The Basics of Yoga Philosophy: Exploring the Eight Limbs of Yoga

Yoga Philosophy Basics

Exploring the Eight Limbs of Yoga: The Basics of Yoga Philosophy

Yoga is often perceived as a physical practice focused on twisting and bending the body into various shapes on a mat. However, yoga is much more than just a series of postures; it’s a comprehensive system for harmonizing the mind, body, and spirit. At the heart of yoga philosophy are the Eight Limbs of Yoga, outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. These limbs offer a roadmap for living a life of purpose, balance, and inner peace. 

In this post, you’ll learn the basics of each of the eight limbs. If after reading this, you feel like diving deeper into the information, the book “Light on Yoga” by B.K.S. Iyengar is an excellent starting point.

1. Yamas: Ethical Guidelines

The first limb of yoga, Yamas, consists of ethical guidelines or moral restraints that govern our interactions with the world around us. There are five Yamas:

  • Ahimsa (Non-violence): Cultivating compassion and kindness towards all beings.
  • Satya (Truthfulness): Speaking and living in alignment with truth and integrity.
  • Asteya (Non-stealing): Respecting the property and boundaries of others.
  • Brahmacharya (Moderation): Exercising restraint and balance in all aspects of life.
  • Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness): Letting go of greed and attachment to material possessions.

Practicing the Yamas helps us cultivate greater awareness, empathy, and integrity in our relationships with ourselves and others.

Ethical Guidelines Yoga Philosophy

2. Niyamas: Personal Observances

The second limb, Niyamas, comprises personal observances or practices that promote self-discipline and self-care. There are five Niyamas:

  • Saucha (Cleanliness): Cultivating purity of body, mind, and environment.
  • Santosha (Contentment): Finding joy and gratitude in the present moment.
  • Tapas (Discipline): Cultivating inner fire and determination to pursue our goals.
  • Svadhyaya (Self-study): Engaging in self-reflection and study of spiritual texts.
  • Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to the Divine): Surrendering the ego and trusting in a higher power or universal intelligence.

Practicing the Niyamas fosters self-awareness, inner strength, and spiritual growth.

3. Asana: Physical Postures

The third limb, Asana, refers to the practice of physical postures or poses. While Asana is often the most visible aspect of yoga in the West, it is just one component of a broader spiritual path. Through the practice of Asana, we cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance in the body, preparing us for the deeper practices of meditation and self-inquiry.

4. Pranayama: Breath Control

The fourth limb, Pranayama, involves breath control techniques that regulate the flow of prana (life force energy) in the body. Pranayama practices include various breathing exercises, such as deep belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and breath retention. Pranayama helps calm the mind, increase energy levels, and promote overall well-being.

5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the Senses

The fifth limb, Pratyahara, refers to the withdrawal of the senses from external stimuli and turning inward. In Pratyahara, we learn to detach from the distractions of the external world and cultivate inner focus and introspection. Through practices like meditation and sensory deprivation, we develop greater control over our thoughts and emotions.

6. Dharana: Concentration

The sixth limb, Dharana, involves concentration or single-pointed focus. In Dharana, we direct our attention to a specific object, mantra, or visualization, training the mind to remain steady and undistracted. Cultivating Dharana enhances mental clarity, memory, and creativity.

Concentration Philosophy In Yoga

7. Dhyana: Meditation

The seventh limb, Dhyana, is meditation or sustained focus on a chosen object or idea. In Dhyana, the boundaries between the meditator and the object of meditation begin to dissolve, leading to a state of expanded awareness and inner peace. Meditation deepens our connection to our innermost selves and the universe.

8. Samadhi: Union with the Divine

The eighth and final limb, Samadhi, is the ultimate goal of yoga — the state of union with the Divine or the higher self. In Samadhi, the individual ego dissolves, and the practitioner experiences a profound sense of oneness with all of existence. Samadhi is a state of pure bliss, peace, and liberation from the cycle of suffering.

union with the divine yoga philosophy


The Eight Limbs of Yoga offer a comprehensive framework for living a life of purpose, balance, and inner peace. By integrating these practices into our daily lives, we can cultivate greater self-awareness, ethical integrity, and spiritual fulfillment.

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