The Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga

The 8-Limbed Path of Yoga (Ashtanga)

ashta=8 anga=limb

The eight-limbed path is delineated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the oldest written text of yoga dating from around 200 BCE.  This text was an attempt to define, systematize and standardize Classical Yoga called Raja/Royal Yoga. Patanjali is often depicted as ½ human and ½ snake.

The Sutras are composed of 196 aphorisms or sutras (from the Sanskrit word which means thread) in 4 chapters.  The 8-limbed path which forms the basis of many schools of yoga to this day, is outlined in Chapter Two.

1. Yamas – “Restraints” – how we relate to others

  • ahimsa – non-violence, gentleness, compassion
  • satya – truthfulness (non-lying)
  • asteya – non-stealing, generosity
  • brahmacharya – moderation (celibacy)
  • aparigraha – non-possessiveness

2. Niyamas – “Observances” – how we relate to oneself

  • saucha – purity, cleanliness
  • santosha – contentment
  • tapas – self-discipline, austerity
  • svadhyaya – self-study
  • ishvara pranidhana – surrender to God, Bliss

3. Asana – Yoga Poses

4. Pranayama – Breathing Exercises

“prana” = life force, energy, chi  “ayama” = restraint, control, mastery  or “prana” – spirit, that which animates all things & “ayama” – letting go, letting flow, to expand, to extend, to liberate, to manifest, to release

5. Pratyahara – Sense Withdrawal – beginning stages of meditation

6. Dharana – Concentration – single pointed focus

7. Dhyana – Meditation – what arises naturally from dharana

8. Samadhi – Enlightenment – what arises from the first 7 stages – flashes of insight and deep understanding