8 Limbs of Yoga

The world of yoga can be huge just in the course of a 90-minute class, but that class is also part of a tradition practiced throughout the world that grew out of the great sage Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written about 2,000 years ago. This includes the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” outlining a comprehensive path to achieving complete liberation from one’s thoughts or fears and wholeness with the universe.

  1. Yama — Restraints, moral disciplines or vows about how we live in the world around us. The five yamas are ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not stealing or wanting to possess), brahmacharya (using energy to move toward the divine), and aparigraha (nongreed or nonattachment). 
  2. Niyama — Positive duties or observances for ourselves and the outside world: saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (self-study and study of spiritual texts), and isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power). 
  3. Asana — Posture taken while meditating, but not necessarily one of the standing poses you assume for yoga class. Many texts say the most important asana of all is one that can be assumed in a seated position motionlessly, so your attention isn’t pulled by any aches or stretches. 
  4. Pranayama — Controlled breathing techniques that can be both calming and stimulating. When synchronized with movement, yoga becomes a moving meditation. 
  5. Pratyahara — Inner peace, a state of silence and withdrawal from the five senses so you can be in tune with your inner self. This is the first step of the meditation process. 
  6. Dharana — The second step of meditation, it’s a state of sustained concentration on your inner thoughts without disturbance from outer or inner stimuli, including thoughts or sensations.
  7. Dhyana — Meditative absorption, a deep state arising from limbs 5 and 6. All the senses are quiet and thoughts are directed to its resting place, the center of the being. 
  8. Samadhi — Bliss or enlightenment, the ultimate goal of many yogis. This is union with the whole and oneness with the universe. Most teachers maintain this is difficult or impossible to describe with words.