The 8 Limbs Of Yoga Explained

the 8 limbs of yoga explained

The Sanskrit word “ashtanga” translates to Ashta (eight) and Anga (limbs). The eight limbs of yoga are mentioned in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. These eight stages provide general principles for leading a meaningful life. They help to recognize the spiritual components of human nature, and they act as a guide for moral and ethical behavior and self-discipline.

The first five stages of Ashtanga yoga as taught by Patanjali focus on developing awareness of ourselves, perfecting our personalities, and mastering our bodies. These stages set up for the second half of the journey, which addresses the mind, the senses, and reaching a higher state of consciousness.

The 8 Limbs Of Yoga 

1. Yama

Yama, the first limb of the eight, focuses on behavior and how one conducts themselves in life. It deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity. The yamas are global customs that talk about, showing people the consideration and compassion that one would like to receive in return.

The 5 yamas are as follows – 

Ahimsa: non-violence

  • Establish balance in life
  • Face your anxieties
  • Show bravery
  • Develop love and compassion for others and yourself.

Satya: truthfulness, honesty

  • Be real rather than nice
  • Tell yourself the truth
  • Truth changes – reflect regularly

Asteya: non-stealing

  • Avoid stealing from the environment
  • Avoid stealing from other people
  • Practice reciprocity in everything
  • Be grateful for what you already have- possessions; relationships; your special abilities; the gift of life 

Brahmacharya: celibacy

  • Acquire the ability to differentiate between boredom of having excess and having enough. 
  • Distinguish between the messages your mind sends you about the demands you want and what the body requires.
  • Follow your passion
  • Treat everything with respect
  • Treat yourself with reverence

Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, the absence of desire

  • Learn from how we breathe: the full benefit of inhalation is not gained if the exhalation is not completely released. Hanging on can be damaging. 
  • Savor every moment to the fullest without wanting it to happen again
  • Let go of control and be open to surprises
  • Live with curiosity rather than expectations
  • Show kindness and trust

2. Niyama

The second limb, Niyama, is about self-control and adhering to spiritual practices. Niyamas in action may include things like going to temples or churches regularly, being grateful for your meals, creating your meditation routine, or taking time for reflection.

The 5 Niyamas are:

Saucha: cleanliness

  • Keeping the space clean may it be the physical body, mental clutter, emotional rigidity, messy living space
  • Allowing things to be as they are, not as you wish they were
  • Being pure
  • Letting go of judgments, expectations, opinions, and disappointment
  • Avoid trying to change or hide from yourself
  • Slow down
  • Focus on one task at a time 

Santosha: contentment

  • Look “within” the fence rather than over it. 
  • Avoid chasing the things you like and neglecting what you don’t like
  • Quit allowing other people to control your mental state.
  • Practice meditation to establish a peaceful mind
  • Be grateful

Tapas: austerity

  • Make decisions that will help you become the “you” you want to be. 
  • Give up short-term pleasures in favor of long-term gains.
  • Decide to develop moral character in challenging times 
  • Hang on for the blessing

Svadhyaya: study sacred scriptures and of oneself

  • Observe your beliefs
  • Observe your actions
  • Recognize the ego
  • Read sacred writings from every tradition.

Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God

  • Engage in selfless service.
  • Give up the want to rule or fight in life 
  • Discover your faith and trust
  • Pay attention to what life is teaching or revealing to you 
  • Connect with the sensation of expanding 
  • Be open, and vulnerable 
  • Have a genuine concern for something other than yourself

3. Asana

The third limb of Ashtanga yoga deals with asanas or the postures. The yogic perspective is that the body is a temple of spirit, and taking care of it is a crucial part of development. We cultivate concentration and discipline via asana practice, two qualities that are essential for meditation.

4. Pranayama

This fourth limb, pranayama is translated to “breath control,” which helps to master breathing while acknowledging the relationship between the mind, emotions, and breath. Pranayama means expansion of vital force. Yogis believe that practicing it not only renews the body but also extends life itself. You may include pranayama into the regular hatha yoga practice or practice it as a standalone method (taking time out for various breathing exercises).

5. Pratyahara 

The fifth yoga limb pratyahara, signifies withdrawing the the senses. We consciously try to shift our attention away from the outer environment and outside stimuli in this stage. We focus inside, and become aware of our sensations while maintaining a distance from them. By practicing pratyahara, we give ourselves the chance to take a step back and examine ourselves. This withdrawal enables us to examine our habits that are harmful for our inner development and health.

6. Dharana

Pratyahara practice sets the foundation for dharana, or focus. Now, that we have freed ourselves from external distractions, we can address mental distractions. We practice concentration, which teaches us to slow down our thought processes by focusing on one single mental object. This helps to slide into meditation automatically. For instance focusing on an energy center, an image of a god, or the repeating of a mantra.

While we are mindful of our movements and breath in asana and pranayama, our attention is still distracted. Now one practices pratyahara to control our senses to prevent overstimulation. Finally, in dharana, we narrow our attention to a single one-pointed object. 

7. Dhyana

Meditation now arises spontaneously from prolonged periods of focus. This unbroken flow of focus is meditation, which is the seventh stage of Ashtanga yoga. Dhyana is ultimately a condition of acute awareness where the focus is directed inward. The mind has now been calmed. It is silent and generates no thoughts. 

It takes effort and endurance to achieve this level of stillness. Though it might appear like an overwhelming undertaking, keep in mind that yoga is a process. We gain at every step of the way, even if we might not achieve the perfect pose or the optimal state of consciousness.

8. Samadhi 

The eighth and last stage of Ashtanga yoga is known as Samadhi. It is described as a state of bliss. At this time, the meditator completely transcends the self and unites with their true self or ultimate consciousness. The meditator discovers a deep connection to the Divine and a unity with all living beings. It is a state of happiness and a feeling of oneness. 

Meghna Banerjee