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Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga consists of eight limbs which are:

  • Yama (ethical principles)
  • Niyama (rules and regulations)
  • Asana (posture)
  • Pranayama (controlling the prana or breath)
  • Pratyahara (controlling the sense organs)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (self-realization)

The first five limbs are considered as bahiranga yoga, and the last three are antaranga yoga. To practice antaranga yoga, one should follow a guru who has attained self-realization. 


The first limb, Yama or ethical principles, should be followed physically, verbally and mentally throughout life. It includes ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha. Ahimsa means non-violence. One should not hurt any creature physically, mentally or verbally. It is said that when one is established in ahimsa, all enmities cease in ones presence. Satya means truthfulness. Asteya means non-stealing. Brahmacharya means continence or celibacy, it gives wonderful control over the senses. One should maintain continence not only physically, but also mentally, and when one is firmly established in celibacy, one regains dormant energy. Aparigraha means rejecting gifts in any form. These yamas bestow self-control and bring inner harmony.


The second limb, the niyama, are mandatory rules and regulations to be followed by every individual. They include sauca, santosa, tapas, svadhyaya and isvara pranidhana. Sauca means both internal and external cleanliness. Santosa means contentment or happiness. One should be happy with what one has, and never have the desire to accumulate more things than are necessary. Tapas means mortification. One can purify the body, mind and thoughts by practicing austerity. It bestows kaya-siddhi and indriya-siddhi. Svadhyaya refers to the study of scriptures and self-study; enlightenment through continuous thinking of Atman and deep contemplation. Isvara pranidhana means surrendering the self to God. Worshipping and surrendering to God gives a sense of security and helps to overcome obstacles in life. 


The third limb of yoga is asana. These are the postures that give stability and pleasure. Asana removes dualities of the mind and brings about health and lightness of the body. With regular practice, effortlessness in asana can be achieved. The mastery of Asana forms the basis for higher practices of yoga. 


Pranayama is the fourth limb where one regulates the vital force called prana. The breath and thoughts are connected, and when the breath is active, the thoughts are active. Therefore, ones aim in pranayama is to reduce and regulate the breath, which in turn restrains the thoughts in the mind. Performing pranayama reduces ignorance, improves concentration and bestows good knowledge. 


Pratyahara means withdrawing the sense organs from their objects so that the mind is disconnected from external objects. Pratyahara is a process in which the citta modifies according to the indriya. Just as the tortoise withdraws its limbs, one should withdraw his senses from their objects. By this, the sense organs and the whole body come under ones control. 


The sixth limb is dharana, where the mind concentrates on a particular object. Dharana is the state that is achieved when the mind maintains focus on an object, either inside or outside of the body. 


When the mind succeeds in keeping itself in dharana for some time, it is known as dhyana (meditation), the seventh limb of yoga. Dhyana is the continuous contemplation of a single thought, culminating into the final state when it is practiced with patience. 


This is the final state of yoga, where one acquires thorough understanding. Samadhi is the highest state of the mind, when one holds continuous concentration and gains maximum knowledge with an experience of ecstasy. Thus, Ashtanga Yoga is a systematic and scientific discipline that leads to ultimate liberation.


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