And then they deal with quite philosophical topics, making it even harder to really grasp the concepts.

To make this important part of yoga philosophy a little more accessible, I’m going to explain the eight limbs of yoga in plain, simple English. Once you’ve read through this, you’ll have a much better idea of what the “8-fold-path of yoga” is all about.

St Limb: Yamas Our Behaviour With The World

There are five Yamas or lines of conduct that one should follow to become the best version of themselves in society.

  • Ahimsa or non-violence towards all beings . This is the golden rule of the Yoga World.

  • Satya or truthfulness to encourage you to speak your truth but always with Ahimsa in mind. Balancing both can be a real challenge but yogis shall put their egos aside to make the right decisions.

  • Asteya or non-stealing to restrain people from taking what is not freely given, material objects included but not limited as you can steal someone’s time or energy. This is something to think about in your everyday relationships.

  • Brahmacharya or celibacy used to be a rule taken for its proper sense, but yogis do not practice continence anymore. However you could apply it nowadays as a guideline for moderation in all things, food, sex or alcohol.

  • Aparigraha or non-hoarding instructs yogis to possess only what is necessary. You could practice Aparigraha by giving some of your belongings to charity.

Below Is An Example Of One Of The Handouts

8 Limbs of YogaThe 8 limbs of yoga are a series of disciplines, written in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in 200 AD, that purifies the body and mind, leading the yoga student to enlightenment.

YamaMoral observances for interactions with others.  Teaches non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-covetousness. NiyamaRules that are prescribed for personal observance: internal and external purity, contentment, austerity study of religious books,  repetitions of Mantras and self-surrender to God. AsanaThe practice of asana, which means “staying” in Sanskrit, calms the mind and moves us into the inner essence of being. PranayamaPranayama is the measuring, control, and directing of the breath.

PratyaharaWithdrawal of senses from attachment to external objects.

DharanaImmovable concentration of the mind.  Hold concentration or focus in one direction.  Mind needs to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption.

DhyanaFocuses on meditation. When mind is focused on an object, the mind is changed into the shape of the object.

SamadhiSamadhi means to bring together. In this state, the body and senses are at rest, but the faculty of mind and reason are alert. You need to control the feelings of Avidya , Asmita , Raga-Dvesha , Abhinivesha .

Yogapedia Explains The Eight Limbs Of Yoga

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The Eight Limbs of Yoga include:

  • Yama: five universal, ethical and moral standards to live life by
  • Niyama: five spiritual and self-discipline observances
  • Asana: physical yoga postures that help the body learn to focus and take care of the physical self, which is considered a temple of the spirit in yogic practice
  • Pranayama: breathing exercises which develop control of the breath and are thought to provide long life
  • Pratyahara: control over the senses through the practice of transcending the external world or stimuli, bringing focus inward
  • Dharana: concentration on inner awareness or on a single point by removing all other distractions
  • Dhyana: meditation or contemplation on the Divine, which includes an unbroken flow of concentration and quieting of the mind
  • Samadhi: union with the Divine through transcending the Self, this stage includes feelings of deep peace and ecstasy
  • Often, popular yoga that is practiced in classes for fitness or health reasons does not incorporate the full eight limbs, focusing primarily only on asana and pranayama. However, individuals can benefit greatly from learning and practicing the eight limbs in addition to a physical yoga practice.

    Pranayama: Expansion Of Life Force Energy

    Pranayama is Sanskrit and translates as follows: “Prana” means life force energy, and “yama” means vehicle or control.

    Pranayama is conscious breathwork that enhances your life force energy. There are many forms of Pranayama exercises that purify the energy body .

    These conscious breathing exercises will help you increase the capacity to hold prana – vital life force energy – in your body. 

      Prana is the vital force we need to live and to do our physical activities like speaking, thinking, digestion etc. These exercises also help improve the condition of your respiratory system and bring harmony between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

    Want to learn more about Pranayama? Read Pranayama Explained + 5 Techniques to Get You Started 

    Th Limb: Pratyhara Withdraw Of The Senses

    The world around us can easily be extremely overwhelming especially in busy city life. There is barely any time for quiet. We hear the cars through our flat windows, maybe even our neighbours walking in the hallway, and all of this makes the withdrawal of the senses much harder than if you live surrounded by peaceful nature. The practice of Pratyhara teaches you to go within in order to stop being disturbed by everything around.

    Patanjalis Yoga Sutras: A Quick Overview

    This is the teaching of yoga. 

    Yoga is the cessation of the turnings of thought.

    When thought ceases, the spirit stands in its true identity as observer to the world. 

    Otherwise, the observer identifies with the turnings of thought. 

    – Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 1, Sutras 1-4

    Thousands of years ago a wise sage known as Patanjali was the first to systemize and summarize the ‘big picture’ of yoga philosophy and yoga psychology. 

    He wrote The Yoga Sutras to outline how one can experience what scholar Dr. Barbara Stoler Miller called “a complete psychological transformation through the discipline of yoga.”

    This ancient text, composed of 195 sutras or little pearls of wisdom, can be considered a guide for creating a meaningful and purposeful life. 

    From a yoga history perspective, Patanjali’s teachings constitute what is known as Classical Yoga.

    31 out of the 195 sutras outline the eight limbs, which are also known as ‘ashtanga yoga.’  


    The eight limbs of yoga are also known as ‘Raja Yoga.’

    ‘Raja’ means king in Sanskrit, which is why Raja Yoga is also referred to as ‘Royal Yoga.’ 

    Just as a king maintains dominion over his kingdom, we too must learn to maintain dominion over our inner kingdom. 


    Observing the eight limbs takes us on a journey from the outer world to the inner world. 

    According to Patanjali, lasting transformation and liberation are achieved only by accessing this sacred internal space. 

    Let’s discuss each one in more detail…


    What Exactly Are The Eight Limbs Of Yoga

    This is the first in a series of articles to introduce the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Over this series of writing we’ll look at each of the limbs in-depth with the aim of bringing them alive, showing how helpful and practical they can be in everyday life, and assisting our collective struggle with the monkey mind.

    The monkey mind is a state of mind where you have no control over your thoughts — just like a real wild monkey, uncontrollable, swinging from tree to tree. Examples in our own lives may include hidden  fears, desires, moods, obsessions and addictions, which subconsciously rule our lives. Our ‘monkeys’ are always on their way somewhere, and we often don’t fully understand it’s motivations.


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