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What is Ashtanga (Eight limbs) Yoga

If you want to explore the practical exercises of Ashtanga yoga, it is important to understand concept behind Ashtanga. What is Ashtanga Yoga? Ashtanga is Sanskrit word consists of two words Ashta (eight) and Anga (limbs). Without understanding these eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, its practice is more or less useless and fruitless. These, mutually dependent limbs, prepare us for journey. A journey from limited awareness towards identification of our body-mind, where we can feel more deeply. These limbs provide the way for freedom from world’s suffering and stir-up our joyful inner peace.

“From the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, the impurities of the mind are destroyed, leading to the illumination of discriminative wisdom.”

Yoga Sutras


These eight Limbs of Yoga are techniques of daily cleansing, which are recommended for the path towards more fulfilled life. It includes moral philosophy and bodily practices, alongwith meditation practices that train for final, higher steps of spirituality

  1. Yama (Self-Restraint).

The first limbs of Ashtanga Yoga is Yama. It’s a Sanskrit word which means “restraint” and in the perspective of Ashtanga. It means practicing self-control from words, actions, and thoughts which may cause suffering or hurt either to others or ourselves. [Tweet “Five yamas as prescribed by Patanjali are, truthfulness, non-violence, preservation of important energy, non-covetousness, and non-attachment.”]

  • Truthfulness (Satya).

In yogic terms, it is against our true divine nature to exaggerate, mislead or lie to anyone. It is prohibited to pretend or manipulate individuals or situations for your own selfish concerns. Essential distinctive nature of human beings from other creatures is truthfulness. It includes truthfulness not only towards other people or ourselves, but also towards our own beliefs and feelings.

  • Non-violence (Ahimsa).

Root of self-restrictions is ahimsa i.e. to be respectful and kind to all living creatures including you. Not only to the extent of actions but words and thoughts. For example, your talking should be sincere and honest, without any scandal or rumor. Your approach to Yoga meditation should be gentle and not burdened with impracticable expectations.

  • Preservation of important energy (Brahmacarya).

Literal meaning of expression brahmacarya is “walking in the company of divine”. It indicates prudent and sensible use of power in any ways while avoiding any excess. Either such excess is of over-eating, over-talking, over-sleeping, over-indulgence even over-exercise, as these lead to scatter and exhaust your vitality.

  • Free from lust (Asteya).

To follow asteya means, to control your desire and not to pursue things which do not belongs to us. Desire, lust, envy and greed keep pushing us continuously to the future for accomplishment. This fails us from realization that excellence is achievable in the present, which luckily we all have.

  • Non-attachment (Aparigraha).

Performing aparigraha means not to be obsessively attached to external events or object or consequences of some of these events. Don’t be possessive about or anxiously notice objects. Don’t try to control other people, or rigidly hold thoughts, opinions and ideas. Even while practicing yoga meditation, it’s very important to practice aparigraha. Don’t try to be possessive and obsessive on desired results, rather just accept and move on with what comes.

  1. Niyama (Fixed Observance).

This is second out of eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga, and as important as its first limb. This limb is about the connection with individual and not the society. [Tweet “Five yamas as prescribed by Patanjali are, contentment, purity, self-discipline, attunement to the supreme perception and self-study.”]

  • Satisfaction (Santosa).

Santosa or santosh means state of calmness and happiness without depending upon any outside and earthly situation. Such contentment is not stipulated with what we have or don’t have. Any external condition of satisfaction like money, will lead to state where mind cannot be satisfied permanently with anything. It teaches how to feel satisfied within you. Naturally, continuous practice of yoga meditation will relax any restless mind by enhancing ability to remain balanced in all situations.

  • Cleanliness (Sauca).

Sauca means cleansing of both, mind and body, by enabling us to more willingly feel an enhanced state of inner-peace. It engages plain physical assess such as bathing each morning and before each yoga meditation. It also involves liberty from all unconstructive mental embarrassment with objects, thoughts and circumstances. This practice helps to work towards riddance of mind from such entanglements.

  • Will-power (Tapas).

Tapas or Tapasya is energy which concentrated with conscious self-discipline on specific position so that it releases power. For example inhale deeply and tense your left arm with willpower. Hold your breath as well as tension in arm, now exhale and release the tension. In this practice you’ll feel the energy flow in your arm. This energy is essential for meditation of mind. Self-discipline enables you to conquer and defeat the selfish nature of mind, and direct its influence towards higher spiritual aims.

Supreme happiness is gained through contentment.”

Yoga Sutras

  • Attunement to the supreme perception (Ishvara pranidhana).

It means surrender and submission of ego-self to supreme power. Endure every moment in the presence and awareness of this highest supreme power. In this way you can excel your sense of I, Me and Mine, and realize your own true nature and experience deep sense of inner-peace.

  • Self-study (Svadhyaya).

Tapas and Pranidhana alongwith Svadhyaya (self-study), jointly works as tool to decline and weaken your five sufferings. These sufferings (kleshas) are egoism, attraction, ignorance, repulsion and fear of death. Self-study is nothing like intellectual process, rather simple understanding regarding movement of the mind. It can be achieved through mindful observing our ego-mind to achieve insight-into how it covers our understanding of our true-self.

  1. Asana (Yoga Positions).

Nowadays, well-known and practiced feature of Yoga is the term asana, which means physical position. However, in Patanjali, this third limb of Ashtanga used only three times, (1) Sukhasana (Easy-Pose), Siddhasana (Adept-Position) and Padmasana (Lotus-Posture). Because he was concerned about positions, that hold relationship to overall purpose of yoga i.e. meditation and concentration. According to Patanjali, only comfortable and pleasant postures will provide excellent meditation.

“The posture should be steady and comfortable.”

Yoga Sutras

However, there are many more different yoga asanas which can be practiced for overall physical health. These poses are also help to relax and energize the body in preparation of meditation. Asana is first stage of yoga, and it gives health, steadiness and lightness of body. Regular practicing of asanas, helps to strengthen and purify the body. Together with it also open and balance discs of body, awake the energy in spine (kundalini) to raise it to higher center in brain during meditation.

  1. Pranayama (Force Through Breath).

Pranayama is the fourth out of eight limbs of Yoga, which is defined in Yoga Sutras as “regulation of life-force through stilling breath”. Sanskrit word pranayama is consist of two words i.e. prana (the energy that sustains all life, and ayama (to regulate). Prana is not breath itself, and it’s not just breath control, rather breath is just source of accessing prana. Therefore it involves harmonizing the life-force within the body. Life-force that permeates entire physical system and which performs as link between the mind and the body.

Ashtanga Yoga

It’s a process through which individual force and consciousness are extended into universal energy. Breathing practice not only helps you to observe the flow of life-energy in your body, but also to set-up its regulation. It helps you for revitalizing the body and relaxing the mind for meditation.

  1. Pratyahara (Withdrawal Of Mind From Senses).

This fifth out of eight limbs of Yoga important for preparation of mind for meditation and concentration. This Sanskrit word is a mixture of two words i.e. prati, (reverse direction) and ahar (to remove or withdraw). Its literal meaning is “to move back in the opposite direction”. This is withdrawal of mind from five senses and their particular objects in the world i.e. Interiorization of the mind.

In use of senses like listening, touching, smelling, tasting something, our concentration is drained out of ourselves. Instead in practicing pratyahara the concentration is directed inward. We can learn to twist the mind’s focus inward, only through practicing asana and pranayama. Focus in a way, being completely conscious of where desire to breathe-in and breathe-out occurs. By regularly practicing, we liberate ourselves from affection to duality of pain and pleasure. Duality, which causes us suffering resulting into tranquilizing our minds. By attentive interiorization of mind, the senses perform sharply and in synchronization without interference of ego-mind.

“By conscious interiorization of the mind, the senses function intelligently and in harmony without ego-mind interference. Therefore, one attains complete mastery over all the senses.”

Yoga Sutras


  1. Dharana (Concentration).

One-pointed and focused concentration or Dharana, is sixth limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. It’s a Sanskrit word having its source from word dhri which means “to hold firm”. The mind can be evaluated with a lake. As waves appearing on the lake similarly feelings and thoughts occurs from mind. You can only see your clear reflection in waters when waves on the surface settle and become still. Likewise, you can understand your true inner-self only when all vortices-of-feelings (vrittis) and thought-waves in your mind are stilled. Practice it through focus on single point, instead-of roam anywhere as an expression of ego-self.

Ashtanga Yoga

  • What is Tratak?

Tratak is mainly helpful technique for developing such meditation. More you can apply concentration in daily life the greater will be your success in meditation. Here is how you can practice tratak.

  1. Sit still in relaxed meditation posture in dark room, with an arm’s length lighted candle in front of you. Make sure that the candle should be at about chest height.
  2. Fix both your mental focus and eyes focus at mid-point of flame where it is brightest. Keep focusing for as long as possible time without blink, until your eyes are tired. Initially, practice only for about one minute, afterwards with the passage of time increase it to a few minutes.
  3. While ending, close your eyes and, for one minute, imagine the flame internally in the gap between your eyebrows. Now repeat this whole process for at least two more times, in one sitting. After finishing practice, rub your inner palms till they are warm. Place palms over your eyes to sooth and relax them, and stay put till you feel relax.

“Meditation is the uninterrupted flow of attentive awareness on the divine reality within.”

Yoga Sutras

  1. Dhyana (Meditation).

Number 7 out of eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga is meditation. Meditation is the liberation of mind from all emotional reactions, distressing thoughts, and impatient desires. Through meditation you can turn your attention inward to become conscious of your own true wonderful nature.

Ashtanga Yoga

As such meditation is not a technique; rather it’s a state of complete ease and stillness in the present moment. Every moment in yoga, ended with dharana; and in dhayna (meditation) you are at inner source of your being. All ideas of your separate identity and limited being are dismissed in union of individual and supreme consciousness. You will realize that the infinite presence of divine (ever-existing, ever-conscious) is always within you. By practicing yoga meditation you’ll lead yourself on the path where you’ll experience deep contentment and calm.

  1. Samadhi (Divine Union).

This is the eighth limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Samadhi is mixture of two Sanskrit words i.e. sam (perfect) and dhi (consciousness). In this state of Samadhi, mind is completely soak-up in the divine-self that it has no awareness of itself meditation. Every difference between meditator, meditation and object of meditation, merges into oneness. It’s a very beautiful and excellent state of mind, as one would never bargain any earthly reward against such joy.

There is slight distinction between dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi. In dhyana (meditation) there is continuous flow of focus toward the object of meditation, without any interruption. But samadhi is the name of “dissolution of duality of observer and observed. Meditator drops his all sense of individuality and ego-consciousness, where his expansion of consciousness begins. At this time, mind merges into delightful oneness with the divine-self, and this is the ultimate goal of yoga meditation.

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