top of page

8 Limbs of Yoga

Updated: May 27

This will read a little 'text booky', HOWEVER, this is the delightful beginning of some beautiful future conversations, blogs and study together on and off the mat ...

Yoga is a practice of transforming and benefitting every aspect of one's life, not just the 60-90 minutes spent on a mat; if we can learn how to be truthful, kind and to use our energy in a worthwhile way, we will not only benefit ourselves with our own practice, but everyone and everything surrounding us.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali is a collection of Sanskrit sutras on the theory and practice of yoga. The yoga sutras were compiled and written in roughly 400 CE, by the sage Patañjali in India, who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from much older traditions. They were written as a guide to attain wisdom and self-realization through 'yoga'.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga are an eight fold path leading to 'liberation' or 'enlightenment'. This path helps to teach us different facets of how to embody yoga in mind, body and spirit. And honestly, simply a path to being a 'good' human...

{Sutras translated from the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali by Edwin F. Bryant; accompanied by commentary by Amber}


II.29 The eight limbs are abstentions (yama), observances (niyama), posture (āsana), breath control (prānāyāma), disengagement of the senses (pratyāhāra), concentration (dhāranā), meditation (dhyāna) and absorption (samādhayah).

YAMAS: restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows - the basics to begin living yoga 'off the mat'

Ahimsa (non-violence)

Satya (truthfulness)

Asteya (non-stealing)

Brahmacharya (right use of energy)

Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding)

II.31 [These yamas] are considered the great vow. They are not exempted by one's class, place, time, or circumstance. They are universal.

II.32 The observances are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study [of scripture], and devotion to God.

NIYAMAS: positive duties or observances [ni - sanskrit for inward or within] - Traveling a bit further into our yogic practice, the niyamas are intended to build character.

Saucha (cleanliness)

Santosha (contentment)

Tapas (discipline or burning desire or conversely, burning of desire)

Svadhyaya (self-study or self-reflection, and study of spiritual texts)

Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power)

II.46 Posture should be steady and comfortable.

ASANA: posture - the physical aspect of yoga, and NOT just what us 'westerners' call yoga, rather at it's roots ...

Asana in the Yoga Sutras by Patañjali & the Upanishads is simply referring to your seat, specifically the seat you would take for your meditation practice. Alas, the postures we have come to know and, mostly, love were curated later. We can also relate the 'steady & comfortable' to every posture, not just seated or lotus, but how can we begin to shift from the body shaking, sweat dripping, exhausting 'power' yoga to a place where we are not 'pulled' by aches and pains or restlessness due to being uncomfortable? Perhaps something to ponder if you're someone who always goes for the most 'advanced' posture offered, and instead, begin to explore how many postures can you become steady & comfortable in? Maybe begin to re-write what 'advanced' or 'difficult' translates to in your physical yoga asana practice.

II.49 When that [āsana] is accomplished, prānāyāmah, breath control, [follows]. This consists of the regulation of the incoming and outgoing breaths.

II.50 [Prānāyāmah] manifests as external, internal, and restrained movements [of breath]. These are drawn out and subtle in accordance to place, time, and number.

PRANAYAMA: breathing techniques - [prana refers to 'energy' or 'life force'] - Pranayama can be translated in a couple of ways:

prana - yama: 'breath control' or 'breath restraint'

prana - ayama: 'freedom of breath' or 'breath liberation'

Each way of breathing has the ability to change your state of being, wether we

perceive this as 'controlling' or 'freeing' is up to our own mindset

II.54 Pratyāhārā, withdrawal from sense objects, occurs when the senses do not come into contact with thier respective sense objects. It corresponds, as it were, to the nature of the mind [when it is withdrawn from the sense objects}

PRATYAHARA: sense withdrawal - [pratya - to withdraw, draw in or draw back] [ahara - refers to anything we 'take in' - ie utilizing our senses] This conjures up an image of turning our senses 'off' through concentration, likely the first thing we think of in meditation, to 'draw inward' or to turn off our senses. Rather than 'shutting off', we more so move into a practice of simply allowing the senses to hear, see, smell, feel, but allow all these things outside of ourselves to simply be, to not allow them to distract us, to not attache to these things outside of us, to find a soft concentration where the world still exists, but our mind is not easily distracted by such things.

III.1 Concentration is the fixing of the mind in one place.

DHARANA: focused concentration - [dha - holding or maintaining] [ana - other or something else] closely linked to pratyahra, and even pranayama. We must withdraw in order to focus on something and we must focus on something in order to withdraw. It is this stage that many of us arrive at when we think we are 'meditating' ... Dharana practices I love are: candle gazing [tratak] or sunset gazing, visualization, and focusing on breath/pranayama.

III.2 Meditation is the one-pointedness of the mind on one image.

DHYANA: meditative absorption - when we become so completely absorbed in our focus of the meditation, we have truly arrived in meditation. The actual practice of meditation is not something we can actively 'do', but rather meditation is the sum of its parts, the spontaneous action of something that happens as the result of everything else. Essentially, if you are truly meditating, there is not conscious thought of 'oh, i'm meditating', you just simply are.

III.3 Samāhdi is when that same dhyāna shines forth as the object alone and [the mind] is devoid of its own [reflective] nature.

SAMADHI: bliss or enlightenment - the 'final step' in this practice of the 8 limbs of yoga in Pantañjali's Sutras - after we re-organize our relationship with the outer world and our inner world, we come to the finale of 'enlightenment' and we now get to float away on a cloud 'bliss'... OR NOT. Breaking the sanskrit word down - [sama - same or equal] [dhi - to see] - in searching for Samadhi is not escapism, being abundantly filled with joy, or floating away, but rather it's a realizing the very life we live is laid out in front of us. And our ability to see 'equally' and without disturbance from the mind, removing our conditioned behaviors and thoughts through experience [likes, dislikes, habits], without a need to judge or become attached to any particular aspect, now THAT is BLISS.

Rinse. Repeat. Samadhi is not a perpetual state of being, it is not permanent, and no, this is not the universe playing a joke on us, it is all part of the work towards the pure mind - a mind free of attachment, aversions, desires, and habits, where we attain moksha or mukti - meaning a permanent state of being liberated, released and free.

For me and my journey, the practice of the 8 limbs of yoga is an ongoing, transitional reacquaintance of meeting my own self, my creator and integrating new lessons as they arise. Continually arriving back to a place of realization that rather than attaching to the feeling of happiness or bliss, but to simply enjoying what is.

Om Tat Sat. It is what it is.


Header image credit: Yoga with Nicole Allison.

15 views0 comments


bottom of page