The Eight Limbs of Yoga

What is AshtangaYoga?
What are the eight limbs of Yoga?

“Ashta” means eight, and “anga” is often translated as limb. These are the eight limbs of Yoga as given to us in the Yoga Sutras of Patanajali – an ancient text of approximately 2,500 years ago, which codified yoga practices even older, which were originally transmitted orally from teacher to student.

The eight limbs of Yoga are: 


Perhaps you recognise one or a few of these words?  Let me give you my explanation, and then I will share one of my favourite translations.

The Yoga Sutras were written in Sanskrit and there exists hundreds, possibly thousands of translations and commentaries.

Yama – are five guidelines for living in peace with self and others.
Niyama – are five guidelines for deepening inner peace.
Asana – finding comfort in the body, and can be practised as the postures in today’s modern yoga classes.
Pranayama – can be practiced as the breathing techniques in many yoga classes.
Pratyahara – meaning withdrawal of the senses, this is practiced in Yoga Nidra and other practices where one is “turning within”.
Dharana – a state of deep concentration and focus, such as focusing the mind on a mantra.
Dhyana – the meditative state sometimes reached during the practice of meditation.
Samadhi – the state of Enlightenment. Think about pictures of Avatars with the light around their head or body.

Here is a translation from “The Secret Power of Yoga” by Nischala Joy Devi.

Yama – Reflection of our true nature
Niyama – Evolution towards harmony
Asana – Comfort in being, posture
Pranayama – Enhancement and guidance of universal prana (energy)
Pratyahara – Encouraging the senses to draw within
Dharana – Gathering and focusing of consciousness inward
Dhyana – Continuous inward flow of consciousness
Samadhi – Union with Divine Consciousness.

So when we practice yoga, it’s a lot more than going through the physical movements. Students sometimes think a class is about the “asana” /postures, however the big picture is more than just one limb.

To me, it’s totally fine if a student is only focused on one limb, it doesn’t matter because in time the other branches of the tree (limbs) will open up. Everyone is unique with the speed at which this happens…but there is no rush!

It’s not necessary to ‘think’ about these when practising yoga, but I find it fascinating to contemplate. Within each limb there is a zillion things or more for us to learn and experience. 

I know I am constantly learning more.
As for reaching Samadhi, it’s a work in progress, hmmmmm, not there just yet!


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