What is Ashtanga Yoga?

What Is Ashtanga Yoga

Patanjali Is Lauded as the Father of Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga or the yoga of eight limbs is codified in the ancient book ‘Yoga Sutras’ written by the sage Patanjali. It is about arriving at Samadhi, the yogic trance- the ultimate consummation of the evolving soul: a state of Consciousness that is one with the Supreme Consciousness.




Beauty of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

Aphorisms Are Deep, Yet Easy to Follow

 Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word: ‘Ashta’ means eight and ‘Anga’ means limbs.

Patanjali beautifully formulated the basic elements of yoga for the initiates to help them embark on the journey of consciousness that leads to self-realization. While the first two limbs revolve around purity in body and thoughts, the higher limbs culminate in deep meditation: absorption of mind in yogic trance, Samadhi.

Though brief and written in simple language, the yoga sutras comprising 196 aphorisms or brief hymns are comprehensive, glowing with the sage’s profound knowledge of the nuanced science of yoga.

The exact period of sage Patanjali is yet to be defined, but it is reasonable to assume that he was a contemporary of Lord Buddha.

He divided yoga in eight steps: Yama and Niyama come first and they are followed by Asanas and Pranayamas. After these, four more steps come- Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

Sage Patanjali’s logic was clear. If we go to a battle with weaponry rusted and soldiers inexperienced about the art of battle, defeat is inevitable. Hence the importance of mock-drill-protracted preparation prior to striking the battle ground.  Similarly, for progress in yoga, the seekers must adequately prepare themselves for the complete transformation of consciousness.

Patanjali averred that yoga demands complete purity- both internal and external.  Yama and niyama are the codes of ethics which every yoga practitioner must apply in life to progress fast in the adventure of consciousness through yoga.


Eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

Self-Discipline, Patience, Determination


Yama                  Pure conduct

Niyama               Self-discipline

Asanas                Physical stability

Pranayama         Control and expansion of ‘prana’ or life energy

Pratyahara          Withdrawing five senses

Dharana             Intense concentration

Dhyana               Void state of mind

Samadhi              State of supreme ecstasy


  1. Yama:

Yama is the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, meaning pure conduct. There are five yamas or restraints which every yoga seeker should follow during the training of ashtanga yoga. These are as follows:

Ahimsa (Non-violence): Avoid violence of any type- physical, mental and emotional. We must become completely non-violent in every part of our being to advance on the yogic journey of consciousness.

Sathya (Truthfulness): Truthfulness is a great aid for those who are aspiring higher life. Hypocrisy and cunning must be shunned. Truthfulness is the strongest weapon to conquer the negative energies flowing through us.

Asteya (Non-stealing): We must learn to remain content with whatever we have. We must never steal or even harbor thoughts of dishonestly possessing objects which do not rightly belong to us.

Brahmacharya (Controlled lust): We must never cross the ethical boundaries of married life if we are married. If we are unmarried, we should exercise restraint as regards pleasures of senses.

Aparigrahya (Non-possession): We must never accumulate objects for future use. We must try to break free of all attachments that keep us stuck in the mire of lower nature.


  1. Niyama

Niyama is the second limb of ashtanga yoga, signifying self-restraint. We, in our lower nature, are slaves of impulses. Self-control helps us have mastery over ourselves. Once the inner mastery is gained it changes our thoughts and actions, freeing us from the shackles of lower nature. The five niyamas (don’t) are as follows:

Shoucha (Cleanliness): Purification of thought is shoucha. When inner purity is soundly established in us, we will move on the ascending path of yoga.  Without it, mind remains entangled in the meshes of lower nature.

Santosha (Contentment):  Contentment itself is a great wealth. A satisfied hermit is happier than an unsatisfied king. Greed brings restlessness and greed can never be satisfied. Without contentment, life can never be stable, peaceful.

Tapas (Self-discipline): We must cultivate self-discipline.  Self-discipline leads us to success-not just in yoga but in every pursuit that we undertake in life. It keeps mind focused and allows no distraction.

Svadhyaya (Self-study): We must learn the art of observing ourselves as though we are witnesses, seeing how nature is working in us. This is a powerful tool of self-mastery through introspection and correction.

Ishvara Pranidhana (Total Surrender): We cannot do yoga without loosening the knots of ego and progressively surrendering to the Divine Force. We must realize that the Divine Force knows what is best for us.


  1. Asana:

Asana, meaning ‘seat’ in Sanskrit, is the third limb of ashtanga yoga. There are numerous asanas, all meant to habituate the body to certain poses of immobility. These physical poses of immobility or yogic passivity are indispensable tools for making the ever- restless body a calm and supple receiver of the universal energy that seeks to flow in. The normal body is unable even to hold the limited life energy that enters it because of its inertia or restlessness.

  1. Pranayama:

Pranayama is the fourth step of ashtanga yoga and the last element of outer yoga. It consists of two words— ‘Prana’ stands for subtle life force and ‘Yama’ means control. It is more than breathing control exercises. By practice of yogic breathing, we control the life forces and consequently control the body-life- mind complex. We must break the movement of breath through breathing consciously, keeping counts.

  1. Pratayahara:

Our five senses are always unstable in nature. These love to wander about while seeking new sense pleasures. So, we are always distracted and restless in our outer life. If we aspire for self-realization, we cannot allow senses to pull us hither and thither.  We must rather pull in the outward- moving senses to fix our focus on the supreme goal of self-realization through the yogic journey of ascending consciousness.


  1. Dharana:

Without concentration, we cannot progress in yoga. So, we must master the art of focusing mind on a single object for an uninterrupted period of time.  This is nothing difficult. With a little practice under a competent yoga trainer, we can easily learn the technique of concentration that is nothing but living in the present moment, the past and future abolished in our focused awareness.  Intense gazing (trataka) is one of the easiest ways to increase concentration in classical ashtanga yoga.

  1. Dhyana:

Meditation is one-pointed concentration for an increasing period of time. During intense meditation, the observer and the object become one, no duality left in the mind. There are various kinds of meditation like passive and dynamic meditation. The mind is stilled by stilling the thought process in the passive type while the mind is supplied with thoughts of the Divine in the dynamic type that helps the mind move forward to the union with the Divine.

  1. Samadhi:

Where meditation ends Samadhi or yogic trance begins. It starts from focus, attention and concentration.  It is ascent or withdrawal into the Divine Consciousness, all thoughts, actions and attachments to the transient life abolished completely. It is an awareness void of thoughts, immersed in the static, timeless and infinite Brahman, forever silent and blissful. It is deemed as the supreme step of the ascending ladder of yogic  consciousness.





You might also enjoy


    Maya is life limited by form and name,

error: Alert: Content selection is disabled!!