the 8 limbs of yoga


With yoga becoming tremendously popular, there is one specific yoga practised that is common, that is Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga. This yoga form is also considered the most important part of various yoga teacher training programs in India.

There are many schools offering yoga teacher training in Rishikesh and courses in Dharamsala, as they focus on multi-style yoga training including Hatha, Ashtanga, Kundalini and etc.

What Do Eight Limbs Of Yoga Mean?

The eight limbs of yoga are the eightfold path known as Ashtanga (ashta-eight, anga-limb). The eight limbs of yoga construct a structural framework for yoga or the steps taken through a yoga practice. It is believed that the practice of the eight limbs of yoga leads to spiritual realization. The eight-limbed yoga has been described as a way towards enlightenment in the Yoga Sutras.

What is the significance of eight-limbs of yoga?

The eight limbs of yoga are considered guidelines on how a person can lead a purposeful life. These are like disciplines or steps which lead to the path of enlightenment and towards a meaningful life. The eight-limbed yoga provides completeness to a practitioner with the attainment of divinity and spirituality. These are considered important to attain moksha or Free State of existence.

The eight limbs of yoga are:

1. Yama

The Yama is the step which refers to restraints. It is concerned about ethical and moral standards and the treatment you give others around you. It follows Universal Morality Codes.

There are five elements that constitute the Yama. These are:

Ahimsa Or Non Violence

Ahimsa is about being compassionate to other creatures in each and every circumstance. It suggests being kind, helpful and friendly to others, even in one’s dreams and thoughts.

Satya or Truthfulness

As the name suggests, this discipline Satya is about being truthful and honest. If communication is based on untruthfulness and dishonesty it leads nowhere.

Asteya Or Nonstealing

This discipline of Yama suggests not to be in possession of anything which does not belong to you. Asteya implies not to take or use anything unless it is given freely. Using or taking something without the permission of the owner is not acceptable and a violation of trust. This also can apply to non-material things.

Brahmacharya Or Continence

Many people have this perception that Brahmacharya means not to get married ever and that it is generally connected with abstinence as its sole objective. This is a false understanding, as it also suggests that one should avoid being self-centered and self-absorbed. It teaches us about self-restraint and to take responsibility for our feelings of indulgence.

Aparigraha Or Noncovetousness

This step is about leaving behind the greed of materialistic things. That one should take what is necessary to live rather than accumulating or collecting things which are not necessities. 

2. Niyama

Niyama is the step which refers to observation. It includes the practices of self-discipline and in a way, it is the extension of moral and ethical codes of Yama. The Niyama consists of five elements. These are:

Saucha or Purification

Saucha refers to purification and cleanliness of the mind, soul, and body. It includes external as well as internal purification. External purification can be achieved by a regular clean atmosphere and surroundings. Internal purification means removal of toxins from the body through practicing asanas, pranayama etc. Clean, fresh and healthy food and healthy living are all aspects, also come under Saucha. Anger, hatred, greed, pride etc, are considered as the root cause of impurity.

Santosha or Satisfaction

Santosha refers to contentment or satisfaction. It means to be completely comfortable in what you have in your life. Santosha is about being free from unnecessary sufferings, wants, and desires. It teaches to be grateful and thankful for what one has in their life.

Tapas or Asceticism

Tapas or Asceticism refers to self-discipline and willpower. In a way, it is an extension of Santosha. It teaches us how one can attain satisfaction through a strong will and self-discipline. Tapas requires a practice beyond the comfort zones that we all live in.

Svadhyaya or self-study

Svadhyaya promotes the study of the self. It is generally achieved through meditation and asanas. It is about examining our conscious and unconscious actions. It can be a way to learn about our flaws, which can help us to grow into a higher version of ourselves.

IshvaraPranidhana or surrender to the divine. Ishvarapranidhana is the final Niyama. It is about devoting and surrendering to the universe or the divine. It teaches us to be more open and connected to all that is around us.

3. Asana or Posture

Asana simply refers to body posture. Being one of the eight limbs of yoga, it prepares the practitioner’s body and mind for the meditation.

4. Pranayama or Breath Control

Breathing is a function that human beings do voluntarily and involuntarily. In Pranayama, one consciously controls and is aware of their breath. Practicing asana and meditation regularly relaxes the mind as well as body.

5. Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses

In Pratyahara, one consciously filters the external experiences so that one can enhance internal awareness and see beyond the body. It helps in the attainment of focus and concentration. It is considered the link between the internal and external aspect of yoga.

6. Dharana or Concentration

Dharna is usually practiced by concentrating on a specific object. It trains the mind to be quiet, stable and focused. Pratyahara helps in practicing Dharana by filtering distractions and disturbances.

7. Dhyana or Meditation

Dhyan refers to contemplation and meditation. It is a state where the practitioner is aware but without focusing intentionally. Being in the moment occurs due to Dharna which leads to Thyana.

8. Samadhi or Super Conscious Awareness

Samadhi is the final stage in eight limbs of yoga. It is attributed to ecstasy. It is considered to be the unification with the divine. In Samadhi, a person is in a state of deep meditation. In this stage, a person is free from all kinds of illusion and is in a higher state of awareness.

In short

All the eight-limbs of yoga are interconnected and lead to one another as well as aid one another. The eight limbs of yoga is not an easy-going practice and should be first practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher before one can achieve this practice on their own.

Read on the Meaning of Sat Nam here.