The 8 Limbs of Yoga Explained

Understanding Ashtanga Yoga in its completeness, beyond the physical asana practice

The 8 Limbs of Yoga: Asana & Ashtanga

Ashtanga Yoga literally means “eight limbs of yoga.” These limbs are defined in the the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and comprise the foundation of Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy.

Asana is the 3rd limb of the 8 limbs, however today, when many people say "Ashtanga" they are often simply referring to Asana, which is the physical sequence of postures as taught by Sri. K Pattabhi Jois.

The following are the 8 practices or limbs:

1. yama (moral restraints) – how we relate to others
2. niyama (observances) – how we relate to ourselves
3. āsana (posture) – how we relate to our body
4. prāṇāyāma (breath extension) – how we relate to our breath or spirit

5. pratyāhāra (sensory withdrawal) – how we relate to our sense organs
6. dhāraṇā (concentration) – how we relate to our mind
7. dhyāna (meditation) – moving beyond the mind
8. samādhi (meditative absorption) – deep realization and inner union

Yamas, Niyamas & Asanas

What are Yamas?

The Yamas or the first limb, consists of five parts:

- ahimsā (non-harming)
- satya (truthfulness)
- asteya (non-stealing)
- bramacharya (focus of
energy towards the divine)
- aparigraha (greedlessness)

What are Niyamas?

The Niyamas also contain 5 aspects:

– śauca (purity)
– santoṣa (contentment)
-tapas (purifying practices)
– svādhyāya (self study and   the study of sacred texts)
– Īśvara praṇidhāna (surrender to the divine

What are Asanas?

The Āsanas we practice and teach have been given to us by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (also called Guruji).

Guruji believed it was necessary to enter into the eight limbs of yoga through the physical postures, the third limb.

External and Internal Yoga

The first four limbs are referred to as “external yoga,”and the last four limbs are called “internal yoga.” The fifth limb, pratyāhāra, acts as a bridge between the external and internal limbs.

As students of yoga we are able to actively practice the external limbs, while the internal limbs are the fruits of a sincere and continuous practice.

The final limbs of our practice are manifested through Divine Grace and arise spontaneously. They are not mental states that can be brought about by our own individual efforts. They are the result of fully understanding what it means to completely surrender to something greater then oneself.

The eight limbs of yoga are interconnected, and not separate steps along the path. Whether one starts by practicing the physical postures, breath awareness, or mindfulness in the daily practice of the yamas and niyamas, each limb encourages growth in the other.

As the body becomes steady and at ease, the breath starts to come under control, and the mind begins to experience moments of clarity, and essential peace.