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Understanding the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

“A mind free from all disturbances is yoga.” Patanjali

Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga are just a few of popular types of Yoga practiced across the globe. For years, yoga has been considered a way of life, but it has always been more than just a method of teaching. With its origin over thousands of years ago, the core philosophy of yoga is deep-rooted in holistic well-being, which is why still millions of people in the world practise this ancient tradition daily. Apart from spiritual values, this ancient form of life aspires to bring harmony to all aspects of your wellbeing. However, Yoga is more than just the practice of asanas or physical postures. In order to fully imbibe its core philosophy, it is essential to integrate yogic principles in our thoughts, words & actions. The word Yoga comes from the Sanksrit word “yuj” meaning union – yoga is a celebration of the union of mind, body and soul.

Patanjali, an Indian sage revered scholar in the Yogic tradition & popularly known as father of Yoga, is credited with authoring the Yoga Sutras, where he speaks about the Eight Limbs of Yoga, that are the core principles that serve as the scope for living a meaningful, purposeful and holistic life. He refers to the Eight Limbs as Ashtanga (ashta = eight, anga = limb, in Sanskrit)



Here is an overview of the 8 Limbs of Yoga

  1. The Yamas – Morality / External Disciplines

The Yamas are universal practices that follow the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It deals with the ethical standards & sense of integrity; a behaviour moral code and we conduct ourselves. It includes ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (continence ie. sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness & non-greediness)

  1. The Niyamas – Observances / Internal Disciplines

The second limb of yoga follows the rules of personal behaviour and has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. In practice, it can include developing personal meditation practices, reciting prayers before a meal, contemplative thoughts and more. Including saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or austerity), svadhyaya (study of spiritual scriptures), and Ishvara Pranidhana (constant devotion to God)

  1. Asana – Postures

Asanas comprise all postures that are practiced in yoga. The body is considered a temple, and the taking utmost care of our bodies is instrumental in spiritual growth. By practicing Asanas, we imbibe discipline and the ability to concentrate, which are key factors of meditation.

  1. Pranayama – Breath Control

Pranayama constitutes of breathing techniques that control prana, or the vital life force. It involves breath control, and techniques that help obtain control over the respiratory process. It also recognises the connection between the breath, mind and emotions, and results in rejuvenation of the body. It is performed in isolation, by sitting and practicing various breathing techniques; that regulate inhalations, exhalations and retention in a breath cycle. Pranayama brings the focus of the mind and body inward.

  1. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of Senses

The fifth limb of ashtanga yoga focuses on the withdrawal of the senses. During this stage, there is a conscious effort to move our awareness away from the external world and external stimuli. The aim is to be aware of our sense yet create a form of detachment from it as we bring our attention in internally. This process not only allows us to be objective but also become cognizant of detrimental daily habits that disturb inner growth.

  1. Dharana – Concentration

Dharana, the sixth limb, refers to concentration. Once we have diminished ourselves of any external distractions, Dharana empowers us to deal with distractions of the mind. While it is no easy task, it helps us slow down the thinking process by concentration on a single mental object. Eg. a specific energy center in our body. Dharana enables our concentration power, that is already in development as we practice the previous stages.

  1. Dhyana – Meditative absorption

Dhyana, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the flow of concentration, without any interruptions. It differs from the previous limb, dharana. While Dharana focuses on attention on one point, Dhyana is the state of being aware without focus. By this stage, the stillness of the mind manufactures few or no thoughts. It takes a great deal of inner strength to reach this stage.

  1. Samadhi – Union/ Integration

The last stage of Ashtanga, is aptly described as a state of ecstasy by Patanjali. The meditator finally comes together with the point of focus and transcends the Self. A deep connection is established with the Divine, that provides an interconnectedness with all living things. It is a sense of being one with the universe. Patanjali describes the last stage as a completion of a yogic path, where humans achieve the ultimate aspiration – peace. He believes that this ultimate stage of ashtanga yoga helps attain enlightenment, that can only be experienced as a result of continuous devotion.

Yoga is one of the core foundations of Dharana Wellness Centre, a holistic retreat integrating Ayurveda, Naturopathy & Yoga practices. Wrapped in the serene setting of the Sahyadri mountain range, Dharana is a sanctuary for the mind, body and spirit. With a heavy and in-depth emphasis on the practice of yoga along with pranayama and meditation, the crucial pillars in steering “consciousness”, The Dharana way of life helps you achieve overall cleansing and healing of the body, mind and spirit.


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