The 8 Limbs Of Yoga Explained: An Intro To Ancient Yogic Principles

In the modern world, the term yoga is most commonly defined by the physical movement practice that we all love so much, the stretching and strengthening of our bodies. But did you know that there is actually more to yoga than that?! In this article, I'm explaining the 8 Limbs Of Yoga to help you better understand how to live and breathe yoga in all aspects of your life.

When the word yoga is said or heard, it is likely presumed to be said or heard in relation to “doing yoga” or going to a yoga class.

But the asana practice, or the act of practicing or doing yoga poses, is only one of eight different components that define the yoga practice according to ancient Indian texts written by the Sage Patanjali.

Once you understand the explanation behind the 8 Limbs of Yoga, you will know that yoga actually involves much more than actually doing yoga. This comes as a surprise to many!

Think of yoga as being a more broad concept than perhaps you may have first thought! 

Let’s take a look at the basics of the 8 Limbs of Yoga and deconstruct these facets to discover other concepts that are involved in a yoga practice beyond what happens on the mat.

We’ll be going back in time to do this, as the 8 Limbs of Yoga are ancient Sanskrit texts dating back centuries.

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What are The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga serves as a guide to live by. Patanjali's intention behind presenting the 8 Limbs of Yoga was to illustrate different ways of living and being that you can follow to live a more meaningful, peaceful, and fulfilling life, among other things.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are foundational philosophies that are learned and studied in modern-day yoga schools and yoga teacher trainings.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga can be summarized as overall mind-body disciplines to be mastered. Or, ways that we can enrich our relationships with others and ourselves to cultivate a good life.

You can think of these ancient yogic texts as means, methods, and tools that we can use to get to know ourselves better and empower ourselves to live our best lives.

Where did the 8 Limbs of Yoga come from?

The 8 Limbs of Yoga are part of ancient texts (called the yoga sutras) written by an Indian sage called Patanjali. The collection of the 195 texts are collectively called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Despite the fact that there are 195 different sutras, the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the most popularly referenced texts from the compilation.

Numerous people have translated these Sanskrit scriptures. Some translations can be interpreted differently. And interestingly, many people theorize that Patanjali did not actually write all of the sutras himself. And some people even theorize that Patanjali was not just one person but rather a name that many sages may have used collectively.

Patanjali infused his own theories about yoga into the proverbs, and he also passed along the teachings he had studied from sages before him.

To put it simply, the purpose of the 8 Limbs of Yoga is to empower and encourage all people to live lives rooted in kindness and morality to themselves and other beings.

This of them as a compass to steer you towards making ethical and compassionate choices.

As the name suggests and as I explain below, there are 8 different parts to the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Each part speaks to a different area in life to bring intentionality and awareness to.

These are the 8 Limbs of Yoga in order

8 limbs of yoga in order infographic 1. Yamas 2. Niyamas 3. Asana 4. Pranayama 5. Pratyahara 6. Dharana 7. Dhyana 8. Samadhi

1. Yamas

The Yamas are a form of moral rules or goals. The Yamas are ways of being that serve as a guide on how to interact with the world more wholesomely.

The Yamas of Ashtanga yoga are considered the “don’ts in life”, negative habits or concepts that a person should not participate in.

At first, they can be tricky to understand. For example, ahimsa, advises that a person should not be violent. Satya, a person should not lie. Ateya, a person should not steal. Does that make sense?

These are the 5 Yamas

The five yams from the 8 Limbs of Yoga are: 1. Ahimsa (non-violence)2. Satya (truthfulness) 3. Asteya (not stealing) 4. Brahmacharya (conservation/directive of energy)
5. Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)
  1. Ahimsa (non-violence)
  2. Satya (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (not stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (conservation/directive of energy)
  5. Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

2. Niyamas

The Niyamas relate more to how we interact with ourselves, the divine, and how we care for ourselves

By caring for yourself, virtuously, and by keeping the following principles in mind, you can come to a better understanding of yourself and develop a greater love for yourself..

These are the 5 Niyamas

The 5 Niyamas of yoga are: 1. Saucha (cleanliness) 2. Santosha (contentment) 3.Tapas (discipline)
4. Svadhyaya (self-study and spiritual study) 5. Isvara pranidhana (reflection on a higher power)
  1. Saucha (cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (discipline)
  4. Svadhyaya (self-study and spiritual study)
  5. Isvara pranidhana (reflection on a higher power)

3. Asana

The third limb of yoga is what most people think of when they hear the word yoga, the asana part of yoga, like when you do a headstand or take a Vinyasa, which is a sequence of yoga postures. Asana is the area most focused on in yoga teacher training too.

This is the part of yoga that involves practicing or doing yoga postures. In Patanjali’s texts, the yoga poses themselves are in no way defined.

In other words, any and all yoga postures that you may be familiar with (or not) are considered asanas.

The asana part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga is the physical yoga practice that many yogis learn first and it is probably the most widely known and practiced of the eight limbs of yoga.

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4. Pranayama

Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga, and the component of yoga that involves breathing techniques, also referred to as breath control.

In the Sanskrit language, prana means vital life force, and yama means to gain control. So Pranayama is essentially gaining control of your breath.

There are multiple styles of Pranayama breathing that yoga teachers incorporate into their classes.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara relates to being present with the senses and living in the moment.

This could be living in the moment with smells, sounds, breath, tastes, feelings, etc.

It is to focus on something while blocking out other external stimuli. By doing so, a person can clear out the noise to achieve more self-realization without distraction.

6. Dharana

Dharana is the area of study that pertains to focus and concentration. It is one of the main components of the idea of meditation. This is a discipline practice of the mind, to solely turn your focus to one thing or even just one person.

7. Dhyana

Dhyana is a state of being absorbed in meditation, being one with meditation.

Dhyana could be thought of as mindfulness, stillness, and detachment of all other things during the present moment of meditation.

8. Samadhi

The eighth limb of yoga is to be in bliss of what is, uninfluenced by our mind’s feelings, thoughts, or biases about the situation.

This is called samadhi. It is to be in a state of acceptance and contentment.

8 Limbs of Yoga study guide

Honestly, I think Brett Larkin is one of modern-day yoga's greatest teachers. Her depth of yoga knowledge is deep, and her teachings are thorough. Brett has a great study guide on her website.

Takeaway on the 8 Limbs of Yoga explained

The 8 Limbs of Yoga are a framework for living a meaningful and purposeful life. By incorporating these ancient guiding principles into your life, you will be on the path to better living!

Still curious to better understand basic yogi principles and how to live a yogi lifestyle? Check out our article about questions and answers about the benefits of online yoga classes or discover the benefits of a morning yoga routine and learn how to incorporate more yoga into your life – at home!

FAQ about the 8 Limbs of Yoga

What is the point of the 8 limbs of yoga?

The 8 limbs of yoga can be looked at as a guide to living a meaningful, impactful, and peaceful life. It is a framework of ethical guiding principles to help you live in harmony with yourself and others.

Which one of the eight limbs of yoga has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances?

The Niyamas pertain to self-discipline and spiritual observances, specifically these Niyamas: Tapas, Svadhyaya
Isvara pranidhana.

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Heather is a Certified Yoga Teacher the visionary behind The Yogatique, her passion project. She created The Yogatique to help yogis & other growth-oriented individuals discover premium high quality trainings and classes in the yoga & wellness space. Heather is a RYT-200 and a practicing yogi of more than 15 years. She is also a global citizen who has been living abroad for 10 years. Her passions include health & fitness, studying healthspan & longevity, exploring the road less traveled, & SEO. Heather can be reached at, or you can connect with Heather on LinkedIn.

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