What Are The Eight Limbs of Yoga?
Depending on how long you’ve had a yoga practice, you may or may not be too familiar with the eight limbs of yoga. Years ago when I certified to teach yoga, I remember studying the eight limbs and memorizing them through a little chant, “yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyhara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi”. (I will make a recording of this at some point to share with you all.)
Yoga is an art form and a science that is designed to help us link, or unify, our mind and our body via our breath. Yoga originated thousands of years ago in India and a wise yogi named Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutras (approx. 200AD) to help everyone understand the foundation and philosophy of the yoga practice. Patanjali named eight steps or limbs that form a framework for the yoga practice. Many of us think of yoga as just the physical practice that we do in a general asana class; but the entire yoga system is much more than just postures.
If you’re interested in going a little bit deeper in to the philosophy of yoga, here’s a simple guide to understanding the eight steps spelled out by Patanjali.
First, we begin with the yamas, our relationship to the outer world and how to be a good person towards others and our environment.
Secondly, we look at how we can be better to our own self and treat our self with respect and kindness, these are the niyamas.
Then, we move in to the yoga postures, or asanas, we do in physical yoga class that help our bodies become strong, fit, flexible and able to sit comfortably and move without pain.
We move on to the breath work, pranayama, and learn to control it and manipulate it to our advantage.
As we get more focused in our bodies and our breath, we learn to concentrate which is pratyhara in Sanskrit.
Soon, we can concentrate even deeper, dharana, and eventually we find a place of meditation and stillness, dhyana.
Lastly, we feel at peace, unified, centered and a sense of bliss or samadhi.
So this is a very basic start to understanding more yoga philosophy. It’s nice to delve a little deeper in to the spiritual and ethical side of yoga, especially if you tend to focus mainly on the physical aspect of yoga. If you want to learn even more about the eight fold path, I recommend checking out The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali. Here’s an interesting post on the yamas and niyamas as well and how to use them in your asana practice. Namaste!
Kristin McGee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City. She is currently teaching yoga with Peloton. She is the star of over 100 videos, seen in several magazines and tv shows and is a spokeswoman for many brands and causes she believes in. A proud mom to three, she sure keeps herself busy!