Ashtanga (Eight Limbs of Yoga) – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Yoga Practices & Techniques Glossary

I. What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic and physically demanding style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of poses. It was popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois in the 20th century and is often referred to as the “eight-limbed yoga” due to its focus on the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga is known for its emphasis on breath, movement, and drishti (gaze), as well as its commitment to daily practice.

II. What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?

The Eight Limbs of Yoga are a foundational aspect of Ashtanga Yoga and provide a comprehensive guide for living a meaningful and purposeful life. The eight limbs are as follows:

1. Yama – ethical standards
2. Niyama – self-discipline
3. Asana – physical postures
4. Pranayama – breath control
5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Dhyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – enlightenment

Each limb builds upon the previous one, leading the practitioner towards a state of self-realization and inner peace.

III. What is Yama?

Yama is the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga and consists of five ethical guidelines that serve as the foundation for living a harmonious and virtuous life. The five yamas are:

1. Ahimsa – non-violence
2. Satya – truthfulness
3. Asteya – non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya – moderation
5. Aparigraha – non-attachment

By practicing the yamas, individuals can cultivate compassion, honesty, integrity, and self-control in their daily lives.

IV. What is Niyama?

Niyama is the second limb of Ashtanga Yoga and focuses on self-discipline and spiritual observances. The five niyamas are:

1. Saucha – cleanliness
2. Santosha – contentment
3. Tapas – self-discipline
4. Svadhyaya – self-study
5. Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to a higher power

By practicing the niyamas, individuals can cultivate self-awareness, gratitude, discipline, and devotion in their spiritual journey.

V. What is Asana?

Asana, the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga, refers to the physical postures practiced in yoga. The purpose of asana is to prepare the body for meditation and cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance. In Ashtanga Yoga, there is a specific sequence of poses that are performed in a flowing and dynamic manner, linking breath with movement. Asanas help to release tension, improve circulation, and promote overall well-being.

VI. What is Pranayama?

Pranayama, the fourth limb of Ashtanga Yoga, focuses on breath control and regulation. The word “pranayama” is derived from the Sanskrit words “prana” (life force) and “ayama” (extension), and refers to techniques that help to expand and control the breath. By practicing pranayama, individuals can increase their vitality, calm the mind, and improve their overall health.

In conclusion, Ashtanga Yoga offers a comprehensive and holistic approach to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being through the practice of the eight limbs of yoga. By incorporating the principles of yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama into their daily lives, individuals can cultivate a sense of balance, harmony, and inner peace. Ashtanga Yoga is not just a physical practice but a way of life that can lead to self-realization and enlightenment.