Eight Limbs of Yoga

Last Updated: October 3, 2023

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The eight limbs of yoga are the foundations of yoga that serve as a guide for yoga practice. The eight limbs of yoga help one to lead a meaningful and purposeful life and achieve self realization through mind, body and spirit discipline.

What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga

The eight limbs of yoga act as guidelines to navigate yoga practice to achieve complete balance with the universal consciousness.

This eightfold path was named ashtanga, which means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit (ashta = eight, anga=limb). Each limb provides instruction on how to lead a meaningful and purposeful life through discipline of mind, body, and spirit, with the ultimate goal being moksha, meaning liberation or freedom.

History and Origin of The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The scientific Hindu sage, Patanjali, composed a book in 400 CE titled “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” which included 196 Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms) on yogic philosophy and practice. The writings of Patanjali are divided into four separate sections or padas. The eightfold path is known as the Ashtanga Yoga System, located in section two of Patanjali’s sutras, Sadhana Pada.

With consistency and rigorous self-discipline, this foundational text of yoga philosophy, in its completion, allows the practitioner to achieve self-realization and free oneself from mental and physical suffering. 

The 8 Limbs of Yoga


The first limb, yama, refers to ethical standards and practices used to interact with the external world. Yama means self-control and thus dictates a series of habits to instill within the self. A thorough understanding of the yamas will aid in practicing yoga in daily life. There are five Yamas:

  1. Ahimsa: Non-violence, Kindness. Non-violence refers to abstaining from hurting oneself or others either physically or mentally.
  2. Satya: Truthfulness. Practicing satya encourages living authentically and honestly, allowing the true self to see and accept things for what they truly are.
  3. Asteya: Honesty, Non-stealing. Asteya means to refrain from coveting the possessions, money, time, ideas, and well-being of others.  
  4. Brahmacharya: Moderation of the Senses, Continence. This practice promotes the correct use of energy and withdrawal from frequent use of sensory pleasures such as food, sex, drugs, and sleep.
  5. Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness. Aparigraha means to reject materialism by only taking and gathering what is needed to survive. Material possessions inspire negative feelings of envy and greed, which act as energy takers. Practicing aparigraha releases the need to control and encourages a simpler life.  


The second limb, niyama, refers to spiritual observances and inner discipline. The niyamas are habits cultivated within the self to inspire personal and spiritual growth. There are five Niyamas:

  1. Saucha: Cleanliness. Saucha is the purity of the mind, body, and spirit. It begins with the cleanliness of the self, both physically and mentally, and expands into one’s preservation of the outside world.  
  2. Samtosa: Contentment, Happiness. Samtosa is a state of elated serenity achieved through mindfulness, practicing gratitude, and discovering joy in daily life.
  3. Tapas: Self-discipline, burning desire. Tapas is the process of shifting away from negative habits and patterns by maintaining self-restraint. The practice of self-control invites personal growth while in pursuit of future goals and aspirations.
  4. Svadhyaya: Self-study, Self-reflection. Svadhyaya means self-study of scriptures and books. This study promotes a sense of self and allows one to reach self-realization.
  5. Isvara pranidhana: Surrender to a higher power. Isvara pranidhana is the final niyama and is made up of two words. Isvara means “supreme being,” and pranidhana means “fixing.” Isvara pranidhana is the complete surrender of the ego to a higher power.


The third limb, asana, refers to the physical postures practiced in modern yoga classes worldwide. The word asana translates to “a seat,” which refers to a yoga pose one would perform during motionless meditation. 

The physical practice of yoga purifies the body, utilizing various yoga postures to strengthen, stabilize, and reach the body’s full potential. There are currently an estimated 84,000 yoga postures in practice.

Balasana (Child’s pose): This is a kneeling asana where the feet are together, the knees are together or apart, and the body is curled over the bent legs. The arms can either be at the side body or stretched outward past the head.

Trikonasana (Extended Triangle pose): This is a standing asana where the feet are wide, one pointed forward while the other turns outward, and both legs are straight. The hips move forward first, and the body follows, with one arm resting on the calf and the other pointing upward. The chest should be out and the shoulders back.


The fourth limb, pranayama, translates to breath control. The word pranayama is the amalgamation of the two Sanskrit words “prana,” meaning life force, and “yama,” meaning control.

The breath promotes the flow of energy to different parts of the body through breathing techniques. Mindful breathing exercises not only aid in the deepening of yoga poses but affect emotions depending on the nature of the breathwork.

Ujjayi breathing (Ocean breathing): Breathing in through the nose and out through the nose, constricting the back of the throat to make an ocean or “ha” sound.


The fifth limb, pratyahara, refers to the sense of withdrawal.

This includes the sights and sounds occurring in the outer world, drawing awareness away from external objects to allow the self to perform meditation without distraction.

It is necessary to practice pratyahara to submit oneself to inner peace wholeheartedly.


The sixth limb, dharana, translates to concentration. One may control the mind and achieve pure awareness by fixating all five senses on a single point. Concentrating on a focal point (such as breath control or a higher power) allows one to shift into inner meditation entirely.  


The seventh limb, dhyana, refers to meditation or the uninterrupted flow of complete concentration. The seventh stage of ashtanga yoga involves quieting the body and mind, releasing the senses and external distractions, and discovering self-awareness without thought.  


The final limb, samadhi, means a state of ecstasy. The term samadhi is made up of the Sanskrit words “sama,” meaning equal, and “dhi,” meaning “to see."

 This signifies that the eighth step is not about escapism but rather the ability to see life as it is and live in the present moment. Completing the eightfold path permits one to reach enlightenment and find harmony with the universal consciousness.

Benefits of Practicing The Eight Limbs of Yoga  


The eight limbs of yoga develop the body, mind, and spirit, gradually purifying the chakras as one moves through the ashtanga yoga system.

Master the Senses

The eightfold path cultivates one’s ability to focus on all five senses. The fifth and sixth limbs, particularly pratyahara and dharana, teach the mind to ignore external distractions and concentrate on a specific focal point.


The physical practice of yoga, asana, integrates the body and mind to control energy flow throughout the body. Yoga classes and breathing exercises encourage blood and oxygen flow in the body, which ultimately leads to an increase in energy levels.

Freedom from Worldly Illusions

The eighth and final limb uncovers the feeling of true peace. By freeing the mind and body from the constraints of all thoughts and senses, one will experience the ultimate yogic state — enlightenment.


Yoga and Health - PMC

Fallen Star: A Return to Self through the Eight Limbs of Yoga - Molly Chanson - Google Books

8 Limbs of Yoga: The Path of Enlightenment in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (yogajournal.com)

The 8 Limbs of Yoga explained - Ekhart Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga and Why They Matter to Your Practice

A Decolonized Guide to the 8 Limbs of Yoga

What Are the Eight Limbs of Yoga? Here's Your Comprehensive Overview.

The Role of the Eight Limbs in Contemporary Yoga Practice.


The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.