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The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

Yoga is about more than the poses.

Yes, yes, we know! We've heard it a million times. So what else is it about?

Now that we have set a tone of respect (Blog- Respecting the Roots of Yoga), and learned about The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Blog- Yoga's Textbook: The Sutras) we are ready to learn about the rest of yoga - The Eight Limbs of Yoga.

The term "limb" can feel a little confusing at first. Using the image above, think of the trunk of the tree as yoga, and the limbs as integral parts of the practice. The way we read this tree is clockwise, beginning on the bottom left. Let's get into it!

1. Yama

Pronounced "Ya-ma"

There are several interpretations of the word Yama:

  • Ethical Living

  • Observances

  • Self-Restraints

  • Universal Conduct

  • External Discipline

Taken all together, we can see that this limb is about our behavior toward others. By observing the Yamas, we restrain ourselves from behavior that would hurt others.

The five yamas are:

  • Ahimsa (non-harming)

  • Satya (compassionate honesty)

  • Asteya (non-stealing)

  • Brahmacharya (conserving energy)

  • Aparigraha (non-hoarding)

These observances are probably not new to you. Most major belief systems include things like compassion, honesty, love, and generosity. As you practice this limb of yoga, become aware of your actions toward others. Work to spread good in the world!

2. Niyama

Pronounced "Knee-Ya-ma"

There are several interpretations of the word Niyama:

  • Healthy Living

  • Things to do

  • Virtuous habits to grow from within

  • Personal conduct

Taken all together, we can see that this limb is about our actions toward ourselves. With our behavior guided by the Niyamas, we live a meaningful life according to our purpose. This benefits not only ourselves, but also others.

The five Niyamas are:

  • Saucha (cleanliness)

  • Santhosa (contentment)

  • Svadhyaya (self-study)

  • Tapas (self-discipline)

  • Isvara Pranidhana (surrender, have faith)

As you practice this limb of yoga, become aware of your habits and mindset. Work to live a disciplined and meaningful life.

3. Asana

Pronounced "Ah-sana" (like when the doctor tells you to stick out your tongue and say "ah")

Asana is our physical practice - the poses we make with our bodies. The physical practice tires us out, to prepare us for meditation. The physical practice is difficult, to mimic the difficulty we face in life. The physical practice makes us fit, to allow our bodies to sit for long periods of time in meditiation.

As you practice this limb of yoga, notice - what is my experience on the mat telling me about life? What do I notice happening in my body and mind while I work through the poses?

4. Pranayama

Pronounced "Pra-na-Ya-ma"

Pranayama is controlled breathing. We sometimes refer to it as "breath-work."Prana is breath, the life force that flows through every living being. Ayama means to lengthen or extend. In Pranayama, we control our breath by lengthening it to fill more of our body. There are many different approaches to Pranayama. Ujayi breath is an example that we use in Vinyasa classes. In Wellness class, we might do six-direction breathing, alternate nostril breathing, or four-count breathing.

As you practice this limb of yoga, notice how your breath affects your well-being. Notice how your breath can bring you to a totally new mindset. Notice any struggles you have accessing your breath.

5. Pratyahara

Pronounced "Prat-ya-ha-ra"

Pratyahara is interpreted as "sense withdrawal." It is a rest from all the input so you can experience peace. Pratyahara has been a wonderful entrance to meditation for me. I take 10 minutes to myself, away from any screens or loud sounds. I lay down and relax. I don't have any expectations except to just be in the moment. Often my cat Lucy will jump up and I'll spend some time petting her. I feel totally rejuvenated after giving my senses a rest.

Think of this limb of yoga as slowly breaking away and experiencing peace away from the noise.

6. Dharana

Pronounced "Duh-ra-na"

Dharana is concentration. It is focusing the mind on one thing, and not multitasking. With Pratyahara you are simply withdrawing, but with Dharana you are concentrating on something. This is a necessary step toward full meditation.

When working with this limb, notice the difference when you choose to focus your mind on one thing. Begin introducing it into parts of your work day. Begin introducing it into parts of your asana practice - Savasana is a great place!

7. Dhyana

Pronounced "DYE-ana"

Dhyana is taking the lessons from Pratyahara and Dharana and applying it into full meditation. In meditation, we let thoughts come and go. We stay withdrawn and focused.

As we get up toward these limbs, it's hard for me to say how you can work with them. I am still learning alot about meditation!! As I learn more, you'll be the first to know! In the meantime, I encourage you to do research if you're feeling ready for full meditation.

8. Samadhi

Pronounced "Suh-ma-dee"

Samadhi is self-realization; total union and bliss. It is feeling yourself and the world as ONE.

I'll end it there, because no explanation could ever do it justice <3


So beyond happy to share the eight parts of yoga with you. Looking forward to exploring this together on our mats.



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