Ashtanga Yoga ( अष्टांग योग )

The simplest meaning of Ashtanga Yoga is a yoga which has 8 limbs. Here Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word. And the meaning of Ashtanga is Eight (8). So, Ashtanga yoga is a yoga of 8 limbs.

Before the time of Maharishi Patanjali, yoga was un-arranged. But, Maharishi Patanjali arranged well it in Eight (8) Limbs. There are 4 External Limbs and 4 Internal Limbs as follows:

External Limbs ( बाहरी अंग )

1.  Yama ( यम )

Five social observances

Yama is the first of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the yoga sutras. Yama is also sometimes called “the five restraints” because it describes what one should avoid to advance on the spiritual path.

There are five types of Yam :

1)  Ahinsa ( अहिंसा ): Non-violence or harmlessness. This cannot always be practiced literally since it is not always possible in the normal course of living. Even washing one’s hands kills bacteria. To perfect ahinsa one must not wish harm on any creature.
2)  Satya ( सत्य ): Non-lying or truthfulness. This doesn’t mean to be tactless, but to always tell the highest truth. It is in the “restraints” category because if one restrains oneself from wishing things were other than they are, one will always tell the truth.
3)  Asteya ( अस्तेय ): Non-covetousness. Not wishing for more than one has, or for what another has.
4)  Brahmacharya ( ब्रह्मचर्य ): Sexual self-restraint. Means “flowing with Bramha.” This is often translated as celibacy, but can also just be taken as sexual self-control, or overcoming sexual desire. According to the yoga sutras, this practice will give one great mental and physical stamina because it prevents one’s energy from being expended in sexuality. Self-control in all things is the direction of true growth.

The other meaning of Brahmacharya is Self-control, Self -discipline, Creating new good habits, and removing bad habits
5)  Aparigraha ( अपरिग्रह ): Non-possessiveness. Letting go of all attachment to one’s possessions, including one’s body, and being willing to relinquish them all at a moment’s notice.

2.  Niyama ( नियम )

Five moral observances

Niyamas are also five and are means of personal discipline. These tell us how to interact with ourselves. The five niyama are as follows:-

1)  Shauch ( शौच ) (Cleanliness): It is of two types external and internal. One should be clean internally by renouncing possessions and vicious desires and externally by appropriate use of water and other cleansing agents. Such is of six (6) types, which are as follows:

A.  Neti ( नेति )– Nasal cleansing, which has main 2 parts: 
     I)  Jala Neti ( जल नेति): Jalaneti contains 4 parts:
            a)  Jala Neti ( जल नेति): Preforms with Luke-warm water and Sendha Salt
            b)  Dugdha Neti ( दुग्ध नेति ): Preforms with Luke-warm Milk
            c)  Ghritta Neti ( घृत नेति ): Preforms with Luke-warm Desi Ghee
            d)  Mutra Neti ( मुत्र नेति ): Preforms with Luke-warm water and a few drops of cow fresh urine.

     II) Sutra neti ( सूत्र नेति ):
            a)  Rubber Neti ( रबर नेति ):
Performs with thin rubber pipe
            b)  Sutra Neti ( सूत्र नेति ):
Performs with thin threads string

B.  Dhauti ( धौती ) – cleansing of the digestive tract;
C.  Nauli ( नौली )– abdominal massage or ‘churning’;
D.  Basti ( बस्ती )– colon cleansing;
E.  Kapalabhati ( कपालभाति ) ‘shining skull breath’ – purification and vitalization of the frontal lobes, and
F.  Trataka ( त्राटक ) or ‘blink less gazing’, commonly known as candle gazing.

2)  Santosh ( संतोष ) (Contentment): It means the absence of desire to possess more of the necessities of life than are necessary for its preservation. It implies that one should work honestly and to one’s full capability and then be satisfied with the result of one’s efforts. It is a state of mind and inner mental peace. Contentment is the greatest wealth.

3)  Tapa ( तप ) (Austerity): It is the capacity to face all odds and difficulties in the performance of righteousness. It implies that one should have the strength and fortitude to remain unaffected by the opposites of life. In short, the practice of good conduct, in the face of all difficulties is TAPA. However, it does not imply the willing infliction of pain on the body.

4)  Swadhyaya ( स्वाध्याय ) (Study of good literature, etc.): It means the study of scriptures, other religions’ literature, etc. In general, the study of all good literature that guides a person towards moral values, good conduct, and righteousness may be deemed as SWADHYAYA. It also means the study of the self or self-analysis which leads to progress in moral and spiritual life. It is the nature of self-education and self-improvement, t, It purifies the mind and spirit by enhancing true knowledge, right understanding, and discrimination.

5)  Ishwar Pranidhan ( ईश्वर प्राणिधान ) (Surrender to God): It means total dedication of all thoughts and actions to the SUPREME. In other words, it involves absolute faith in God. It means resignation to the will of God. One has to first understand the true concept of God, his nature, and attributes, and then accept Him as Guru and Guide. It includes true and sincere worship of God and complete dedication to him with full faith, love, and devotion.

3.  Asana ( आसन )

Yoga postures

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥
sthira sukham āsanam
Asana means a steady and comfortable posture. Yoga Sutras 2:46

Asana is the physical practice of yoga and relates to the body. Asana is also another name for the poses or postures of yoga. In Sanskrit, the word asana translates as “seat,” specifically for meditation. Today asana is synonymous with yoga, but it is only one component.

Asanas were claimed to provide both spiritual and physical benefits in medieval hatha yoga texts. More recently, studies have provided evidence that they improve flexibility, strength, and balance; reduce stress and conditions related to it, and specifically alleviate some diseases such as asthma and diabetes. 

The traditional number of asanas is the symbolic 84, but different texts identify different selections, sometimes listing their names without describing them.

4.  Pranayama ( प्राणायाम )

Breathing techniques as a means of controlling prana (vital life force energy.)

तस्मिन् सति श्वासप्रश्वासयोर्गतिविच्छेद: प्राणायाम: ।। 49 ।।
tasmin sati śvāsa-praśvāsayoḥ gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ
“Being in that [āsana], prāṇāyāma is the interruption of the [ordinary] movements of inhalation and exhalation.”

Pranayama is a system of techniques used to harness and manipulate universal energy known as prana. It is an integral aspect of yoga, often incorporated into asana practice or used as a preliminary step for meditation.

The term is derived from several Sanskrit roots; prana meaning “vital life force,” yama meaning “control” and Ayama meaning “extension” or “expansion.” The breath is symbolic of prana, and pranayama can be understood as a method to extend and expand vital life force energy through the deliberate control of respiration.

Pranayama appears in many of the earliest Indian scriptures, in which a huge range of purposes are detailed. The practice may be used for purification, achieving liberation, focussing the mind, steadying the body, or as an adjunct to other techniques such as mantra chanting and meditation.

Pranayama also features as the fourth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga system, the prominent eight-limbed path of yoga. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, pranayama is a preparatory practice, required before the more advanced techniques of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation), leading to the ultimate stage of samadhi (enlightenment).

Internal Limbs ( आंतरिक अंग )

5.  Pratyahara (प्रत्याहार )

Withdrawal of the senses

Pratyahara is a Sanskrit word, generally translated as “withdrawal of the senses.” It is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga, believed to be a vital preliminary step before the more advanced practices of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). The two root Sanskrit words of pratyahara are prati, which means “to withdraw,” and ahara, which means “food;” in this case, “food” refers to any external stimuli that you consume with your mind.

The term is derived from two Sanskrit roots; prati meaning “against” or “withdraw”, and ahara meaning “food” or referring to anything we take in from the outside. As such, pratyahara can be understood as gaining control over or withdrawing from any external influences.

The practice of pratyahara is considered to be an important bridge between the external focus of the previous limbs of yoga, such as asana (postures) and pranayama (breathwork), and the internal focus of the subsequent limbs.

Withdrawal of the senses allows the practitioner to connect with their inner world, thereby creating optimal conditions for self-realization. Pratyahara also helps to provide an understanding of how much the mind is influenced by sensory input and to acknowledge the role of thoughts and feelings in suffering.


6.  Dharna ( धारणा )


Dharana is the sixth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It refers to the concentration of the mind. Practicing dharana involves fixing the mind on a particular object — either external (such as an image or deity) or internal (such as a chakra).

Dharana is a Sanskrit word that means “concentration.”

7.  Dhyana ( ध्यान ) 


Dhyana is a Sanskrit word meaning “meditation.” It is derived from the root words, dhi, meaning “receptacle” or “the mind”; and yana, meaning “moving” or “going.” An alternate root word, dhyana, means “to think of.”

In Hindu traditions that are derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, dhyana is a refined meditative practice that requires deep mental concentration. This kind of meditation is taken up only after engaging in preparatory exercises.

8.  Samadhi ( समाधि )

Enlightenment or bliss

Samadhi is the eighth and final step on the path of yoga, as defined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The term is derived from several Sanskrit roots; sam means “together” or “completely,” meaning “toward” and dhe, means “put.” Direct translations vary, and interpretations range from “bliss” to “liberation” and even “enlightenment.”

In Hinduism and Buddhism, samadhi is regarded as the pinnacle of all spiritual and intellectual activity, in addition to being a precondition for attaining samsara (release from the cycle of death and rebirth).

In yoga, samadhi is considered to be the state in which individual and universal consciousness unite. It is a blissful form of total meditative absorption, reached once the practitioner has moved through the preliminary steps on Patanjal’s eightfold path.

The spiritual significance of Samadhi is profound, since it encompasses self-realization and symbolizes the ultimate connection with the Divine.