The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The term Ashtanga Yoga is derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (500BC) 11.29 “Yoga has eight limbs” Ashtau-eight, anga-limbs. The eight limbs are a systematically organized path that leads to inner freedom and happiness. They are restraints, observances, posture, breath extension, shifting the focus within, concentration, meditation and absorption.


  • Yama [moral codes or restraints]
  • Niyama [self-purification and study, observances]
  • Asana [posture]
  • Pranayama [breath control]
  • Pratyahara [sense control, shifting the focus with]
  • Dharana [concentration]
  • Dhyana [meditation]
  • Samadhi [contemplation]


The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in the external practices are correctable. However, defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana—are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga yoga method is followed (Stern and Summerbell 35).

For this reason, Pattabhi Jois emphasizes that the “Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga.”