Patañjali defines the limbs of ashtanga yoga as yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇa, dhyāna and samādhi.

Patañjali tells us that “by practicing the limbs of yoga, the impurities are gradually removed and the inner light of wisdom is revealed, leading to perfect discrimination.” In order to reach the state of yoga, you must first purify your system through yoga’s limbs. The first four limbs should be practiced diligently in order to move beyond them and experience yoga’s essence—a state of mental and spiritual clarity that allows you to reach your highest potential.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA

  1. The Yamas are the way that we regulate our behaviour in relation to others. The Yamas include ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (the controlling of sexual energy), and aparigraha (literally means non-grasping).

  2. The Niyamas are rules of personal behavior. They are observances that are important for progression on the path of yoga. The Niyamas include saucha (cleanliness or purification), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or austerity), svadhyaya (self study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (literally means depositing yourself in Īśvara, the supreme soul. It is an understanding that there is a higher power).

  3. Asana is the third limb and refers to the āsanas that are practiced in yoga. Patañjali gives no detail about the practice of āsanas apart from the qualities which you should aim to find within them and the results of practice. He states that you should be steady and comfortable and should aim to eliminate all unnecessary tension, with only the amount of effort necessary to maintain the integrity of the āsana.

  4. Pranayama means regulating and controlling the breathing. There are thousands of different prāṇāyāmas of which a few are useful. Before you practice these prāṇāyāmas, you should first purify and stabilizes the body and mind through āsana practice with a focus on deep and even diaphragmatic breathing. The breathing technique used during āsana practice is, in fact, a simple prāṇāyāma. Its consistent practice gives profound results on the physical and mental level. Due to its powerful nature, more advanced prāṇāyāma should only be learned directly from a qualified teacher.

  5. Pratyahara can be translated as withdrawal or purification of the sense organs. This means that the senses serve the mind faithfully and are under it’s control, rather than pulling the mind in unwanted directions. In perfection of pratyāhāra, Patañjali says there is complete mastery over the senses.

  6. Dharana refers to concentration, which is the ability of the mind to focus entirely in a single direction.

  7. Dhyana is the practice of meditation.

  8. Samadhi is merging with the divine. It is described as complete absorption of the mind with the object of focus, as if the mind takes the form of the object and in which you lose awareness of your own identity and then Patañjali says “only the form of the object shines.”