If you attend Yoga classes, you might have heard the teacher making reference to different concepts such as Yamas, Niyamas, Sutras, etc.

Yoga teachers and students that are interested in Yoga philosophy love to quote these concepts throughout a class. But why is that? Are they important for our Yoga practise?

YES! Not only for our physical practise but also for our life.

The eight limbs of Yoga are part of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – which is a collection on the processes of Yoga as a whole – in theory and practise – on how to achieve union and inner peace. I highly recomment this book, it is so clear and precise, uncomplicated reading, great for those that want to start to deepen on Yoga philosophy.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era. The collection is split in 4 chapters, each containing about 50 ‘sutras’ (aphorisms). It is a short book and it is relatively easy to read. It is like a bible for Yogis. Reading the book was a life changer for me, in a sense of incorporating new tools to be more at peace with myself and all live beings.

Before going into the eight limbs, it is important to mention what Yoga really means.

Yoga comes from the sanskrit word yuj, meaning to unite. Yoga is the union of body, mind, and soul with a universal consciousness. This union is always there, however it is hard to keep it when our ego and daily human demands appear on their way. It is like we become distracted from our real nature.

The practice of yoga, then, helps us to keep that union. 

Yoga as a whole concept is more than the practise, the physical practise is called Asana as it is only one of the eight limbs of Yoga.

The eight limbs of Yoga translates as Ashtanga Yoga in Sanskrit.

Maybe you are thinking about Ashtanga as the challenging Yoga practise – developed by Sri K Pattabhi Jois – and yes, this is a vigorous practise that takes the same name, however Ashtanga as a concept is broader.

According to Patanjali, there is an eight-fold path (Ashtanga) leading to liberation, to union with our true self, all leading to enlightenment. 

These eight limbs could be seen as steps, each of these deepening the yoga practise, the union between the physical, mind and subtle body.

The eight limbs are

Yamas

Related to restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows. There are 5 yamas:

  • Ahimsa: non-harming or non-violence in thought, word and deed
  • Satya: truthfulness
  • Asteya: non-stealing
  • Brachmacharya: ‘ celibacy’ or right use of energy
  • Aparigraha: non-greed

For a deep explanation on each Yama, check this great post

Niyamas

These are positive duties or observances. There are 5 main niyamas:

  • Saucha: cleanliness
  • Santosha: contentment
  • Tapas: discipline
  • Svadhyaya: self study
  • Isvara Pranidhana: surrendering to a higher power

For a deep explanation on each Niyama, check this post

I had the pleasure of reading The Yamas and Niyamas book and I also highly recommend it for a deeper understanding on the 2 first limbs.

Asana

These are the postures, the Yoga physical practise

Pranayama

The breathing techniques

Pratyahara

Withdrawal of the senses

Dharana

Focused concentration

Dhyana

Meditative absorption 

Samadhi

The last limb, the one we want to attain, the one of bliss 

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