How To Live By The 8 Limbs Of Yoga – 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. 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 did you know that there is actually more to yoga than that?! Understanding how to practice and how to live by the 8 limbs of yoga will help you to incorporate all aspects of yoga into your life.

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. How to live by the 8 limbs of yoga actually involves much more than actually doing yoga – which 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 how to practice 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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The 8 limbs of yoga explained

The purpose of the 8 limbs of yoga is to serve as a guide to live by. Patanjali's intention behind presenting the 8 limbs of yoga was to present different ideas to follow to live a more meaningful, peaceful, and fulfilling life, among other things.

The 8 limbs of yoga can be summarized as 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 the 8 limbs of yoga as means, methods, and tools that we can use to get to know ourselves better and empower ourselves to live our best lives.

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

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.

These texts have been translated and interpreted from the original Sanskrit language in which they were written by numerous people. It is theorized that Patanjali did not actually write all of the sutras himself.

Patanjali infused his own theories about yoga into the proverbs, and he also passed along the teachings he had studied from sages before him. Despite the fact that there are 195 different sutras, the 8 limbs of yoga are the most popularly referenced texts from the compilation.

What is the purpose of the 8 limbs of yoga?

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.

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 guidance 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.

But at first, they can be tricky to understand. For example, ahimsa, 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:

  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 oneself, virtuously, and by keeping the following principles in mind, a person can come to a better understanding of themself and develop a greater love for themself.

These are the 5 Niyamas:

  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. This is the part of yoga that involves practicing 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 component to the 8 limbs of yoga is the physical yoga practice that people participate in online yoga classes or in yoga studio classes.

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 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 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

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Takeaway on how to live by the 8 limbs of yoga

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 the visionary behind The Yogatique - her passion project. Heather is a RYT-200 (with Aligned Yoga), a practicing yogi of more than 15 years, a global citizen, a life optimizer, and a lifelong learner. She created The Yogatique to assist yogis in finding premium online yoga teacher trainings & classes that are affordable and accessible to all.

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