8 Limbs of Yoga

Described in the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are set fourth as the means, or the path towards the “quest of the soul.” The eight limbs are as follows:

Yama – commitment to universal moral commandments
Niyama – self-purification through discipline
Asana – posture
Pranayama – rhythmic control of the breath
Pratyahara – withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects
Dharana – concentration
Dhyana – meditation
Samadhi – a state of super-consciousness

Yama and Niyama control the yogini’s passions and emotions and keep her in harmony with others. Asanas keep the body healthy and strong and in harmony with nature. Finally, the yogini becomes free of body consciousness. She conquers the body and renders it a fit vehicle for the soul. These three limbs represent bahiranga sadhana, the outward quests. These limbs are also considered the physical pursuits.

The next two stages, Pranayama and Pratyahara, teach the aspirant to regulate the breathing, and thereby control the mind. This helps to free the senses from the thralldom of the objects of desire. These two limbs represent the antaranga sadhana, the inner quests. These limbs are also considered the mental pursuits.

Dharana , Dhyana, and Samadhi take the yogini into the innermost recesses of her soul. The yogini does not look heavenward to find God. She knows that God is within, being known as the Antaratma, the Inner Self. The last three stages keep the yogini in harmony with herself and her maker. These three limbs are called antaratma sadhana, the quest of the soul. These limbs are also considered the spiritual pursuits.

The five Yamas are as follows:
  • Ahimsa, non-violence
  • Satya, honesty and truthfulness
  • Asteya, non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya, continence (responsibility), moderation and dedication to the understanding of Divinity
  • Aparigraha, non-covetousness
The five Niyamas are as follows:
  • Saucha, purity internally and externally
  • Santosa, contentment, reducing desires, becoming cheerful and creating balance of mind
  • Tapas, discipline in the mind and body and directing the mind towards the self within
  • Svadhyaya, study the source of our actions, learn and search for truth and self-realization
  • Isvara Pranidhana, dedication to humanity and surrendering to God and the powers that be and abiding to the greater will

“References: Light on Yoga, Light on the Yoga Sutras, and The Tree of Yoga all by BKS Iyengar (paraphrased)”