No, you don’t need 8 arms and legs to practice yoga. Instead, think of the 8 limbs of yoga like the eight steps of yoga. In other words, they are guiding principles for your practice. When completed, these steps lead yogis to enlightenment. Beyond yoga, the 8 limbs can help you live a more balanced life.
Where do the 8 Limbs of Yoga Come From?
Ancient Tamil sage Patanjali first wrote about the 8 limbs of yoga in the yoga sutras. As some of yoga's earliest texts, the sutras define yoga’s theories and practices. In them, Patanjali describes a path to bliss called ashtanga. A Sanskrit word, ashtanga literally translates to “8 limbs.”
Despite his fame, we know little about Patanjali. Yet, yoga scholars have studied his sutras for thousands of years. As a result, we can easily understand the ashtanga.
Let's dive into the 8 limbs of yoga:
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
Yama is the first of the 8 limbs of yoga. It means “restraint.” As such, this limb focuses on outward behavior. The five yamas are:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmachrya: moderation
- Aparigraha: non-hoarding
The second limb, niyama refers to personal practices. Similar to yama, it also means "restraint." However, niyama has a more inward focus. There are 5 niyamas:
- Saucha: cleanliness
- Samtosa: contentment
- Tapas: austerity
- Svadhyaya: self-study
- Isvara pranidhana: surrender to a higher power
An asana is a physical posture. As the third limb, it builds discipline and concentration. As you know, these are essential to your practice!
Pranayama is the fourth limb and means “breath control.” By regulating our breath, we connect our mind and body. These breathing techniques often accompany poses. However, you can also practice pranayama on its own.
The fifth limb, Pratyahara, means “withdrawal.” Accordingly, Pratyahara calls us to withdraw our focus from the external world. By doing this, we can turn inward and reflect. We can better sense our own weaknesses during this reflection. As yogis, we constantly seek to improve ourselves.
Pratyahara leads into the next limb, dharana. Translated as “concentration,” it involves deep focus. Moreover, dharana requires a calm mind. In order to calm their minds, yogis often focus on a single mental object. This object can be a body part, a mental image, or a silent mantra. By focusing our attention, we clear our mental clutter. As a result, we prime ourselves for meditation.
On that note, the seventh limb, dhyana, means “meditation.” More intense than dharana, dyana requires constant focus on one’s consciousness. At this stage, you should have no thoughts at all. This takes a lot of strength and stamina, so don’t worry if you’re not quite there yet. Just keep working at it!
All of the previous limbs culminate in samadhi. Patanjali describes samadhi as the end of the yogic path. Samadhi therefore is ashtanga's final stage. It is thus a state of pure bliss. Upon reaching samadhi, a yogi transcends the self and attains peace. This enlightenment is yoga’s ultimate goal.
Use the 8 Limbs of Yoga in Your Practice
To conclude, the 8 limbs are yoga's core principles. When practiced, they make us not only better yogis—but better people.
Each limb builds on the previous one, requiring increasing levels of discipline. As you can imagine, this takes time. But the journey is well-worth it and attainable to any yogi who sets their mind to it.
Ready to begin your journey toward samadhi? Set your intention and head to flowell.co for personalized yoga and meditation classes. Sign up for free and start flowing today!