The Eight Limbs of Yoga Explained

Last updated April 11, 2024

How many times have you gone blank in the middle of yoga class because the teacher started to weave in the eight limbs of yoga in between poses? 

Well, you don’t have to be a yogic scholar to weed through this philosophical wilderness. We’ve dissected some key principles and are giving you a crash course.

Get to know the eight limbs of yoga and how to incorporate them into your travels. 

The Backstory

Pantanjali, the author of the great Yoga Sutra, created a collection of guidelines— or sutras in Sanskrit— on how to achieve a more purposeful life through the practice of yoga. 

Notably, the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali are most renowned for their eightfold path, also known as ashtanga. In particular, ashtanga refers to the “eight limbs” of yoga (ashta=eight, anga=limb) and sets the individual on an outward journey that moves and culminates inward. 

Through moral conduct, physical movements, cultivating a breathwork practice, concentration and meditation, this yogic journey is meant to help us improve our spiritual well-being, ultimately bringing more peace and deep bliss to our everyday lives. 

First Limb: Yama 

There is no one word that best describes Yama, as it’s often a combination of several words. Typically it’s a combination of five words or Yamas: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha

Each of these focuses on behavior, how we treat others, values, ethics, integrity, truthfulness and morals (for example, what’s acceptable and unacceptable).  

Travel tip: Pick one of the Yamas, or the word Yama itself, and use it as a mantra while you’re traveling to help keep the golden rule at the forefront of your mind—treat yourself and others well. 

Second Limb: Niyama 

Do you attend a religious service or meditate frequently? Do you have any mindfulness routines or a daily gratitude practice? 

These are all great questions to ask yourself as you step into Niyama, the next limb on this journey. Known as the second limb in the Yoga Sutras, Niyama refers to spiritual observances. 

If you’re looking to have a deeper Niyama practice, try some of these suggestions listed above or any spiritual observance that requires you to slow down and surrender to the universe.

Travel tip: Take this on the road by intentionally setting what spiritual practices you want to travel with while on vacation. 

Third Limb: Asana

Probably the most famous of all the limbs is Asana—the posture limb. Thinking of downward dog, tree pose, or sweating it out in warrior one? This is the limb you’re most likely thinking of, as it refers to the various yoga poses and positions. 

Each is necessary for nurturing our physical bodies to prepare space and concentration for deep meditation. Research from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shows yoga improves overall wellness, helps with stress management, sleep, emotional health and mental well-being. 

Travel tip: Hop on a yoga mat at your travel destination and practice some powerful yoga postures. Feel free to bring your own mat, follow along with a YouTube practice or try to find a local studio.  

Fourth Limb: Pranayama 

Pranayama—the “breath control” limb—is the last limb to focus on the outward connection to the body, mind and spirit. Through ethical conduct, spiritual and emotional well-being, and physical manipulations, Pranayama encompasses each of these through the power of the breath. 

In this particular phase, breathing exercises and techniques are used to recognize and accept these and move into deeper awareness. 

Travel tip: While breath control is part of the eight limbs of yoga, it can also be used as a separate practice. If you’re traveling, incorporate breathwork into your yoga practice or in your morning routine prior to exciting travel adventures.

Fifth Limb: Pratyahara

After Pranayama, the first path to entering the inward journey is through Pratyahara, or the detachment of sensory stimuli. Here, you’ll start to withdraw from your surroundings and senses to expand your awareness internally for connection. 

This will allow you to transcend where you are, and bring deep relaxation and objectivity which helps master your mind. It’s often been stated, Pratyahara is the first step in meditation. 

Travel tip: There are several ways to explore the practice of Pratyahara, even during a vacation. Consider skipping your favorite food, practice silence, speak compassionately toward yourself and avoid negative conversation. Each of these are powerful ways to disengage and replenish your soul.    

Sixth Limb: Dharana

To explore the practice of Dharana is to explore the art of concentration. Now that you’re in a deeply tranquil state, it’s time to center yourself by concentrating on one particular internal object. 

This internal point varies from individual to individual but can show up as focusing on inviting images, energy points such as chakras, your breath or a deity. This flow will naturally lead you into Dhyana, also known as meditation. 

Travel tip: Find a comfortable and safe space where you can explore the art of Dharana. Bring it to your travel yoga mat or use it while adventuring the city by concentrating on one task/activity at a time during your trip.   

Seventh Limb: Dhyana

Previously the concentrated state, Dharana, focused on an internal point leading to the next step which is the meditation phase, Dhyana

Ultimately, the seventh limb is both blissful stillness and deep awareness. It’s a state of flow that requires no focus, but a centered and quieted mind. 

Travel tip: Take your time getting to this stage, as it’s sometimes difficult to reach especially when traveling. Add it to your travel self-care routine or return back to it once you return home. 

Eighth Limb: Samadhi

The ultimate euphoria and interconnectedness is the state of Samadhi. When you’ve achieved this stage, you feel as if you’ve transcended and established a divine connection with all things. 

There’s a profound sense of peace, fulfillment and understanding that accompanies the eight limbs of yoga. 

Travel tip: Remember, practice makes perfect and yoga is all about the journey.

Whether you’re a traveling yogi or aiming to live well, the completion of the eight limbs of yoga on the road is meant to be enjoyed, deepen inner awareness and bring fulfillment.

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