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Ashtanga - 8 Limbs Of Yoga

If you are confused about the many elements of Yoga, you are in good company. Since many people in western societies are familiar only with the postures of Hatha Yoga, concepts such as the Four Paths or Eight Limbs can be overwhelming.

In another article, we introduced the basics of the primary Four Paths of Yoga:

  • Karma Yoga

  • Bhakti Yoga

  • Jnana Yoga

  • Raja Yoga

The 8 Limbs are facets of the Raja Path.

Raja Yoga/Ashtanga Yoga

Sometimes referred to as the Royal Yoga, Royal Union, or Classical Yoga, Raja Yoga is principally concerned with developing the mind using meditation (dhyana) to comprehend reality and achieve liberation.

Raja Yoga is also sometimes referred to as Ashtanga (eight-limbed) Yoga because one must address eight facets on the path to liberation.

Our addictions and human obsessions prevent the attainment of tranquil meditation. Due to the relationship between the mind and the body, we must first "purify" and "tame" the body through self-discipline and various means to attain a good level of health and psychological amalgamation before the deeper aspects of yoga are developed. This yoke of self-discipline is another meaning of the word "yoga."

Every thought, feeling, perception that we have modifies, or causes a ripple, in the mind, which alters the mental mirror. Raja Yoga controls the thought-waves or mental modifications through certain processes, including Asanas (postures). Although this process is initiated from the mind, a certain minimum of asanas and pranayamas are always included as a preparation for the meditation and concentration.

When one can detach Self and restrain the mind from modifying until there is no distortion, the person will eventually experience reality and the true Self. This "Nirbija" or "seedless state," the spontaneous state of quiet mind. Since Raja Yoga follows the eight ways to reach the final state it is often called the Ashtanga Yoga.

8 Limbs Of Ashtanga Yoga

The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are summarized as follows:


Five ethical guidelines regarding moral behavior towards others; code of conduct or self-restraint; principles, restraints, "do nots"


Five ethical guidelines regarding moral behavior towards oneself; religious observances, commitments to practice, like study and devotion; personal disciplines, observances, "do's," practices to perform


Regulating the breath that leads to integration of mind and body; using the breath to control consciousness


Withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects, meaning that the exterior world is not a distraction from the interior world within oneself; stilling the mind and looking within


Assimilation of mind and body through physical activity; yoga positions or yogic postures, what you might currently think of yoga as (Hatha Yoga)


Concentration, meaning the ability to focus on something uninterrupted by external or internal distractions; concentration on object, focus and one-pointed consciousness


Meditation, self inquiry, self introspection, or the quiet activity that leads to the state of samadhi


Superconsciousness, non-duality, one-ness with God or with all; the quiet state of heavenly awareness in the super conscious state.

Hatha Yoga

The foregoing briefly describes the eight limbs of Raja or Ashtanga Yoga. We will describe each of the limbs in greater detail in future articles. However, since so many people think that Hatha Yoga IS yoga, a few words are in order.

As you have learned above, Hatha Yoga is part of Raja Yoga in the asanas limb. Hatha is the most physical aspect of yoga, and is what most people think of when they hear the word yoga.

Ha means "vital force" and tha means "mental force." Some also say that ha means "sun" and tha means "moon." Ha is also described to mean ida nadi (moon)and tha means pingala nadi (sun). The idea is that hatha brings together the opposites and unites them.

Written by Swami Swatmarama in 1200 A.D., Hatha Yoga Pradipika is the authentic and oldest text on which hatha yoga is based. Hatha Yoga includes:

  1. Yogasana (yoga positions, asanas)

  2. Six shatkarmas (detox techniques, practices for purification of the physical and mental bodies)

  3. Mudras and Bandhas (energy harnessing and release techniques)

  4. Pranayama (breathing practices)