The 8 limbs of yoga.
Think of them like the yogi’s Ten Commandments, with a little less commanding.
The 8 limbs are a guide to living a wholesome, healthy, and meaningful life.
One limb complementing the next, helping practitioners on their yogic journey.
The great sage Patanjali developed the limbs centuries ago in the Yoga Sutras. He laid them out like a map to help chart a course to contentment.
Yoga, after all, is not just about meditation and asanas but also, just as importantly, behavior and attitude.
The limbs provide ingredients to a recipe that helps live in the world with ease. And when you get your yoga certification, you learn about how to be a yogi both on and off the mat.
Let’s break down the 8 limbs of yoga and see how they can help us achieve true peace and happiness right now.
1. They Teach You To Lead A Good Life
The first limb, Yama, refers to discipline and restraint. But that doesn’t mean that you gotta live a life of suffocating discipline.
There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacharya (the control of one’s sexuality), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
Ever wonder why there are so many vegetarian yogis? Because of Ahimsa. Ever notice how dedicated yogis often have very few material possessions? It’s because of Aparigraha.
You too can practice non-violence, not only by not hurting other people but also by not hurting anything at all (even with your words). Speak the truth, don’t let lust control your emotions, and take only what’s yours.
By engaging in this practice, we allow the flow of love, empathy, and compassion for others into our hearts.
2. They Teach You To Be Happy Where You Are
The second limb, Niyama, is a concept of introspection and inwardness. It means taking account of your own actions, observing your thoughts, and adhering to positive standards you have set for yourself.
The five Niyamas are Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline or desire), Svadhyaya (self-reflection), and Isvarapranidaha (trust in a higher power).
Remain committed to your own cleanliness, both literally and figuratively. Recognize all that is good and worthy in your life and stay disciplined in your practice.
By staying committed to this continual self-reflection, both on and off the mat, you’ll never lose sight of the fact that your life is pretty damn good just as it is (hardships included).
3. They Teach You How To Focus
The third limb, Asana or the physical, the aspect of yoga we seem obsessed in the West. And yet, the word Asana doesn’t refer to the practitioner’s ability to perform King Pigeon or a headstand, it refers to the seat or the posture you take when meditating.
While a moving asana practice certainly isn’t very still, it moves the blood throughout your body so that it can (you guessed it) sit still and focus. So you don’t need to prove to yourself or anyone else that you’re able to twist into contortions or hold uncomfortable positions for long periods of time.
Instead, think of asana as a way to prepare both your body and mind for a focus-filled day.
4. They Teach You How To Calm Down
The fourth limb, Pranayama, is the breath, the energy, the life force. Prana is the energy that surrounds us and the life that breath feeds us. And it can have a profound effect on our brains.
Practicing breathing is a great way to relieve stress both on and off your mat. There is never a moment when you cannot connect to your breath to find calmness. It is always there with you, forever constant, a friend when you need it most.
5. They Teach You How To Experience The Present Moment
The fifth limb, Pratyahara, is to withdraw or drawback, which may seem hard to do when you’re constantly bombarded with new sensations. But there comes a point when the practitioner becomes so absorbed in what it is they are focusing on that the outside world no longer matters.
This moment of withdrawal is what is referred to as presence. Complete concentration, being so present and aware of the moment at hand that no sensations easily distract the mind.
And how does that help us live a peaceful and happy life?
Because presence allows us to really soak up the amazing moments in our lives, bookmarking them for future reference. When we live a distracted life that is so immersed in the messy pool of sensations, we miss out on what’s really happening in the moment.
6. They Teach You How To Find Peace
The sixth limb, Dharana, is focused concentration and is a natural progression from the last two limbs, Pranayama and Pratyahara. In order to hone our focus, it helps to withdraw our senses so that all of our attention is pointed in one direction (rather than letting our focus jump from one incoming sensation to the next). And, to draw our senses in, we naturally allow ourselves to concentrate and focus intently.
When we can slow down our thinking to the point of serious and absolute concentration, then nothing else can stand in the way. And when you can do that, you can more easily access peace in your day to day life.
7. They Teach You How To Detach From Your Emotions
The seventh limb, Dhyana, is meditative absorption.
You know, that sweet spot when you become completely absorbed within the act of meditation.
It’s when the mind becomes so still and so aware, that it does nothing more than sit in the moment. No thoughts or sensory distractions, just stillness and steadiness.
It finds a steadiness we can use to detach from emotion and see things clearly, without attachment and without insecurities.
And when you practice yoga and meditation every single day, it becomes easier and easier to slip into a meditative state and out of whatever epic drama you’ve got going on in your life.
8. They Teach You How To Find Bliss
The eighth limb, Samadhi, means bliss or enlightenment.
Now, enlightenment probably sounds a bit out of our league.
But it doesn’t have to be.
According to Patanjali, the purpose of meditation is to temporarily interrupt this endless stream of thoughts and feelings.
The more dedicated we are to our practice, these moments of interruption can stay with us. Complete moments of bliss, even for just a few seconds, can be absolutely amazing.
Just like a runner experiencing their first runners high, bliss is just as addictive.
And once you get a taste, you’ll want to keep up with your practice just so you can have it again (and again).
9. They Teach You How To Persist
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali mentions Abhyasa, meaning persistent effort. To reach happiness and contentment, Patanjali says that practitioners must regularly practice the 8 limbs in order to achieve this.
He reminds us that for our practice to be effective, the practitioner must be intensely passionate about what they are setting out to achieve.
Eventually, with determination, your yoga practice will start to positively affect everything you do in your daily life.
10. They Teach You To Go With The Flow
Vairagya, on the other hand, means to let go. To let go, of not just material possessions, but of expectations, fears, and the ego too.
Buddhism calls it non-attachment.
By practicing non-attachment, you’re not getting stuck on certain ideas, outcomes, or expectations.
It means that when you don’t get that second date, second interview, or second chance, you won’t be so crushed. Instead, you’ll let that expected outcome go and move on happily.
Imagine how peaceful that must feel!
About the author
Brett Larkin is the founder of Uplifted Yoga, an online yoga and meditation community empowering students to personalize their practice and ignite their best life – on and off the mat. She’s instructed at top studios, companies like Google and Pinterest, and leads the world’s most interactive online yoga certification program. She teaches to a social media following of over 350K people. Her content on Youtube is streamed for 3 million minutes each month. Learn more at BrettLarkin.com.