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Ashtanga Yoga, The Eight-Limbs of Yoga

In order to still and observe the mind, Patanjali presents a system called Ashtanga Yoga, or the Eight-Limbed Yoga. These limbs represent all the aspects of the system. The first two limbs that Patanjali begins with are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given by yoga on how we should deal with people around us and about our attitude toward ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is called yama in yoga, and how we relate to ourselves inwardly is called niyama.


Yama and niyama deal with our social attitude and life style, how we interact with other people and the environment, and how we deal with our problems. These all form a part of yoga, but they cannot be practiced. What we can practice are asanas and pranayama, the third and fourth limbs of yoga, which make us aware of where we are, where we stand, and how we look at things. Recognizing our mistakes is the first sign of clarity. Then gradually we try to bring about some changes in the way we show our respect to nature or re I ate to a friend. No one can change in a day, but yoga practices help change attitudes, our yama and niyama. It is not the other way around.

The fifth limb of the system is pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects.

These five external, physical yogic practices are followed, in Patanjali's system, by the three internal limbs of yoga: dharana, dhyana (religious meditation); and samadhi. We will take a closer look at these eight-fold path of yoga.

Yama (Restraints or Abstinence)

Niyama (Observances or Disciplines or Devotion)

 Asanas (Yogic postures)

Pranayama (Breath Control)

Pratyahara (Retraction of the Senses)

Dharana (Fixation of Attention)

Dhyana (Devotion, Fusive Apprehension)

Samadhi (Fully Integrated Consciousness)

The final outcome of samadhi is Kaivalya. It is the ultimate that state that anyone can hope to achieve in Yoga. 

Next Topic: Yama (Restraints or Abstinence)

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