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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

You started practicing yoga to feel better and you've possibly even mastered some crazy yoga poses... now what?

Have you ever wondered if there's more to this 6000+ year old set of life enhancing tools?

I'm here to show you there IS. 

the 8 limbs of yoga
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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras

The true meaning of Yoga is the union of body, mind, soul, and spirit. 

According to practice, we often suffer because of not knowing our true Self and because of the illusion of separation of our individual consciousness from Universal Consciousness. The Yoga Sutras act as a practical guide to assist you on your journey of remembering this union.

The Yoga Sutras were composed by a man (and most likely many of his students) named Patanjali, presumably from India, estimated to have lived between 2nd century BCE to 4th century CE. Patanjali is also credited with developing Sanskrit grammar and basic text of Ayurveda. 

The Yoga Sutras contain 196 verses, which discuss the aim of yoga, the development of the processes which involves the ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’ and finally, how you strive for liberation and self-realization which is the 8th limb of yoga also called Samadhi in Sanskrit.

According to the Sutras, beginning the pursuit of self-realization is the most significant step in life – as they make us aware of our pitfalls and how to overcome them.


The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Building off of the Yoga Sutras, most modern yogis focus on the 31 verses that describe the 8 Limbs of Yoga - an eight-fold path or guide on how to live in order to advance along a spiritual path towards enlightenment. 

The 8 Limbs of Yoga:

1. YAMAS/ External Moral Disciplines

2. NIYAMAS/ Internal Observances

3. ASANAS/ Postures

4. PRANAYAMA/ Breathing Techniques

5. PRATYAHARA / Sensory Withdrawal

6. DHARANA / Concentration

7. DHYANA/ Meditation

8. SAMADHI/ Self-Realization & Enlightenment



1. The Yamas


"The most important human endeavor is driving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life" ~ Albert Einstein

ahimsa satya asteya brahmacharya aparigraha yama / nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), nonstealing (asteya), nonexcess (brahmacharya), and nonattachment with the senses (aparigraha) are the five yamas, or codes of self-regulation or restraint, and are the first of the eight steps of Yoga." ~ The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2.30

This first limb refers to practices that are primarily concerned with the external world around us, and our interaction with it. 

While the practice of yoga can increase physical strength and flexibility and aid in calming the mind, what’s the point if we’re still rigid, weak and stressed-out in day-to-day life? 

The Yamas are five concepts that can be observed in our bodies, senses, actions, words and thoughts. They help us to purify our nature, morals and values and form a healthier and happier relationship ourselves and with society.


1Ahimsa/ NonViolence

2. Satya/ Truthfulness

3. Asteya/ NonStealing

4. Brahmacharya/ NonExcess

5. Aparigraha/ NonAttachment



2. The Niyamas


"As human beings, our greatest lies not so much in being able to remake the world, but in the ability to remake ourselves." ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

shaucha santosha tapah svadhyaya ishvarapranidhana niyamah/ purification (saucha), contentment (santosha), discipline (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), surrendering (ishvara pranidhana) are the observances or practices of self-training (niyamas), and are the second rung on the ladder of Yoga ~ The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 

Where the Yamas focus on practices concerned with the external word… the second limb is primarily concerned with our internal world. 

There are five concepts that help us maintain a positive environment internally and give us the self-discipline and inner-strength necessary to progress along our journey.


1. Saucha/ Purification

2. Santosha/ Contentment

3. Tapas/ Discipline

4. Svadhyaya/ SelfStudy

5. Ishvara Pranidhana/ Surrendering


3. Asanas

“My body is my temple and asanas are my prayers”
~ B.K.S. Iyengar

“sthira sukham asanam: The posture for yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and comfortable.  - The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra 2.46

Asana is derived from Sanskrit meaning 'sitting down, a sitting posture, a seat.' 

The word was first used in English to mean a yoga posture in 1834. Leslie Kaminoff writes in Yoga Anatomy that from one point of view, "all of asana practice can be viewed as a methodical way of freeing up the spine, limbs, so that the yogi can spend extended periods of time in a seated position for meditation.” 

An asana is a body posture, originally a sitting pose for meditation, and later in hatha yoga and more modern variations adding reclining, folding, lateral movement, standing, inverting, twisting, and balancing poses.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define ‘asana’ as a position that is steady and comfortable

Therefore, if you are not steady and comfortable, you need to take a step back and think about why not. This is a perfect example of becoming in tune with your Ego.



4. Pranayama

“The quality of our breath expresses our inner feelings.” ~ TKV Desikachar

tasmin sati shvasa prashvsayoh gati vichchhedah pranayamah / once that posture has been achieved, the slowing or braking of the force behind, and of unregulated movement of inhalation and exhalation is called breath control and expansion of prana (pranayama), which leads to the absence of the awareness of both, and is the fourth of the eight rungs ~ The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra 2.49

Prana’ refers to the universal life force and ‘ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen.

Yoga identifies ‘prana’ as the universal life force which distinguishes the living from the dead, and flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called ‘nadis’ and energy centers called ‘chakras - also known as our energetic nervous system.

Yogi’s have observed the power of the breath to increase one’s prana and developed special breathing techniques to increase this energy, maintain health and create a calm, clear state of mind that is conducive for meditation.


5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara itself is termed as yoga, as it is the most important limb in yoga sadhana” - Swami Sivananda

“When the mind maintains awareness, yet does not mingle with the senses, nor the senses with sense impressions, then self-awareness blossoms” - The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - 2.54

Yoga has an outer layer, which consists of conscious living, conscious care of the body, and enhancement of vital energy. This is what the yamas, niyamas, asana, and pranayama are all about. 

The yamas and niyamas build a foundation of these conscious behaviors through values like nonviolence and truthfulness and practices like cleanliness and contentment. Asana makes the body strong and flexible, and pranayama develops our vital energy, helping to calm the nervous system and eventually the brain, which is creating our thoughts, words, actions and experiences.


6. Dharana

"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance" ~ T.S Elliot

“Dharana is the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.” - Yoga Sutras 3.1

Can you remember the last time you were totally focused on one activity? 

We often feel a sense of peace while performing these activities because the mind gets to do what is was made to do, concentrate on one thing at a time. 

This type of concentration is called Dharana, which is essentially bringing our consciousness to a single point.When the mind is on a single point, the ‘monkey mind’ ‘or ‘endless stories’ start to quiet down and there is less room for other thoughts, memories, and future planning.

If we ever want to be able to properly meditate, we need to be able to concentrate the mind on one thing at a time. 



7. Dhyana


‘In this place of continuous concentration, the confines of the mind release & Dhyana emerges’ ~ Yoga Sutra 3.2

"Dhyana is retaining one's tranquil state of mind, in any circumstance, unfavorable as well as favorable, and not being disturbed, or frustrated even when adverse conditions present themselves, one after another"  - DT Suzuki

Meditation is the process and Dhyana is the state of being you are trying to achieve.

In the early stages of meditation, there is an awareness of the observer (you), and the observed. 

Dhyana is then, the state that follows meditation, and can be called, glimpsing the soul, where you enter a peak state, like when time flies or when you feel that time stands still, a transcendence of time. 



8. Samadhi

“The word samadhi has been largely misunderstood. People think samadhi means some death-like situation. The word samadhi literally means sama and dhisama meaning equanimity and dhi meaning buddhi or the intellect. If you reach an equanimous state of intellect, it is known as samadhi. Samadhi is a state of equanimity where the intellect goes beyond its normal function of discrimination.” ~ Sadhguru

The eighth and final step in Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga is samadhi. 

The word Samadhi literally means “putting together” and is often translated as “integration” or “absorption.” The eighth limb is the practice of the entire program (the other seven limbs) as well as the final attainment of just being in nothing. 

The eternal peace and liberation of this state comes from transcending the confines of the ego. You are no longer wrapped up in the trappings of like, dislike, judgment, worry, fear, nor do you have any physical sensation, including pain. 

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Imagine if...

  • You felt deeply connected to yourself and the external world
  • You knew how certain poses and breathing techniques could strengthen the body. mind and emotions and calm the nervous system
  • You could easily withdraw distractions in your life and improve your concentration and focus
  • You found various active and passive meditation techniques soothing for your soul
  • You experience AH-HA moments often and feel aligned with the Universe and how you are supporting the greater good while you are here

What if you were told that everything you want, is available to you now - and everything you need, you already had? 


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