The 8 limbs of Yoga – Living Yoga on and off the mat

Yoga. When people hear that word, most of them think of some women in yoga pants doing fancy stretches. Yoga is much more than this. “The 8 limbs of Yoga” is going to be a series that dives deeper into yoga-philosophy, while connecting this philosophy to our every day lives, outlining how we can improve our own well-being and feeling of being happy and at the same time contribute to a happier, more loving world.

Patanjali and the 8 limbs of Yoga

Patanjali, some mysterious indian man/figure, is known as the author of the yogasutra. A collection of verses in which he explains the essence of this ancient practice. What are the goals, what needs to be practiced? Within those sutras, Patanjali also talks about the 8 limbs of yoga, which can be concerned as a guideline to a meaningful, purposeful and peaceful life with the goal of reaching unity. So here is some quick overview what these limbs are.

8 limb pic

The eight-folded path is outlined in the sutras within a fixed order which you find throughout literature. The first four steps deal mostly with the outer world, ourselves, our bodies and our interactions.

  • yama – ethical guidelines, how to treat others
  • niyama – self-discipline and spiritual compliance, how to treat yourself
  • asana – how to treat your body, develop self-discipline and concentration for meditation
  • pranayama – controlling the breath and recognizing how breath is connected to the mind and emotions

The last four steps involve mastering our inner worlds, our emotions and senses.

  • pratyahara – turning awareness from external stimuli away, learning to observe yourself objectively
  • dharana – concentration to one object, mantra etc. without thinking about it; very strong concentration leads to meditation
  • dhyana – meditation, contemplation, undisrupted flow of concentration
  • samadhi – connection with the divine, unity, “ecstasy”, pure joy and love

Some people share the opinion that you should master the steps one after another, but I think mixing them up, connecting them or just doing the steps you are able to do at one point in time is totally fine. For sure, you first must somehow practice concentration before you dive into deep meditation, or get a sense of unity in practicing compassion before you reach samadhi. On the other hand for example in one good yogaclass there is pranayama, there is asana and maybe practice of meditation.

Taking Yoga off the mat into the world

Why am I explaining all this? Because I think yoga provides a holistic system, a guideline which, when you follow it, opens your full potential without harming anyone or anything. Of course everyone of us gets some moral or ethical education beginning at early stages of our lives. When you get born, your parents decide some religion you should follow, maybe they teach you aspects of this religion or they teach you morals like being nice to others. Some people might even have those proper “rules” for interacting with themselves and their environment without ever hearing about yoga or anything else. However, at some point in their lives, people begin to turn away from a symbiotic way of living, starting to put the ego first. In consequence this leads to separation, negative mindsets, worshipping of material things, hate, anger, fear, jealousy, war.

Why do we let happen all those things, when religion or our parents delivered us rules? Behind their teachings there is always a hidden warning, a punishment. Don’t get me wrong, having faith is a fine thing. No matter what religion you belong to. Let’s keep it with the example of catholic church. Christians. They believe in Jesus.

All the commandments:
You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbor as yourself.

– Jesus Christ, Romans 13:9

Those words seem pretty wise. You must love your neighbour as yourself. Seems pretty easy. As easy as when our parents taught us “Be nice to others, don’t hit your brother, share your toys, don’t say bad things to others…”. Seems pretty easy. Then why don’t we live by it? Answering this is pretty complex, I just wanna illustrate this: No matter from whom we heard of ethical behaviour, they all try to threaten us so we will follow. You do not come to paradise, you go to hell, god sees everything and so on. Those threats cause that we do not follow this rules by heart. And by heart I mean with our hearts. Our mind thinks it follows the rules by thinking “Yes I have to go to church and listen to what Jesus said, because I am a good person.”. Same person thinking this could be a racist. Or you might think “of course, talking bad about others is bad, but really….have you seen what that girl wore? She looked like a whore”. Those kind of things happen because we do not have a rooted faith. In us. In love. We don’t believe in those rules for peaceful coexistence with all our heart.

In my opinion the 8 limbs of yoga provide a system which can be lived and experienced and therefore be proven as working. Other systems and rules may be working too, but seriously, how often do you thought when someone did you wrong “If a man gives you a blow on one side of your face, then let the other side be turned to him; from him who takes away your coat, do not keep back your robe.” (Luke, 6:29)

I think the advantage of yoga versus non-observant, institutional religion is, that you have no commandments (people don’t like commandments) but guidelines. If you follow them or not is up to you. There is no such thing as punishment or not going to paradise. It is one “do-it-yourself” practice. You can try only if you want to try and only those aspects you want to try. And if you try them more than once, you really quick get to notice that something will change. The view on the world will change. The view will shift from against each other to with each other. And things you experience yourself are much more believable. Therefore they are going to stick with you.


We are humans but we lack humanity. I believe that humanity can be restored if every single one of us is starting to work on ourselves. Everyday. In the next weeks this series about the eightfolged path of yoga will dive deeper. I am going to discuss the single limbs and how we can make use of them to improve our everyday lives. Starting with yama, the guidelines on how to treat others (but also yourself). You’re very welcome to travel alongside with me on this journey.

Peace and Love, Jane



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