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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Eight limbs of ashtanga yoga

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, there is an eightfold path, which is also popularly known as the 8 limbs of yoga. They act as guidelines for living a purposeful and meaningful life. The eight yoga elements also serve as moral and ethical prescriptions that help with self-discipline and ethical conduct. This direct attention to health in a holistic manner can help you acknowledge and understand the spiritual elements of nature.


The word, yama, means “to harness” or “to restraint” These practices are related to disciplining the self on external or social levels. These are the methods of applying the behavioral codes of yoga on how the Yogi deals with the external world or the people in general. It relates to externally visible discipline or etiquette.

The Yama is also known as the restraint yoga element and it consists of five ethical features that provide a blueprint for a code of conduct that should be followed when interacting with the external environment around us. The Yamas offer guidance on how to act and treat others. The five Yamas are:

1. Ahimsa – Nonviolence: Ahimsa provides guidelines that help you practice exclusion of violence, and it’s quite relevant today as well. Some yoga experts even take Ahimsa as a form of diet; that is they practice veganism, on the foundation that all living things should be allowed to live and thrive, they should also be treated with love and kindness.

2. Satya – Truth: Telling the truth is the baseline of humanity and that concept is important till today. We live in an age where facts are manipulated and lying has become institutionalized in society. Hence, it’s more important now to practice Satya, while also encouraging others to do so.

3. Asteya – Not stealing: Even though this is good advice against stealing someone’s property, and not to mention it's part of the law, there are so many ways to steal. Some examples are intellectual property like logos, pictures on the internet that don’t belong to you, and so on. If you wish to practice Asteya, then originality is the path that you must take.

4. Brahmacharya – Celibacy: This is the Yama, from 8 limbs of yoga, that needs the most practice to fit into the modern yogi’s life. Even though the original intent was to prohibit the total sexual activity, now it’s been modified to include fidelity, constancy, and having honest relationships that work as perfect alternatives for the contemporary yogi.

5. Aparigraha – Non-coveting: This is one of the yoga elements that has stood the test of time. When someone starts coveting other people’s possessions, and follow it with greed, envy, or jealousy, the one thing that can help is practicing Aparigraha. This means you have to be aware of the feeling when it occurs and realize that you don’t have to be attached to any coveting sensation.

Niyama : Niyama is related to disciplining the self from within while keeping the connection with external realities with no attempt to deny them. It is the act of disciplining the emotions within, even if the external situation does not change. However, one should try to change the external difficulties, if it is logical and real.The second Yama in the 8 limbs of yoga includes inward practices that look to improve the self. They are:

1. Saucha – Purification: Purifying the body and mind is essential to detaching yourself from the physical world, especially when preparing for meditation. This can mean releasing and identifying thoughts that can distract you from your goals. Once you understand how to steer away from negative energy, your perspective gets decluttered and you can focus on yourself even better.

2. Santosa – Contentment: Out of the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga, this one can be a real challenge for many people. There is an unfortunate culture of endless wanting and desire for material possessions. This leads to a constant state of dissatisfaction and comparison that can be unsettling. Santosa teaches you to practice gratitude and positive expression which will help you feel better about the positive elements that you already possess in your life.

3. Tapas – Asceticism: The Tapas practice explains that purification through self-discipline can be observed through the daily practice of meditation and postures; this requires discipline and consistent self-control.

4. Svadhya – Study: At times, it is translated to self-study, and other times it can mean memorization and repetition of sacred texts and mantras. Recently, the Svadhya niyama can be interpreted as being diligent students of the world; this can be done through personal or formal education.

5. Ishvara Pranidhana – Dedication to God: Out of the 8 limbs of yoga, this is a tricky one. That is because many modern yogis show restraint at suggesting that God is a prescribed part of our practice. However, you have to note that the mention of Ishvara in original texts is open to interpretation. It can mean master, teacher, or God. For Yoga, we can say that it’s necessary to acknowledge yoga as a spiritual exercise. It affects you on the mind, body, and spiritual levels.

Asana (posture or position) : Interestingly, asanas are closely related to yama and niyama. One can experience the ease of performing Asanas only when they follow the first two limbs of Yoga properly. Therefore, the perfection of asanas is linked to proper harmony between Yama and Niyama. This is the reason a real Yoga teacher does not push the student to stretch to his limits while performing Asanas. In contrast, the teacher asks the student to be alert and stretch only according to his capacity. It is called “sthiram sukham asanam”, which means stability and satisfaction while performing the asanas. In fact, if one starts performing the asanas properly under the guidance of a good teacher then the first two principles also become a requirement for yoga student. So, following the first two limbs are important before performing the asanas, as it’s not possible for a disturbed person to even stand in one place, let alone performing any asanas.

Pranayama (balancing the vital energy) : When we see a person heavily panting at the start of uphill trekking itself, we can easily deduce that the lungs of that person have not opened up clearly. Trekking is natural only when the lungs are open. So, breathing is very much important to one's movement and pranayama deals with this aspect. For those who breathe properly, not only the brisk walking becomes possible for them but it also helps them in making clear decisions. It is also observed that a person who is in a confused or excited state, they experience breathing troubles. Pranayama teaches to control the breath. Learning pranayama enables the practitioner to strike a proper balance in all aspects of life, including physical levels, mental levels, speech, decision-making, and in the execution of his work.

Pratyahara : Pratyahara means to withdraw. The withdraw here does not refer to retiring.It actually refers to cultivating the ability of performing the action at one’s own will. To hold back the action when not required, and release them whenever required. It is the art of detached involvement.

Dharana : It is the art of focusing on one thing for very long time. Dharana from practical perspective is an ability to keep doing something for very long time.

Dhyana : The word dhyana means to contemplate or meditate. It requires one to sit down and have complete absorption on the object of meditation. Same dhyana can also be achieved when someone is deeply involved in some activity for long time with expertise, just like Arjuna was focused on the art of archery.

Samadhi : During Samadhi, the action, the actor, and the experience merge as one when the person is in absorbed-reality. In other words, we can say that though the doer, the activity, and the experience are different from each other, all the three become one when the doer is completely involved in an activity.
Want to learn more about the 8 Limbs of Yoga? At Govardhan Eco Village, we offer scientifically designed and certified yoga courses & yoga retreats that include the application of the 8 limbs of yoga and we ensure that they fit seamlessly into modern yoga. Contact us today for more information.