The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Step 1: Yama: non-violent, non-covetousness, non-theft, truth seeking, continence

Step 2: Niyama: cleanliness, contentment, austerities, surrender to God, scripture study

Step 3: Asana: poses and physical exercises

Step 4: Pranayama: extending our life force energy

Step 5: Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses

Step 6: Dharana: concentration of the mind on the Self

Step 7: Dhyana: concentration and subsequent energy on an object

Step 8: Samadhi: Superconcious state achieved via meditation



The 8 Limbs of Yoga are split into 2 groups.Group 1 contains the first 5 steps and is referred to as the external group because it deals with mind and matter.Group 2 contains the last 3 steps and is referred to as the internal group because it deals with the mind and the soul.Steps 3, 4 and 5 allow the student to develop concentration through the practice of posture (asanas), breathing (pranayama) and the withdrawal of senses (Pratyahara).
Asanas and Pranayama are physical elements and thus allow our minds to maybe wander away from the true perspective of Yoga. Step 5, Pratyahara acts as a stepping stone to Dharana, first allowing a student to observe oneself before developing concentration in step 6.

Yama and Niyama

Steps 1 and 2, Yama and Niyama are considered to be moral training and practiced or inherent within us before the physical act of Yoga has even begun. If the student is absent of these first 2 steps, then no amount of Yoga will be beneficial.

The more Yoga that is practiced, the more benefits will be experienced by the student. A development of moral and core physical strength will enhance the student’s life in general. It is advised that if possible, physical and mental practice should be done every day to strengthen the mind and body and also the union between mind and body.


It is important that the student should find a posture in which he/she can remain in for a long time in preparation for meditation. Again, through regular practice, the student will achieve whatever position they choose and also be suitably ready for the practice of meditation.

During meditation the neck, head and chest should stay in a straight line, thus opening the body and the body should be supported by the spine and the ribcage. If the body remains open and straight, the process of meditation will become easier allowing for greater focus and concentration and a better meditative experience.

One form of Yoga that concentrates on the many physical and mental exercises, breathing exercises (pranayama) and breath control is Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga prepares the body for meditation.

That type of Yoga that concentrates on chants and the repetition of mantras (japa) is called Mantra Yoga.

Yoga that focuses on the transfer and movement of energy is Laya Yoga. This is ancient method of meditation that’s focuses primarily on the chakras and the awakening of the Kundalini. The practice of Laya Yoga locates and works on the individual chakras.

The principles of Raja Yoga also referred to as Royal Yoga lay in the idea that the world that we see and feel are created from within our own minds (Self) and we see ourselves (Self) in every object.


Many people consider the term ‘pranayama’ to mean breathing exercises, although this is partly true, the full meaning of the word is in its Sanskrit translation. ‘Prana’ translated is ‘life force’ or ‘vital energy’ and ‘Yama’ translated is ‘to extend’. From this translation, pranayama means to extend our life force or extend our vital energy.


Pratyahara translated means withdrawal of the senses. During practice a conscious effort is made to lessen the awareness of the external environment and any external distractions and concentrate on the internal. Pratyahara allows the student to step out of Self and observe specific elements of their lives that may hinder inner development. The practice of Pratyahara prepares the student for the next stage, Dharana.


Dharana translated means concentration. After completing Pratyahara and eradicating external distractions it is time to contemplate distractions occurring in the mind. During Dharana the student will concentrate on a specific item in the mind, japa or silent repetition of a mantra, or focusing the attention on a chakra.



Dhyana translated means meditation. The meanings of Dhyana (meditation) and Dharana (concentration) seem to overlap in their meanings. The important difference being that Dharana is focused on a single object or mantra whereas Dhyana requires the student simply to be aware with no specific focus. During Dhyana there exists a stillness and clarity of mind. Because of our ‘monkey minds’, this stillness of mind, initially may be difficult to achieve but with regular practice of this and the other steps, Dhyana will be realised.


The ultimate goal is to reach Samadhi, a level of meditation where the mind is completely still and concentrated. It is a state of intense concentration and is considered to be the final stage in Yoga where union with the divine is finally achieved.

The term Samadhi is used in many different Eastern traditions such as Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Jainism and variations of meaning exist

Savikalpa Samadhi

In the state of Savikalpa Samadhi the student is absent of human consciousness and there is a natural peace and tranquillity of the mind meaning there is no thought. All the materialistic desires, worries, etc. are non-existent and the student will experience a sense of fulfilment and last for several minutes to several hours.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi

In the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi there is no mind. It is said that there is an infinite consciousness of bliss and peace and that the student becomes at one with the divine.

There exists a state of nonduality (see below for explanation of nonduality) and no relationship or experience of any object either internal or external. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the student would not be able to function in the world.

“Nonduality is a philosophy, which states that there is only One Eternal Spirit in existence, and everything in the Universe was created by it and is an inseparable part of it. At the same time, nonduality also says that the world isn’t real, but is an illusion perceived by the mind.”


Sahaja Samadhi

In the state of Sahaja Samadhi, the student can retain the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi but also be able to function in the world and remain at one with the divine.

This is the highest form of Samadhi and very rare and experienced only by gurus of the highest order.


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