Keeping it Real: 8 Things You Need to Know About the Eight Limbs of Yoga (As Per Patanjali)

I get bored when I read a post with the title "the 8 limbs of yoga" yet, I find that it is necessary for a blog to have such a conversation in a down-to-earth: "telling it like it is", kind of form. So here I come, and this is not your 2003 eight limb's post. So, first things first:

8 things you need to know about the eight limbs:

1.- Sage and genius yogi Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras, a book he called "On Traditional Yoga" and which was subsequently translated as "the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali", about 2000 years ago.

2.- The goal of the yoga practices outlined in the book is "peace". But not just any flower-power image you may have of peace. No. He means eternal peace, where nothing disturbs or has any power over you, and you understand everything and have complete and total discrimination, i.e.: you would become incredibly peaceful and smart, you would know what to do or not do, you would be enlightened.

3.- The Book has four chapters

4.- The first chapter is way too advanced for anyone like me, and possibly you. It is meant for people who can concentrate without any distraction / memory / or fantasy cropping up. Its first definition of yoga "the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind" is meant for advanced yogis, people who can focus on one and only one thing. Without interruption. For a long time, think hours.  Feel free to try it now and test your endurance. Not me.

5.- For the rest of us, there is chapter two which outlines practices that can get us to there, (to point 4 above)

6.- The first part of chapter two deals with how to eliminate pain from our lives, because if we are in the midst of total chaos in our lives it is kind of difficult to do anything.

7.- The second part of chapter two teaches people who are a little more balanced (i.e.: not completely lost in the pain of intrigue, infatuation, delusion and craziness) how they can attain total freedom by following:

8.- The eight limbs of yoga.  They are only to be followed by people who want to attain final liberation, or the state described in chapter one.  They are meant for aspiring yogis, people who want the goal (eternal utter peace with full discrimination).  The three last limbs of yoga are described on chapter 3.

That being said, the eight limbs, from chapter two, titled: "On Practice" are:

1.- Yamas: the DON'Ts of yoga.  

** Don't cause harm.  You know how you do it.  Are you rude or arrogant? do you bluntly attack someone in word, mind or thought? how do you comment in anonymous boards.  Do you exert your body much more than you know you should?  Violence takes many faces, some of them are pretty brutal yet could pass for something else.  We need be intelligent on this one. (Ahimsa)

** Don't lie.  Again, keep rule one in mind, be truthful and intelligent.  Say what is true but do not harm using truth just "because".  Say the truth and speak when necessary. (Satya)

** Stay Away from things that are not offered to you.  Don't steal, not ever paper-clips in the office or napkins at the Starbucks (Asteya...or a-stay-a-way from what does not belong to you)

** Don't be a love and sex addict, i.e.: check if you are using your sexual energy in a negative way, for example: are you dressing up in a certain way so you will attract attention? are you creating intrigue by not stating what you think or feel? are you staying at home and isolating from all contact?

If you are then you might need to treat these issues (visiting an support group is a good start for the times we are living in).  It is important to learn to use our sexual energy efficiently (Bramacharya).  See my own story: My Name is Claudia And I Am a Love Addict to see how easy it is to splurge our sexual energy, which can lead to disaster.

**Use only what you need.  Think before you buy extra. Be efficient, let go. Oh, and this applies also to speech, let go of gossip as it is a great leak. (Aparigraha)

2.- Niyamas, the DOs of Yoga

** Keep clean, in body, mind, teeth, tongue, nostrils, armpits, language, choice of words, gestures. (Shaucha)

** Maintain an attitude of contentment whatever life may bring (Santosha)

** Be modest in your speech, presence, dress, in how much you eat, in what you eat (Tapas)

** Read scriptures, like the Yoga Sutras, so that you will understand a bit more each day (Svadhyaya)

** Surrender (Ishvarapranidhana).  If you cannot surrender, do not worry, start with the other ones.

3.- Asanas or poses

Garba Pindasana, a current
asana favorite
The poses are done so that the body will be clean and healthy, and so that you will be able to sit for hours at the time and maintain focus.  There are thousands of poses.  Patanjali did not list them because he knew there were other books out there that listed them, and he was keeping it short cause these lines had to be memorized! -no printing press back then-.  The practice of poses also rid you of the extra over-excited energy you may have, and make you a bit more calm (in certain cases), you become less rajasic or excited. 

4.- Pranayama or how to live for a long time

Practicing pranayama
This is the extension of your life span (prana is pretty much life, the energy that keeps you alive, and ayama is extension) by making use of intense yogic breathing extensions which are to be learned at their right time (when you can somewhat sit comfortably with your body). Pranayama also reduces the lethargic tendencies and make our minds and body alert, ready for focusing.

The cool part is that pranayama together with the other limbs helps us live longer, which is good because the journey could take a bit of time.

5.- Pratyahara, sense withdrawal

attempting pratyahara
An intermediate limb as we pass from the ones that dealt with the gross area of life (behavior, the body, the breath) and into the subtle parts (the mind, how much we can focus). It means "withdrawing of the senses".

In the previous limbs we were dealing with perception, sensation, the body, and our eyes open, now we are going to deal with the mind, which is where it is all at.  So in pratyahara we attempt to withdraw the senses, Easier said than done, I will give you that.

The last three limbs (below) appear on chapter 3 of the Yoga Sutras, that chapter is titled: "On Extraordinary Powers":

6.- Dharana, focusing on an object

It means focusing on an object, say a chakra, or a statue of a deity you respect, or a dot, or your breath. You choose.  For a long time.  When you see your mind wandering, which it will, bring it back.

If while focusing you start bringing up memories you associate with the object you are focusing on, then that is not dharana. That is fantasy, or memories.

For example: if you are focusing on, say, a candle and you start thinking about the pink and blue candles you had on your birthday party when you were a kid, notice that that is a memory, you are out of dharana.  Perceiving an object and focusing on it for what it is, without memory or imagination is a challenge. It takes daily practice.

7.- Dhyana, meditation

Meditation happens as a result of limb #6 above.  When we can maintain the focus on the object while being truly present, with no memories interfering and no fantasies associated with it, just you and the object, for a long time (think hours), then that is meditation.

So when someone asks: "how was your meditation?" the only acceptable answers are, either:

a) I was able to focus on the object sometimes, but my mind wandered, or
b) I was able to focus on the object without my mind wandering all the time

8.- Samadhi

Enlightenment -Samadhi- happens when you are focused on one specific thing described by Patanjali  for so long you end up "merging" with it. You and it become one. This must be experienced and for what I have heard it is not possible to put it in words, which only makes me want to try harder.  The closer it comes is that the veil is lifted and you see reality for what it is.

Then the student is able to be at utter, complete peace.  There are certain consequences of samadhi, or becoming a realized yogi, because after seeing things for what they are our whole view of the world changes.  Once truth is revealed we are transformed in an irreversible way, and apparently feel very peaceful, detached, unaffected yet, have full knowledge and discrimination.


  1. thanks for these yoga and meditation tips, have visited so many yoga retreats where mediation was offered

  2. lovely post - always to the core and super informative ;-) ivana

  3. I read the Sutras a couple of months ago, was good to re-read them through your words - thanks Claudia :) I'm still learning the subtleties of Ahimsa in so many are right, it *is* a long journey!

  4. Wow, thank you! I have read so many different interpretations of the 8 limbs of yoga, even written about the yamas and niyamas, but this is truly one of the better ones I have seen. It is succinct but accurate without being too superficial. Thank you for posting this.

  5. Really nice treatment of the limbs Claudia, clear straight forward, not off putting but not dumbed down either, nice job.

  6. Hello Olga you are welcome.

    Hi Ivana, good to hear from you, glad you liked it.

    Savasanaaddict, yes, I keep re-reading there is so much there, and about Ahimsha I'm not sure I'll ever stop learning, remember asking ramaswami about ants in my home... and he said a student had asked him about a mosquito on his arm too... and how we do the best we can and always have to find a middle path...

    You are welcome Rebecca, :-) thanks for the comment

    Thanks Grimmly, yeah I was looking for a middle path or a balanaced point, so glad you thought so :-)

  7. Very well noted. I just read your book, it's really inspiring. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's a simple and smart way to reveal the layers of the ashtanga yoga's meaning(s)..

  8. Thank you Uta, so happy you liked it! :-)


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