- Hayley Wilson
The 8 Limbs of Yoga Explained
Updated: Feb 28
This feels like a good place to start.
What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?
Most people in the Western world are familiar with asana, the physical practice of yoga. This is the type of yoga that you would usually find in a class at a yoga studio, gym, etc. However, asana is essentially 1/8 of the limbs that make up yoga. The other seven include yamas, niyamas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dyana, and samadhi.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
"In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps, commonly known as the 8 limbs of yoga, basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature." – Yoga Journal
The 8 Limbs of Yoga Explained
1. Yamas: External Ethics
This is the first limb, also known as The Great Universal Vows. The Yamas are meant to be moral guidelines for how we interact with society. They include:
2. Niyamas: Internal Ethics
Niyamas are the second limb of yoga. These are guidelines for how we treat ourselves. The five niyamas are:
Svadhyaya: self study
Ishvara Pranidhana: devotion
3. Asana: Postures
Asana is the physical practice of yoga. It is the third limb and often the first element of yoga that we are drawn to.
4. Pranayama: Breath Control
Prana is defined as life force or energy that rides along the breath and yama means control. Therefore, pranayama, is the control of breath. The purpose of this fourth limb is to bring awareness to the breath so that the body and mind may follow.
5. Pratyahara: Sense Withdrawal
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga that is the practice of sense withdrawal. This involves moving one's attention from external stimulation to focus on inward development and refining the mind for the practice of concentration and meditation.
6. Dharana: Concentration
The steps leading up to this sixth limb prepare us for meditation; however, before we can meditate, we must be able to hold one-pointed focus.
7. Dhyana: Meditation
Dhyana is meditation. Meditation, like all of yoga, is a practice. It can be challenging, which is why we move through the steps to prepare for it. The purpose of this seventh limb is to free the mind of chatter to experience union... aka yoga!
8. Samadhi: Bliss
And finally samadhi, the eighth and final limb of yoga. Samadhi is bliss, or the ultimate experience of union and understanding that we are all the same. As it was described to me during my teacher training at Love Yoga, if in dharana we look at the water and dhyana we are in the water, in samadhi we have become the water.
Hope this provided clarity!
I hope this provided clarity and gave you a better understanding of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I felt that it was the best place to start and a great reference point for all future topics of yoga that will be discussed moving forward.
Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!
With love and gratitude,