Not All Asana: The Eight Limbs of Yoga and What They Mean for Your Practice

By Jennie Lee
Published: September 29, 2017 | Last updated: August 26, 2020
Key Takeaways

The Eight Limbs of Yoga provide a complete path of practice with layers of meaning and opportunities for growth.

Source: Atul Verma/

In the sacred text known as "The YogaSutras of Patanjali," compiled around 400 C.E. in India, we find a clear description of the nature of consciousness and a non-sectarian path to the realization of our divine nature. The Sutras offer us a lifetime of possibilities for improving our state of being. A core section of the Sutras is known as The Eight Limbs of Yoga. These are essential practices that all students and teachers of yoga should be familiar with.


"Through the practice of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the distortions of individual perception are destroyed and the light of true wisdom brings clarity of consciousness." Sutra ii.28

Also known as Ashtanga yoga (ashta meaning "eight" and anga meaning "limb"), these eight facets of practice interconnect and overlap in both our inner and outer lives. The limb that most people today are familiar with is asana, or postural practice. However, it is the intertwining of all eight that leads us to clarity of consciousness, the place of inner peace and joy. As the sutra above states, by practicing the eight limbs, intuitive wisdom dawns and we realize our inner radiance.


(As you guessed, this isn't easy. Here's Why It's Hard to Achieve Inner Peace.)


Yamas are the moral qualities necessary to reconnect us with our Soul nature. They include peacefulness, truthfulness, generosity, self-control and appreciation. Foundational to our well-being, these practices make our lives more comfortable and spiritually fulfilling.


The second limb is comprised of the niyamas, observances that help us to integrate our inner and outer experience and create a more harmonious life. They include purification, contentment, right effort, self-reflection and devotion. As a result of cultivating these, we can expect to feel more whole, balanced and free.


(Speaking of contentment, learn why you really should Forget Happy, 'Be Content' Instead.)


Asana is the practice of right posture to create a stable physical body that can sit at ease in meditation. Although the most accessible of the limbs, asana was never meant to be practiced alone as simple exercise. Designed as a means to an end, asana creates health in the physical body enabling it to be quiet and support the mind in doing the same. When body and mind are quiet, consciousness can transcend identification with the physical and remember its divine nature.


The control and management of the subtle life force currents is pranayama. After stilling body and mind, we are meant to direct the prana, or life force, at will and move into subtler realms of awareness.


The practice of internalizing the senses is pratyahara. By unplugging from outer stimuli, giving the senses some down time, we overcome attachments and desires and move closer to the inner domain of pure awareness. This is an essential step toward the ability to meditate.


Dharana is the practice of single-pointed concentration. Once the senses have been controlled and withdrawn, we choose an inner point of focus. Dharana is the practice of training the mind toward a point of devotional attention that envelopes our whole being.


Once the mind and body have been stabilized and focused, then the state of stillness or meditation can be achieved. Here, consciousness flows continuously inward rather than outward, and peace is experienced. This is dhyana, or meditation.


The ever-present, ever-fresh bliss that is experienced when individual consciousness is reunited with the Universal Consciousness is samadhi. There are many levels to samadhi, some lasting only momentarily. When the final stage is reached, consciousness has been mastered and the soul merges again with its Source.

Cloud Nine

The Eight Limbs of Yoga provide a complete path of practice and a lifetime worth of study. Each one holds many layers of meaning and opportunities for growth that deepen exponentially as our consciousness brightens.

(Read on in A Journey Through The 8 Limbs of Yoga.)

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Try not to stress over every question, but simply answer based off your intuition. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.

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Written by Jennie Lee | Author of Breathing Love and True Yoga. Certified Yoga Therapist with 20 years experience.

Jennie Lee
Jennie Lee is an author and Certified Yoga Therapist with 20 years experience teaching Classical Yoga & Meditation. Author of Breathing Love: Meditation in Action and True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness and Spiritual Fulfillment, she is a compassionate coach for students who want to apply the deeper teachings of yoga to their goals and challenges on and off the mat. Her writing has been featured in Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, Yoga Therapy Today and more. She coaches on the island of O'ahu, and by phone or Skype internationally.

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