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What Is Ashtanga Yoga? Explaining the 8 Limbs




Sometimes yoga words can be complicated. Especially if you’re a new yogi.

Complicated words and descriptions mean people get overwhelmed and uncomfortable when they think about doing yoga. And that’s definitely not what myYogaTeacher is all about!

Yoga is a practice that incorporates philosophy, meditation, breathwork, behavioral principles, and physical exercise into one’s life. It’s a lifestyle.

We want everyone who comes to us, from young to old, from out of shape to fitness fanatics, to feel like our virtual yoga studio is a safe space to learn about and practice yoga. No judgement. Every question is a good question.

That’s why I wanted to talk to you about ashtanga yoga. What does that word mean anyway, you ask?

I’m going to explain what it is and why it’s even important to know what it is. If you’re interested in experiencing ashtanga yoga in action, I invite you to try my Ashtanga Yoga Class on myYogaTeacher!

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The Sanskrit word ashtanga means “8 limbs.” Let’s explore what those are so we can understand and deepen our yoga practice!

1. Yama - Attitude towards environment

The word “yama” originally meant “bridle” or “rein.” You can think of it similarly to how a bridle works when placed on a horse. It is a means to control how you interact with your environment, including other people.

The yamas of yoga are there to help yogis live an ethical life. A life that is peaceful and that promotes healthy relationships with others. A huge part of a solid yoga practice is creating self-awareness and learning how your yoga practice helps you relate to the world.

There are 5 yamas in ashtanga yoga:

  1. Ahimsa: Non violence and non harming of animals.
  2. Satya: Truthfulness, honesty in words and actions.
  3. Asteya: Not stealing other people’s time or possessions.
  4. Brahmacharya: Sexual restraint, fidelity, chastity.
  5. Aparigraha: Non coveting.

These are what we work on as a part of an ashtanga yoga practice. They are important to creating a calm and peaceful life.

2. Niyama - attitude towards ourselves

Equally important to our attitude towards our environment is the attitude we have towards ourselves. The Niyamas are the second limb of ashtanga yoga.

Do we show self love? Self compassion? Are we practicing self care regularly?

Deeper questions to ask ourselves would be if we’re content, self-disciplined, and how we feel spiritually.

The Niyamas of ashtanga yoga address all of these things. If we aren’t loving ourselves, our attitude towards others and our environment will become increasingly negative.

The word “niyama” means “moral observance.” There are 5 niyamas that are the focus of ashtanga yoga:

  1. Purity
  2. Contentment
  3. Self-discipline
  4. Self-study
  5. Surrender to a higher source

No matter your religion or belief system, these niyamas are important to mastering yourself and creating a moral compass.

3. Asanas - physical postures

The asanas are what most yogis are probably the most familiar with.

These are the postures that you move through when you’re practicing any kind of yoga, not just ashtanga. Asanas are the third limb of ashtanga yoga. There are 84 yoga asanas!

We don’t learn them all in my Ashtanga Yoga Class, but we definitely build up a sweat going through a bunch of them. If you want to learn even more asanas and the correct way to do them, try a 2-week free trial of myYogaTeacher and get access to 35+ classes every day!

4. Pranayama - restraint or expansion of breath

You may or may not have heard this word before. There are yoga practices that specifically revolve around pranayama.

Pranayama is the fourth limb of ashtanga yoga and consists of synchronizing the breath with the asanas or movements between asanas.

“Prana” means life energy. Yama means control.

In ashtanga yoga, we literally learn how to control our life energy. It’s an exercise in using our breath to create mental and physical wellness. Even in a vigorous practice, ashtanga asanas will work with the breath, not against it, and you will quickly realize that controlling your heavy breathing is vital to the flow of your life energy!

5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses

Most yoga students are confused by the fifth limb of ashtanga yoga. Pratyahara is “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.”

This often occurs when we do Savasana, at the end of a yoga practice. Maybe you recognize the feeling of almost falling asleep but not. You still maintain consciousness and contact with the present, but you feel far away from it.

In pratyahara, you are not affected by the disturbances of the surrounding environment. You know they’re there and are aware of them, but you do not react to them. You are in a sort of haven of silence.

6. Dharana - concentration

The sixth limb of ashtanga yoga is all about fixing your mind on one point. Maybe it’s a chakra or maybe you bind your mind to one place, object, or idea.

Whatever the case, dharana is a step towards deep meditation. The point is to hold that concentration, to maintain that thought without wavering from it for an extended period of time.

7. Dhyana - meditation

Meditation. Elusive for some, meditation is the complete withdrawal of the mind from environmental and inner world distractions.

Meditation is the ultimate state of awareness, peace, and being present in the moment. It is built upon the other six limbs of ashtanga yoga, postures, breathwork, control of senses.

Dhyana is the union of all the limbs. The attainment of full self-realization.

8. Samadhi - integration

The eighth limb of ashtanga yoga is enlightenment!

Samadhi is the highest state of mental concentration that one can achieve without actually leaving their body. It is total and complete liberation. In Sanskrit, samadhi means “self-collectedness.”

Complete and ultimate bliss. That is samadhi.

Now that you have a better understanding of ashtanga yoga and the stages, maybe it won’t seem so overwhelming! My hope is that you will feel comfortable practicing yoga and reaching towards the goal of mastering the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga.

There is nothing I could want more for you than complete and total bliss!

Are you ready to experience it firsthand? All are welcome to my fast-paced, high-energy Ashtanga Yoga Class. If you haven’t yet, take advantage of myYogaTeacher’s offer of a 2-week free trial and get access to my class and many, many more! All taught by highly experienced yoga teachers from India.

Online Yoga Classes – Live & Interactive

Get 2 free private yoga sessions and 2 weeks of unlimited group classes with authentic yoga teachers. No credit card required when you sign up today!

Start Free Trialarrow-right

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