Ashtanga Yoga: the 8 limbs of yoga

You may be familiar with the term Ashtanga Yoga. It’s heard often in yoga circles today. It’s also often misunderstood …


Ashta is the Sanskrit word for “eight”. Anga simply means “limb”… and thus ashtanga means “eight-limbs”, referring to the eight limbs of yoga organized by Maharishi Patanjali some 2,000 years ago.

These 8 limbs of yoga encompass all the practices necessary for the sadhaka (yoga student) to gain health and vitality; to cultivate awareness and understanding; to gain insight into the deeper demensions of their self and the Universe around us;

… and to acheive ultimate health, harmony and happiness in life.

… And so yoga involves more than just the physical practices and techniques that have become popular today.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga Are:

  1. Yama
  2. Niyama
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara part1 part2
  6. Dharana part1 part2
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

Is it Ashtanga?

There is some confusion around this word ashtanga though, as some modern yoga practitioners have applied it to a vigorous form of yogic-like exercises that have become very popular today. You’ll here this approach also sometimes referred to as ashtanga vinyasa yogaMysore yoga and even the popular power yoga too.

Perhaps that’s what you were even looking for when you stumbled upon this page, and now you’re wondering what this talk of ‘8-Limbs’ is all about? Don’t worry, your physical exercises are in those eight limbs too!

But the physical practices (the ashtanga yoga postures) are just a small part of what there is to know about ashtanga yoga…

… Traditional Ashtanga, that is.

What is Traditional Astanga Yoga?

In his classical yoga text, the Yoga Sutras, sage Patanjali has outlined the various stages of practice along the yogic path. So in a way, yoga can be seen as a progressive process, where one must follow certain steps in order to reach the ultimate goal.

Ok, perhaps the word ‘steps’ doesn’t completely convey the full idea either. But what Patanjali is trying to teach us is that in order to grow as human beings; to rise above the problems of our daily lives; to find real peace, harmony and understanding in life… and to ultimately transcend all of our worldly limitations, we must deal with many often overlooked and unknown “layers” of ourselves.

How Do We Do This?

Well, that process is the very science of yoga itself! In his Yoga Sutras, the definitive ashtanga yoga book, the great sage lays out the eight practical stages of yoga for health, harmony, wellbeing and ultimate self-realization. Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga involves:

1. Yama

The yamas can be thought of as the ethical restraints that are necessary for achieving harmony with other beings.

2. Niyama

The niyamas are the actions necessary for achieving balance within oneself.

3. Asana ( yoga pose )

These are the ashtanga yoga poses (or postures) so commonly made the focal point of many types of yoga today…

4. Pranayama

Pranayama is the practice of breath control, a fundamental aspect of the ashtanga yoga system…

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the stage of withdrawal of the attention into oneself. It is the state of re-sorption into the self of all the senses…


These first 5 limbs are referred to as the Bahiranga Yoga, or the ‘outer practices’ of yoga.

The final 3 stages, known as Antaranga Yoga, or ‘inner yoga’, are higher stages of the practice of yoga. These final 3 stages are also referred to as Samyama Yoga.

6. Dharana

Dharana is the act of concentration of the mind. It can be said that it at this stage where ‘real yoga’ actually begins!

* Without concentration of the mind, there is no yoga!

7. Dhyana

Dhyana is meditation, an unbroken stream of consciousness whereby very little sense of the ‘Self’ remains…

8. Samadhi

This is the stage of ‘mystic absorption’, where knowledge of the ‘essential Self’ is attained. It is the state otherwise referred to as nirvana, jivana mukti, sartori …

The Real Nature of Yoga

Yoga is much more than a system of physical exercises for improved health and wellbeing. Yoga is a magnificent Science of Life – one that can take us into the vastly uncharted territory of our inner selves… if we dare to go there.

This website is dedicated to giving you a glimpse at some of the many aspects of ashtanga yoga… to intrigue you… to inspire you… to motivate you to look deeper into this thing called yoga… to see what it is really all about and what it can truly bring to you.

NEXT:  Yama/Niyama – where yoga begins …

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