The 8 limbs of yoga was derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. It is an eight fold path called “”ashtanga” which stands for 8 limbs, (asht: eight, anga: limbs), shows the most direct path to a meaningful and purposeful life. So here are the 8 limbs with their meanings explained.

(1) Yama

The first limb is Yama. You must have heard the Golden Rule “Do unto others”. The first limb is about this golden rule, Yama, which is a basically a social behavior, how you treat others and the people around you, with whom you interact. These are normally called as Moral Principles, includes 5 yamas:

  1. Non-violence (Ahimsa)
  2. Truth and Honesty (Satya)
  3. Non-stealing (Asteya)
  4. Non-lust (Brahmacharya)
  5. Non-possessiveness (Aparigraha)


(2) Niyama

After you know about the five Yamas, now is the turn for doing them the right way-Niyamas. Cleaning the wrong sets the stage for right activities to be initiated.

It is basically concerned with the way we treat ourselves. Normally, due to our very busy life, we forget to pamper ourselves. This limb of yoga guides us to do that with the best possible way. Applying these rules, we start to cultivate our inner being.

It also includes 5 elements-

  1. Purity: Sauca
  2. Contentment: Santosa
  3. Austerity: Tapas heat
  4. Study of the sacred text and one’s self: Svadhyaya
  5. Live with and awareness of the Divine: Isvara pranidhana

(3) Asana

Now the next limb offers us to rest our body. Asanas, are postures which discipline the body in order to develop the ability to concentrate, the pre-requisite for meditation.

There are thousands of Yoga Asanas, but the “Surya-namaskara” must be practiced by each individual to keep his mind and body refreshed.


(4) Pranayama

Asanas set the stage for Pranayama, for breath to harmonize. It is a respiratory practice which develops the connection between breath, mind and emotions. Using this technique, a person can be a strong meditator and be less violent.

This is usually taught to those who are depressed and need proper direction through meditation.


(5) Pratyahara

Pratyahara occurs automatically when we meditate because we get totally absorbed in it. Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it; it is not happening the other way around. It basically shows how we relate to our sense organs.

The eight limbs work together: The first five steps — yama, niyama asana, pranayama, and pratyahara — are the preliminaries of building the foundation for spiritual life. They are concerned with the body and the brain. The last three, which would not be possible without the previous steps, are concerned with reconditioning the mind.

So we can say Yoga is nothing more than a process which enables us to stop and concentrate more on ourselves. This way, Yoga helps us to stay focused and concentrated towards our life goals.


(6) Dharana

Shows how we relate to our mind- Concentration.  Relieving the body from outside distractions lends the opportunity to deal with the distractions of the mind itself. Slow the brain’s thinking by concentrating on a single object. I remember how in my school days, my yoga teacher used to teach this technique to me, by concentrating on a single, black dot on the wall. It helps in improving the concentration of our mind and is also helpful in improving eye-sight.


(7) Dhyana

Dharana sets the stage for dhyana, the perfect state of meditation. This uninterrupted flow of concentration creates devotion. Dhyana basically differs from the one-pointed concentration of dharana because Dharana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. In this quiet stillness, the brain produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive and helpful to human mind.


(8) Samadhi

This term is often used in India, and especially by pandits and few religious people. At this stage, object and subject merge as one.

The body and senses are at complete rest yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, awake; one goes beyond consciousness. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged. Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga.

So there you have it. The 8 limbs of yoga, or “ashtanga”. Hopefully this article was helpful for those hoping to find their ways to being a meaningful existence through the art of yoga, and if you need a crash course on these limbs, you would be able to learn it at the International Yoga Festival at Mysore, India.

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