What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?

By , About.com Guide

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the ancient texts that is the basis for the philosophy behind yoga, there are eight “limbs” (Ashtanga in Sanskrit) of yoga. Each limb relates to an aspect of achieving a healthy and fulfilling life, and each builds upon the one before it. You may be surprised to hear that only one of the limbs involves the performance of yoga postures. Here is a description of the eight limbs.

1. Yama:

Five ethical guidelines regarding moral behavior towards others:Ahimsa: NonviolenceSatya: Truthfulness

Asteya: Nonstealing

Brahmacharya: Nonlust

Aparigraha: Noncovetesness

2. Niyama:

Five ethical guidelines regarding moral behavior towards oneself:Saucha: CleanlinessSantosa: Contentment

Tapas: Sustained practice

Svadhyaya: Self study

Isvara pranidhana: Surrender to God

3. Asana:

Practice of yoga postures.

4. Pranayama:

Practice of breathing exercises.

5. Pratyahara:

Withdrawal of the senses, meaning that the exterior world is not a distraction from the interior world within oneself.

6. Dharana:

Concentration, meaning the ability to focus on something uninterrupted by external or internal distractions.

7. Dhyana:

Meditation. Building upon Dharana, the concentration is no longer focused on a single thing but is all encompassing.

8. Samadhi:

Bliss. Building upon Dhyana, the transcendence of the self through meditation. The merging of the self with the universe. Sometimes translated as enlightenment.


Light on Life, B.K.S. Iyengar, 2005.

Yoga: The Iyengar Way, Mira Silva and Shyam Mehta, 1990.