What Are the Eight Limbs of Yoga

June 25, 2019

Last updated : May 9, 2024

The sage Patanjali compiled a book some 2500 years ago.  It is known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It introduced the practice of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. These Eight Limbs of Yoga are also referred to as Ashtanga Yoga. In Sanskrit, 'asht 'means eight, and  'anga' means limbs or components.'

We hear about the Eight Limb Path of Yoga.  It was very meaningful back then, but what about nearly 2500 years later? In short, yes it is still relevant today. The purpose of these eight practices is to:

  • purify  physical body and energy body
  • gain mastery over our senses 
  • become free from worldly illusions 

The goal of Eight Limbs of Yoga within the yoga sutras is to reach ultimate awareness.

What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga

8 Limbs of Yoga

These Eight Limbs of Yoga offers practical steps for holistic personal development.   Also, we can attain the highest state of awareness. Sage Patanjali explicitly stated that these eight practices of the yoga sutras must be practised in order. No practice should be skipped because it lays the foundation for the next step.

The 8 Limbs of the Yoga Sutras

Limb #1 The Yamas

The Eight Limbs of Yoga found in the yoga sutras starts with Yamas and Niyamas. "Yamas" can be translated into self-control. This is a quality we should always strive for. These qualities support us to become better aligned with living a life of integrity. The Yamas are tips for the way we can live in the world. There are five Yamas:

The Five Yamas

Ahimsa: Non-Violence

Non-violence in the yoga sutras means that we do not hurt ourselves or others. Apart from causing physical harm through violence, there are other forms of violence. There is also physical and mental violence. Feeding your body toxic food and feeding your mind toxic thoughts like anger, and jealousy, are all sorts of violence. In the yoga sutras, we learn how to practice self-care and foster care for others. 

Satya: Truth

The next limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga found the yoga sutras to be true. We are encouraged to develop truth within ourselves and toward others. In the yoga sutras there are two types of truth: one is personal truth and the other is complete truth or universal truth. 

Satya is about being transparent and honest. It's about understanding of yourself and the world around you. As you get comfortable with seeing things for what they are, you will be able to accept them. This frees you so that you feel a sense of love and settle for them as they are, allowing you to feel a sense of love and compassion for yourself and other.

In the pursuit of truth explained in the yoga sutras, speaking your truth is very significant (standing up for what you think). It means expressing yourself clearly and accurately, and inspiring others to try and do the same.

Asteya: Non-Stealing

This is the practice of not taking something that isn't yours. Stealing is often in the form of various things. Money can be stolen, so can time and even ideas. Within the yoga sutras, theft is seen as taking advantage of someone, not following through on your promises, not putting forth your utmost effort, etc.

Stealing can even be stealing someone’s serenity or joy through your words, or being an ‘emotional vampire’ are also ways of stealing that Asteya cautions us against.

Brahmacharya: Non-Indulgence

The yoga sutras explain the importance of not overindulging in sensory pleasures. Overindulging in physical pleasures like sleep or sex, and other pleasures like food or drugs are examples. You may have heard of the saying, ‘Some people eat to live, others live to eat.’ The practice of Brahmacharya means you eat to be healthy not for firstly for pleasure. 

If we learn how to maintain a healthy relationship with pleasures then we can successfully learn how to relate to the world. The yoga sutras teaches us how to live in the world contently and with purpose. Not become enamoured with the pleasures of the world. By practising Brahmacharya, we can develop self-control. Ultimately, we are at peace through this practice.

Aparigraha: Non-Possessiveness

We live in an age of materialism, and it is easy to become obsessed with the latest sports car, designer shoes, or the latest technology. As a result, we tend to waste a lot of time, energy, and money on unimportant things. The aim of aparigraha found in the yoga sutras is to cultivate a non-possessiveness towards objects and beings.

When it comes to material possessions, we should always ask whether we need them or if we can live without them. Non-possessiveness is also a concept applied to individuals, circumstances, and outcomes as explained in the yoga sutras. By regulating desire to control every aspect of life and the future, and not nurturing feelings of jealousy, we will be able to practice Aparigraha and live a simplified but content life.

Limb #2 The Niyamas

In the yoga sutras, the primary limb of Yamas is how we relate to the world. The second limb is the Niyamas is about how relate to ourselves. Niyama translates as moral observance. Here, personal habits we develop we use to create a purposeful life is explained.

The 5 Niyamas

Saucha Cleansing 

In the yoga sutras, such means physical, mental, and intentional purity. To practice saucha the yoga sutras guises us to set aside time and effort to cleanliness. Examples are grooming, exercising to be fit and trim. Using mantras, meditation and mindfulness to have a positive disposition in life are also examples.

In yoga sutras even maintaining a neat and arranged house is saucha. Practising saucha at the yoga studio and in public places may seem  a piece of cake  , but these are saucha practices. Purity and cleanliness begin as an inward observation and expand into all aspects of our lives.

Feel the power of mantras: "Sanskrit Mantras to Uplift Your Practice & Life"

Santosha  Contentment

Santosha is being thankful for what we have while working towards a goal or purpose. With this principle, we tend to develop a habit of being grateful for the things we already possess in our lives. In doing this we discover happiness here and currently. The yoga sutras describe how to stay grounded  and finding joy in everything . This leads us to enlightenment. 

Tapas Self-Discipline

With self-discipline you can move past unhealthy habits. Everyone has desires but when we practice tapas, we control the senses so that we keep to our purpose. Sensual pleasures may tempt us but with self-discipline we can make better choices towards goals.   

Swadhyaya Self-Study

Swadhyaya means self-study or study of the self. Here, the yoga sutras encourage us to ask questions like:

  • Who am I? 
  • What is my purpose? 
  • Why do I feel and behave the way I do?

Swadhyaya is the all-important act of cultivating a deep sense of self, your identity, and your core beliefs, through which you discover direction and purpose in life. 

Ishvara Pranidhana Connection with Divinity

Ishvara means that you are the plan of the Supreme, Divine, or God.  Ishvara Pranidhana means a surrender of the ego to Divinity. Connecting to God involves understanding your purpose. Also, how you relate to the world. This final niyama is usually translated as surrender. It is the act of recognizing and celebrating the gorgeous interconnection of all things.

We can use the yoga sutras to learn how to live life.  We learn how to go  through life relating to the world using the 5 Yamas. Also, how to relate to oneself through the Four Seasons of Life using the 5 Niyamas.

Limb #3 Asana: Physical Yoga Poses

The third limb of yoga is the physical poses (known as asanas). Among the philosophy in the yoga sutras, this is the limb we have become most used to in the modern world. Yoga can be used to prepare the mind and body for physical observation.

In the yoga sutras, ‘Sthira Sukham Asanam’ may be a phrase that almost all yogis have encountered. It explains what ‘asana’ is and the idea of a steady and comfortable seat. This means the he body should be balanced and free from suffering. and the mind be steady. 

According to the yoga sutras, the physical asanas purify our bodies in preparation for the remaining limbs. 

Limb #4 Pranayama: Expansion of Life Force Energy

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word. Prana means vital energy and Yama refers to a vehicle. Pranayama is the practice of awareness and use of the breath. It enhances vitality and internal energy.

Several types of Pranayama exercises purify the energy body (i.e. the chakra system, energy channels, meridians, etc). Pranayama can increase your ability to carry prana – life-force energy – in your body. Prana is the force we want to measure and use in our physical activities like speaking, thinking, digestion, etc. They facilitate improving the state of your bodily systems. Also, promoting harmony between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Thankfully, the yoga sutras show us how Pranayama can assist us to use and increase vital energy. 

Limb #5 Pratyahara: Withdrawal From the Senses

Withdrawal from the senses means using the senses for essential activities and not getting involved in overstimulation. When we practice Pratyahara, we guide our senses and also our sensory organs. We try to prevent an overload of sensory stimulation and unnecessary stimulation as well.

Here are some examples: 

  • Closing the eyes in meditation
  • Using Pranayama to quiet the mind 
  • Floatation tanks: These produce an environment of calm. 

Within the yoga sutras, it explains how it's essential to calm the senses to concentrate and gain mastery over them. This helps us prepare for meditation.

Limb #6 Dharana: Concentration

Dharana means concentration. We learn to transfer all 5 senses to one single object or purpose of focus. This is the act of Dharana. Notice a trend here? Our objective is to observe all 5 of the limbs leading up to Dharana. We can then establish a single-pointed focus within ourselves.

The purpose of Dharana is to regulate the mind. There are numerous techniques we can use to observe Dharana. For instance, concentration on the breath, candle gazing, Japa (chanting), etc. To succeed in the next step, mediation, it is extremely helpful to be able to focus on just one thing. The philosophy of the yoga sutras helps teach us and support us in a step-by-step approach to enlightenment.

Limb #7 Dhyana: Meditation

Dhyana means meditation.  Here, meditation means being connected to one’s true self. In this state, you are ready to observe your true self without the interference of your mind or senses.

According to the yoga sutras, a person needs to possess a strong sense of concentration. The intention is to reach inwards on the other side of the body and mind. Complete physical and mental stillness is a completely necessary step in meditation.

Practicing meditation? Read on: "How to Find Your Best Position for Meditation"

Limb #8 Samadhi: Freedom From Illusion

Samadhi is the deeper state of meditation. During this state, you become free from the illusions of time and space. This can be a state of pure elation and better awareness. In this state, you understand your true Self. In the yoga sutras, the eight sharp limbs of the Path of Yoga lead us to the present moment.

Live the Eight Limbs of Yoga

In the yoga sutras, Sage Patanjali explained the Eight Limbs of Yoga may seem challenging. With discipline and dedication you can master them. If you can, you'll master your entire life! With this knowledge found in the yoga sutras you can achieve a lifetime of integrity. Asanas and pranayama should be used to cleanse the body and the mind. By practising Pratyahara, you may gain management of your senses, and with Dharana, you can gain control of your mind. Dhyana allows you to connect with your inner self, and Samadhi allows you to transcend.

Ashtanga Yoga is a complete system of knowledge that can help you achieve a fulfilling and purposeful life. There aren't any external tools needed . You just need yourself, effort and consistency. With the practice of every limb, you will grow and develop holistically.

About the author

Ram Jain

Born into a Jain family where yoga has been the way of life for five generations, my formal yoga journey began at age of eight at a Vedic school in India. There I received a solid foundation in ancient scriptures, including Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras (to name a few).

In 2009, I founded Arhanta Yoga Ashrams. I see yoga as a way to master the five senses, so I named our ashrams 'Arhanta Yoga,' the yoga to master the five senses!

In 2017, I also founded Arhanta Yoga Online Academy so that people who can not visit our ashrams can follow our courses remotely.

At Arhanta, we don't just teach yoga. We teach you how to reach your potential, deepen your knowledge, build your confidence, and take charge of your life.

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