Yoga Philosophy 101: What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

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Most of us discovered yoga through the practice of the 3rd limb – Asana (refers to the poses we do in yoga class) because we want to get a little stronger, more flexible or to relieve stress. But as you progress in your practice on the mat, it’s rewarding to be able to delve deeper into the other aspects of yoga.

YES, there is a whole wealth of philosophy and life teachings behind this ancient practice, which was what drew me deeper into this practice (geek!)

So why do we do yoga? The ultimate goal of yoga practice is to attain liberation or freedom.

The word ‘yoga’ means to connect, unite or ‘yoke’. The thing we look to connect to is the true Self. You might also think of this as the soul. If that way of thinking doesn’t resonate with you, then consider that the word yoga can also mean separation or disentanglement. The thing we’re disentangling from is whatever stops us from feeling free.

What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

Yoga and everything it encompasses is built upon a framework called the Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. It is an eight-fold path that offers guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life, to ultimately achieve a state of samadhi, bliss or enlightenment.

Here is just an overview of the 8 limbs.

1) Yama - Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows (think of these like The Five Commandments)
Ahisma – nonviolence
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – non-stealing
Brahmacharya – right use of energy
Aparigraha – non-hoarding, non-attachment

2) Niyama – Duties or observances directed at ourselves (inward)
Sauca – purity
Santosa – contentment
Tapas – zeal/austerity
Svadhyaya – self-study
Isvara Pranidhana – devotion to a higher power

3) Asana – Postures or the physical practice of yoga

4) Pranayama – Breathing techniques

5) Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses

6) Dharana – Focused concentation

7) Dhyana - Meditation

8) Samadhi – Bliss or Enlightenment

Ekhart Yoga provides a very detailed and accessible explanation of each of these 8 limbs. Read more here.