Thursday, 4 May 2017

Beginners' guide to the eight limbs of yoga

The yoga sutras of Patanjali (the founder of yoga) were written more than 2000 years ago and offer us guidelines for reaching a state of bliss where we are connected to the divine/universe and have control over our minds.  These guidelines are still relevant today.  

The eight limbs are:-

The Yamas – there are 5 yamas or moral restraints.  

  • Ahimsa – this translates as ‘non-harming’, ‘non-violence’.  It refers not only to physical violence but violence with words and harmful thoughts.  It is to do with compassion for all living beings and towards yourself.  To be compassionate towards yourself includes letting go of self-criticism.  Some yogis are vegetarians as they believe that is in keeping with the practice of ahimsa.  In terms of your yoga practice it means that when you practice you should be mindful of your own capabilities, never straining in the posture work.  Take rests when you need to and modify the poses to better suit them to your body. For a yoga video on the theme of ahimsa please see
  • Satya - this translates as truthfulness, being honest with others and behaving in accordance with our beliefs.  On the mat it means being honest with ourselves about how we are feeling, physically and energetically and working accordingly, accepting what is right for us on any particular day. To push beyond our capabilities would not be in keeping with ahimsa also and so to some extent the two yamas are linked. For a yoga video on the theme of satya please see
  • Asteya - translates as ‘non-stealing’ but at a more subtle level it means controlling desires for material possessions.  In terms of your yoga practice I had several ideas for this yama. In practice it could be interpreted as not holding back, working to the best of your abilities while at the same time bearing in mind ahimsa and satya.  Do not ‘save energy’ for other poses in your practice.  Yoga is energy building unlike many sports that are energy depleting. A kundalini practice would illustrate this beautifully.  Start with the mantra ‘I call upon my higher self to do my very best.’ We could also bring asteya to the mat (and to our lives) with a stress relieving practice since stress ‘robs’ us of energy and ultimately our health.  Another thought I had on bringing asteya into your yoga practice was to pay attention to good alignment, for if we do not we are ‘stealing’ the enhanced benefits of the asanas from ourselves and injury may even follow.  In fact when we practice asanas we should always be present because if our minds wander we are ‘stealing’ the full experience of being in the pose from ourselves. Asteya can also be translated as hoarding material possessions.  The opposite of this is being generous. Acknowledging this it would be nice to dedicate our energy in asana practice to someone, a loved one or someone who is in need of compassion or to the earth.  For a yoga video on the theme of asteya please see
  • Brahmacharya – this used to translate as celibacy.  It was believed that by being celibate the yogi could direct their energies towards the ultimate goal of yoga, samedi. Today it is thought of more in terms of moderation of sexual cravings, ensuring your sexuality is based on love.  It can also be thought of as using the life force to best effect. I had two thoughts on how we can apply brahmachcharya to our asana practice.  The first is through the use of the energy locks, mula banda, uddiyana banda and jalahara banda (more on this to come). Another way to take bring brahmachya into your yoga practice is by working with the five vayus, the energy flows in the body (more on this to come).  For a yoga video on the theme of brahmacharya please see
  • Aparigraha – this translates as ‘non-covetousness’, separating what you need from what you desire.  It also encompasses appreciating what you have- life, a healthy body, family, friends, clean water, good food, etc.  In asana practice it means accepting where you are and not comparing with the person on the next mat, the person making the video or a photograph in a book.For a yoga video on the theme of aparigraha please see

The Niyamas – there are 5 niyamas which are the disciplines we should observe with respect to ourselves.

Saucha – this translates as cleanliness.  It refers not only physical cleanliness but to purity in thought.  An asana class focusing on this would be one of cleansing twists and meditation. For a yoga video on the theme of saucha please see

Santosha – this translates as contentment.  In asana practice the focus should be on acceptance of where you are in your yoga practice. For a yoga video on the theme of santosha please see

Tapas – this translates as heat, perseverance.  In asana practice the focus should be on effort while at the same time bearing santosha in mind.  For a yoga video on the theme of tapas please see

Svadhyaya- this refers to the self-study that leads to self-discovery.  In asana practice the focus should be on learning more about yourself through the posture work.  This means tuning in to how you feel and pausing between asanas to become aware of the effect of the pose on your body.  For a yoga video on the theme of svadhyaya please see

Ishvarapranidhana – this translates as surrender to God.  This means recognising a higher force (even if you are a non-believer, you may still recognise the higher force of nature) and divine nature that is at the core of all beings. This ‘true self’ is compassionate, peaceful, and gives unconditional love.  In asana practice connect to nature with chanting sun salutations, moon salutations etc and when poses are challenging do not struggle for a result but surrender to what is. For a yoga video on the theme of ishvarapranidhana please see

The asanas are the limb of yoga that you are probably most familiar with.  It is the posture work.  When yoga originated the yoga poses were just a means of purifying and preparing the body for long hours of seated meditation, deemed necessary to reach the state of bliss.
Pranayama refers to the breathing practices through which control of prana, the life force is gained.  The breath is also considered the bridge between body and mind.  
Pratyahara is the. withdrawal of the senses. .When we gain control over our senses, the fluctuations of the mind lessen and we come closer to bliss.
Dharana is concentration of the mind, the ability to direct your mind to an object and stay focused on that object.  
Dhyana - this is meditation where the mind has a focus such as the breath, a mantra, an object such as a candle etc.
Samadhi is a state where the yogi gains control over the fluctuations of the mind.

You might also like:-

Yoga and the environment - 

'The peace within-Pratyahara and meditation' on my YouTube Channel-

'Beginners' guide to yoga styles'-


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