Eight Limbs Intro & Overview

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce The Eight Limbs of Yoga.


Gain an understanding of the intention, teachings and tools of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.


Introduce each of the Eight Limbs: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Explain why the last three limbs are in a different chapter than the first five. Translate and describe each of the limbs and present the reasoning behind the position that the yamas are the most important limb.


  1. Antaranga Yoga — Internal aspects of the Eight Limbs
  2. Asana — Posture or seat
  3. Ashtanga Yoga — The Eight Limbs of Yoga
  4. Bahiranga Yoga — External aspects of the Eight Limbs
  5. Dharana — Concentration or attention
  6. Dhyana — Meditation
  7. Eight Limbs of Yoga — Practices of Raja Yoga
  8. Niyamas — Observances; qualities of an “evolutionary personality”
  9. Pranayama — Breathing techniques for directing energy
  10. Pratyahara — Turning senses inward
  11. Samadhi — Absorption or union
  12. SamyamaDharana, dhyana and samadhi together
  13. Yamas — Restraints; guidelines for engaging with others


  • Ashtanga Yoga (The Eight Limbs of Yoga) are practices, or tools, of Raja Yoga.
  • Other branches or paths of yoga focus on other practices, such as chanting in Bhakti Yoga and service in Karma Yoga.
  • The Eight Limbs of Yoga are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
  • While some sources refer to the limbs as a progressive path, many present them like limbs of a tree — not a sequential progression but rather all interrelated aspects of practice.
  • Experts Alan Finger and Wendy Newton explain: “The eight limbs are both a sequential system and a holistic practice. There is an internal logic to moving from one limb to the next in the given order… But the Eight Limbs can also be applied as a holistic practice in which all the limbs function simultaneously and synergistically. From this holistic perspective, the practices are done in a way that best suits the needs of the individual in order to evolve spiritually.” (source)
  • The first five limbs are the external aspects and the last three are the internal aspects.

Purpose: To Remove the Veils

To remove the veils that hide the deepest layers of your being, Maharishi Patanjali elaborated the eight [limbs] of yoga—Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi… These are the components of Raja Yoga, the royal path to union. – Deepak Chopra & David Simon

Interdependent & Of Similar Value

The raja yoga of Patanjali is divided into eight limbs, and these eight limbs are interdependent and of similar value. Yama, niyama, asana, pranayamaand pratyahara form the external aspect, bahiranga, or exoteric yoga. Darana, dhyana, and samadhi form the internal aspect, antaranga yoga. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The Limbs Are Not Yoga

The [8 Limbs] are not Yoga.  They are the limbs of Yoga, the tools of Yoga. They are not even the only tools of Yoga! [Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, etc use other tools.]. So many tools!… Krishna tells Arjuna that “Yoga is evenness of mind” and that “That skill [evenness of mind] in action is Yoga.”  This means any action performed with an evenness of mind is Yoga. Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of the mind.

[Things you can see such as asana] are not Yoga; they are possible tools of Yoga. They are places where Yoga may be experienced but so is washing the dishes or driving a car. If anything can become a tool of Yoga, then why take the time to practice on a mat at all? Sadhana, devoted practice, is key to Yoga.  When was the last time that your mind was even or still while driving or while washing the dishes?  Devoting time to intentionally learning to still the mind is required to be able to carry that experience into everyday life so that every moment of life becomes Yoga, Everyday Yoga. – Ramdas

The Sutras are Not Moral Imperatives

The Yoga Sutra is not presented in an attempt to control behavior based on moral imperatives. The sutras don’t imply that we are “bad” or “good” based upon our behavior, but rather that if we choose certain behavior we get certain results. If you steal, for example, not only will you harm others, but you will suffer as well. – Judith Lasater 

Beneficial Even When Ultimate Goal Not Achieved

These limbs impart their own benefits, even if one is not able to achieve the ultimate goal of yoga in this lifetime. – Srivatsa Ramaswami

External Aspects

The external aspects (bahiranga yoga) are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara. The first five limbs “eliminate the external causes of mental distraction.” (I. K. Taimni)


  • Translations: Restraints, Social Behavior, Ethics
  • Yamas are guidelines for engaging with others. They are ahimsasatyaasteyabrahmacharya and aparigraha.
  • Yama and niyama are not moral imperatives that describe good and bad behavior. Rather, they describe how certain behavior brings certain results. The practitioner learns to choose thought, word and deed.


  • Translations: Observances, Personal Behavior
  • Niyamas are qualities of an “evolutionary personality.” They are sauchasantoshatapassvadhyaya and ishvara pranidhana.
  • The final three niyamas together comprise kriya yoga.
  • Yama and niyama are not moral imperatives that describe good and bad behavior. Rather, they describe how certain behavior brings certain results. The practitioner learns to choose thought, word and deed.


  • Translations: Posture, Seat, Position
  • Asana is an “expression of mind-body integration.”
  • Asana is not emphasized in the Yoga Sutra; it is discussed in only 3 of the 196 sutras.


  • Described as Conscious Breathing Techniques, Mastering Life Force, Directing Energy
  • Pranayama refers to breath practices designed to enhance one’ life force energy.
  • Successful pranayama practice “reduces the obstacles that inhibit clear perception.”


  • Translations: Sensory Withdrawal, Turning Senses Inward
  • Pratyahara is the point at which we move from the outer to the inner aspects of yoga. It is where attention is withdrawn from the outer world and turned inward. It is the preparation for concentration and meditation.

Readings: External Aspects

External Aspects Eliminate Outside Interference

Asana and pranayama eliminate the disturbances arising from the physical body. Pratyahara, by detaching the sense-organs from the mind, cuts off the external world and the impressions which it produces in the mind. The… sadhaka is thus in a position to grapple with [the mind] without any interference from the outside. It is only under these conditions that the successful practice of dharana, dhyana and samadhi is possible. – I. K. Taimni

Foundation of Skillful Living

The Yamas & Niyamas are the foundation of skillful living. [They] are like a detailed map, telling you where you are and how to look for the next landmark. The Yamas and Niyamas free you to take ownership of your life and direct it towards the fulfillment you seek. Gaining the skills to choose attitude, thought and action may be the grandest adventure you can choose. – Deborah Adele 

The Most Important of the Eight Limbs

A civil society functions when all agree on certain basic ethics, called yamas in yoga. The ability to cooperate with others is arguably the most important of the eight limbs of yoga; its importance is emphasized by its placement at the very beginning of  the limbs. Social ethics can be practiced more often than the other limbs… All other limbs look to the yamas as their foundation. – Nicolai Bachman

Niyamas: Internal Yamas

The niyamas are like internal (ni) yamas. The first limb was about behaving ethically toward others. Now we treat ourselves with care. – Nicolai Bachman

Internal Aspects

The internal aspects (antaranga yoga) are dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Together, these are called samyama.

  • While the first five limbs (the external aspects) are in the Yoga Sutra chapter on practice, these internal aspects are in the next chapter on accomplishments. As Nischala Joy Devi notes, this “affirms that they are not practices in themselves; rather, they are progressive internal states that evolve from the earlier cultivated practices.”
  • Attention moves progressively inward through these three stages.


  • Translations: Concentration, Attention
  • Dharana may be considered the beginning of meditation.
  • The process can be described as letting go of everything that is not the object of meditation.


  • Translations: Meditation, Witnessing Awareness
  • Dharana leads to dhyana. The distinction is that in dhyana the concentration is uninterrupted, becoming continuous without distraction.
  • Dhyana can be considered a result of pratyahara and dharana—not a practice in itself.


  • Translations: Absorption, Union, Pure Unbounded Awareness, “Tasting the Realm of Eternity and Infinity” (Deepak Chopra)
  • In dhyana, consciousness of self remains. In samadhi there is no self-consciousness. Samadhi involves losing one’s self / identity / ego.
  • Dharana leads to dhyana which turns into samadhi. During an ecstatic experience such as playing music, one may experience fleeting moments of each.
  • In samadhi, there is no consciousness of concentration.
  • In samadhi, there is union with the object of concentration. There is no longer awareness of a subject being separate from an object.

Readings: Internal Aspects

Samyama is in Book 3

It always intrigues me that only five of the eight facets of ashtanga yoga have commentaries in Book II, “Sadhana Pada.” The last three, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are designated to Book III, “Vibhuti Pada.” It affirms that they are not practices in themselves; rather, they are progressive internal states that evolve from the earlier cultivated practices… “Doing” transforms into “being.” If we are well primed, the transition to these subtle levels from the other preceding practices is effortless. Many may choose to “do meditation,” but this is more often than not a technique derived from pratyahara practice. – Nischala Joy Devi

Attention Moves Progressively Inward

It is attention itself, which is progressively moving inward through these few stages:

  • Attention leads to concentration (dharana).
  • Concentration leads to meditation (dhyana).
  • Meditation leads to absorption (samadhi). – swamij.com

Dharana and Dhyana

Normally what we are doing when we say we are meditating is dharana. After long practice of dharana, gradually the “flow of cognition” gets a little longer and it becomes dhyana.  – Sri Swami Satchidananda

Dhyana is continuous dharana, attention so focused that peripheral noise does not interfere with our concentration. Dharana is focusing on a single object, but thoughts about the object vary. Dhyana occurs when only a single idea is present in the heart-mind. – Nicolai Bachman

Dhyana and Samadhi the Result of Pratyahara and Dharana

While success in dharana and pratyahara can be measured in a quantitative way, limbs seven and eight—dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption)—are qualitative limbs that are the result of pratyahara and dharana being practiced precisely and to a deepening extent. – Gregor Maehle

Even Brief Concentration is Success

Even brief concentration is success: It is easy to think that a meditation session was “not good” because it did not bring some deep sense of bliss. Actually, when one understands the tremendous value of simple concentration training, then even the brief, shallower practices are seen in a proper context of having positive value. Even the few minutes, or few seconds where the mind is gently focused on its chosen object are fruitful in the path of meditation. Each moment of positive experience leaves its positive trace in the depth of the mind field. It may seem invisible at first, but those moments add up over time, as concentration eventually begins to become meditation which in turn sets the stage for glimpses of samadhi. – swamij.com

Sutra Translations

Sutra 2.28: Necessity of yoga practice


  • By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment. – Sri Swami Satchidananda
  • The practice and inquiry into different components of Yoga gradually reduce the obstacles such as misapprehension [2.3]. Then the lamp of perception brightens and the distinction between what perceives and what is perceived becomes more and more evident. Now everything can be understood without error. – T.K.V. Desikachar
  • By the practice of the parts of yoga impurity diminishes until the rise of spiritual knowledge culminates in awareness of reality. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati
  • By embracing Asthaanga Yoga, the Eight-Faceted Path, Intuitive Wisdom dawns and reveals our inner radiance. – Nischala Joy Devi
  • Through practice of these limbs of yoga, impurity is overcome and wisdom and an enduring capacity to make distinctions are achieved. – AshtangaYoga.info
  • As soon as all impurities have been removed by the practice of spiritual disciplines—the “limbs” of yoga—a man’s spiritual vision opens to the light-giving knowledge of the Atman. – Swami Prabhavananda (YogaSutraStudy.info)

Sutra 2.29: Eight parts of yoga discipline


The eight limbs of Yoga are:

1) yama (abstinence)

2) niyama (observance)
3) asana (posture)
4) pranayama (breath control)
5) pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
6) dharana (concentration)
7) dhyana (meditation)
8) samadhi (contemplation, absorption of superconscious state)

Sri Swami Satchidananda

There are eight components of Yoga. These are:

  • yama, our attitudes toward our environment.
  • niyama, our attitudes toward ourselves.
  • Asana, the practice of body exercises.
  • pranayama, the practice of breathing exercises.
  • pratyahara, the restraining of our senses.
  • dharana, the ability to direct our minds.
  • dhyana, the ability to develop interactions with what we seek to understand.
  • samadhi, complete integration with the object to be understood. 

T.K.V. Desikachar

Self-restraints, fixed rules, postures, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and samadhi constitute the eight parts of yoga discipline. 

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Asthaanga Yoga, the Eight-Faceted Path, embraces:

  • Yama: reflection of our true nature
  • Niyama: evolution toward harmony
  • Asana: comfort in being, posture
  • Pranayama: enhancement and guidance of universal prana (energy)
  • Pratyahara: encouraging the senses to draw within
  • Dharana: gathering and focusing of consciousness inward
  • Dhyana: continuous inward flow of consciousness
  • Samadhi: union with Divine Consciousness. 

– Nischala Joy Devi

The limbs of the eight-fold path are as follows: respect for others (yama) and yourself (niyama); harmony with your body (asana), your energy (pranayama), your thoughts (dharana), and your emotions (pratyahara); contemplation (dhyana); ecstasy (samadhi). 

– AshtangaYoga.info

The eight limbs of yoga are: the various forms of abstention from evil-doing (yama), the various observances (niyamas), posture (asana), control of the prana (pranayams), withdrawal of the mind from sense objects (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption in the Atman (samadhi). 

– Swami Prabhavananda (YogaSutraStudy.info)