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The Eight Limbs of Yoga

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Updated April 09, 2014

What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?:

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the ancient texts that is often cited as a source for the philosophy behind yoga, there are eight “limbs” (Ashtanga in Sanskrit) of yoga. Each limb relates to an aspect of achieving a healthy and fulfilling life, and each builds upon the one before it. You may be surprised to hear that only one of the limbs involves the performance of yoga postures.

1. Yama:

Five ethical guidelines regarding moral behavior towards others. See the glossary for a list of the yamas.

2. Niyama:

Five ethical guidelines regarding moral behavior towards oneself. See the glossary for a list of the niyamas.

3. Asana:

Practice of yoga postures, although it should be noted that in the time of Patanjali the word asana meant seat. The advent of modern yoga postures happened much later.

4. Pranayama:

Practice of breathing exercises.

5. Pratyahara:

Withdrawal of the senses, meaning that the exterior world is not a distraction from the interior world within oneself.

6. Dharana:

Concentration, meaning the ability to focus on something uninterrupted by external or internal distractions.

7. Dhyana:

Meditation. Building upon Dharana, the concentration is no longer focused on a single thing but is all encompassing.

8. Samadhi:

Bliss. Building upon Dhyana, the transcendence of the self through meditation. The merging of the self with the universe. Sometimes translated as enlightenment.

Sources:

Light on Life, B.K.S. Iyengar, 2005.

Yoga: The Iyengar Way, Mira Silva and Shyam Mehta, 1990.

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