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The 8 limbs of Yoga

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The asanas that we do are only one aspect of Yoga. Sarvesh Shashi explains the entire system that is designed to achieve the complete unification of mind, body and soul

Yoga is the unification of Mind, Body and Soul. To achieve complete mastery and attain the maximum benefits, it is essential to understand the basics.

The practice of Yoga is classified into eight parts—The Eight Limbs of Yoga. They are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. These limbs together provide the complete structure to the practice and are essential in helping an individual lay a strong foundation of health, fitness, wealth and peace.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the essence behind these aspects


Yama is the moral, ethical and societal guideline for a practising yogi.

There are five Yamas—Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha.

Ahimsa means non-violence. Any physical, emotional or mental act towards someone or to self that causes harm, criticism, irritation, anger or judgment is violence. One must be aware of and understand this deeply rooted concept and try to create an environment that is positive and adds to the growth of the practice and society.

Satya denotes truthfulness. One must be truthful at all times to the self and to others. Living a truthful life often seems difficult for many. However, upholding the path of Satya constructs a life of honour, respect and mindful behaviour, which is essential for a yogi.

Asteya is non-stealing; it means one must not take what does not belong to him. It does not refer to just physical stealing, but also includes mental stealing i.e. the thought of stealing should be eliminated. It also means that one should not steal the mental peace or happiness of someone else for their own benefit.

Brahmacharya means continence. This helps to break bonds that attach us to our excesses and addictions, for which courage and will are required. Each time we overcome these impulses of excesses, we become stronger, healthier and wiser.

Aparigraha is non-coveting, which means letting go of anything (one possesses) that might seem more than the necessity, physically, mentally, or emotionally. This helps one to live a simpler life.


Niyama is a powerful transformational package, a mirror within ourselves to observe and become increasingly self-aware. There are five branches of Niyama: Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Isvarapraidhana.

Saucha It is the purification of the environment, internally and externally. It is the way to find and remove what creates impurities within us and around us, including food, drinks, friends, entertainment, home furnishings, and transportation.

Santosha This indicates the feeling of contentment, confidence, and stability in life. The practice of contentment frees us from being greedy and diminishes our cravings and wants. Instead, it instils a sense of gratitude, love and joy for what we have been blessed with, in life.

Tapas This is the practice of self-discipline and grit. It enables us to control and win over our impulsive behaviour that might cause harm and helps achieve a state of consciousness.

Svadhyaya This is self-study, which requires both seeing who we are in the moment and seeing beyond. This study of self, our actions and thoughts help us improve and become the better version of ourselves.

Isvarapraidhana It means devotion and to surrender to the Divine. We must dissolve our ego-centred nature and let go of our constant identification with ourselves.


Asanas are postures which help us keep the body flexible, fit and strong. These are methods to practice and understand the adjustments and balance between the body and mind. They influence the practitioner to have a positive attitude and approach towards life even during testing times.


Pranayama is composed of two words—Prana and ayama. It is the practice of connecting breath with steady movements, in short, breath control. It is the fourth limb in the eight-limb practice of Yoga. The practice of Pranayama is backed by scientific research that it is effective in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which triggers counter response to stress, anxiety and other pains and helps relax the body. Learning how to control your breath also helps you control your mind and provides you with a better understanding of yourself and the practice.


Pratyahara is the method of withdrawing the senses from what is not required or hinders positive growth and development. This helps strengthen the mind’s immunity. This limb is vital in the process of meditation, it helps one to open up to their inner being.


Dharana is focused concentration. It refers to attaching one’s focus to a single point, undisturbed. It helps a person take control of his present moment and become more proactive to it. This requires a lot of practice, but once mastered, it helps a great deal in channelling the mind towards one determined goal.


Dhyana refers to meditation. Dhyana is often confused with dharana, but this isn’t so. The main difference is that dharana can be called as an intermittent focus on one particular thing at a time—where the activity takes place—whereas dhyana is the ability to bind the mind’s attention on it entirely, unwary of the process. For e.g., When a person is meditating, he doesn’t think that he is meditating. It is a state of being at rest yet aware, where the body might be at rest, but the mind is alert and focused, mapping even the minutest detail. This stage provides the strength and stability in all major aspects of life, financially, emotionally and mentally.


Samadhi is a state of bliss or happiness. It is the final stage and also the final limb of the practice. It does not refer to a state of permanent ecstasy. It is in fact, a state of realisation, where an individual is free from attaching himself to materialistic things and beliefs, is free from judgement and has control over his thoughts and actions—the actual state of bliss.

The mastering of the eight limbs of Yoga is difficult but not an impossible task for an individual. These limbs help us become more mindful and aware which enables us to get the most out of our life.

Sarvesh Shashi is CEO, Zorba Yoga

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