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Patanjali’s Eightfold Path (the 8 Limbs of Yoga)

15 January 2013

In his classical yoga treatise, Raja Yoga, Patanjali ordered yama and niyama before asana and pranayama on the eightfold path. But most contemporary students learn asana first, and oftentimes they learn asana outside the context of the other essential limbs on the tree of yoga. If you teach hatha yoga in isolation or without reference to the other limbs, it can be difficult to integrate the teaching with traditional yoga philosophy and science. As said by Swami Gitananda Giri; “…Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga is ‘no option yoga’. Simply performing asanas and pranayama without the higher aspects of yoga is fruitless”.

In his Yoga Sutras (Raja Yoga) Patanjali compiled 195 sutras (concise aphorisms) that are essentially an ethical blueprint for living a moral life and incorporating the science and practice of yoga into that life. In these Yoga Sutras, the eightfold path is collectively called “ashtanga” in Sanskrit, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta-eight, anga-limb). These eight steps serve as basic guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They function as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct through self-discipline, directing attention toward one’s health and helping the student to recognize and acknowledge the spiritual aspects of their own nature.

These eight limbs of Patanjali intertwine like the branches of a tree in the forest. They aren’t commandments (although they sometimes sound like them), laws, or hard and fast rules. They are simply Patanjali’s suggestions for living a better life through yoga.

In future articles I will go into details of each individual limb, including each one of the five Yamas and Niyamas. Here’s a list of the eight limbs of Patanjali.

  1. Yama (5)
  2. Niyama (5)
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

Stay tuned – more to come…

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