8 branches of yoga: what they are and why you should know them (2023)

Introduction to the 8 Limbs of Yoga

If you've ever practiced yoga, you've probably heard references to the 8 limbs of yoga. Otherwise, you may be surprised to find that you have been practicing yoga without realizing it. The word asana is one of the eight branches of yoga, which are the postures you assume during your physical practice, and it is one of the best known branches of yoga.


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The 8 Limbs of Yoga come from Pantajali's Yoga Sutras, a collection of 196 verses that offer guidance on how to live a non-violent life with as little suffering as possible, on and off the mat. These ideas help a person to embody "yoga" in body, mind and spirit. You don't have to be deeply spiritual to get useful information from the "eightfold path."

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Instead, you can take what works for you, build a practice around it, and ignore what doesn't resonate. That is the great part of yoga and life in general. You can choose what best suits your life for your specific goals, personality, and beliefs.


You may notice some overlap in the 8 limbs of yoga and the eightfold path, which has both Hindu and Buddhist influences. Some of the basic tenets of these philosophies revolve around leading a good and just life without harm or enlightenment.


In this article, you will understand what the 8 branches of yoga are, why they can be useful to you, and how to incorporate them into your daily life.

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The 8 branches of Yoga

Below, we will cover each of the 8 Limbs of Yoga so that you have a solid understanding of what they are, when to use them, how to use them, and why they are important enough to land on all 8 Limbs of Yoga. yoga.

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1) Yama: Guidelines for Living an Ethical Life

The Yamas are the first member, and you will learn first if you take yoga teacher training or go deeper into the study of yoga. You will often hear about the Yamas and the Niyamas, which are the way you look towards society vs. internal reflection to improve yourself.


As you learn about each of these, you may want to record each concept to reflect on how you currently live your life and how you would like to add these elements to the way you move through the world.

The 5 Yamas include:

Ahimsa (Do no harm)

Ahimsa is a very simple concept of doing no harm. Don't hurt yourself and don't hurt others. Of course, this is easier said than done.


To embody the idea of ​​ahimsa, look at how you communicate, how you live your life, and the areas that are strong and need a little work. In this idea of ​​doing no harm, it is important to remember that this does not mean that you cannot set limits. There is a big difference between being hurtful and being direct.

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Satya (Verdade)

Truthfulness and honesty are an important part of living a harm free life. We live in a world full of white lies and more significant falsehoods that affect everyone in some way.

To live a true life, you must stay strong in who you are. People often lie because they don't want to hurt someone's feelings. So staying true to what you are means practicing healthy communication strategies to be direct and honest with people without trying to convey your emotions for them (by lying to them to prevent them from experiencing "negative" emotions).


Level (don't draw)

Not stealing can be interpreted in many ways, just like the 8 limbs of yoga. In Pantajali's time, it could literally mean not stealing property.

In today's world, theft can take the form of stealing property and copying other people's works. To practice not stealing, be absolutely inspired by other people,mitake the necessary steps to create a world uniquely yours.


Brahmacharya (without excess)

The translation of brahmacharya is something like "maintaining one's conduct to oneself." Others say it is the "correct use of energy." This Yama is sometimes interpreted as celibacy and other times as non-excess.

Feel free to take this idea of ​​"no excess" and "correct use of energy" and channel it into the way you want to live. Are the things you are doing with your time, thoughts, words, and actions leading you to the type of person you want to be? What can you change to feel like you are living your values, if not?


Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

Possessiveness can show up in the form of jealousy, envy, or greed. Aparigraha means not being attached to other people's possessions, or one's own possessions, because a good and righteous life comes from living outside of material possessions, at least according to the 8 limbs of yoga.


If you struggle with jealousy or envy, look at how you live your life. Are you making decisions to support your goals? Are you putting effort into what you want to be? We are often our own worst enemies. Turn jealousy around and use it to drive yourself to achieve and focus on your own growth.

2) Niyama: Personal observance of your inner world

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The Niyamas are a set of guidelines to focus on your inner world, while the Yamas are more outward oriented. Remember, you don't have to live by all of these principles. Pick what feels good to you and filter out the rest.

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The 5 Niyamas include:


Saucha (Pureza)

Like the eight limbs of yoga, you can interpret them however you like. For many, purity means that our "true selves" already exist within us, beyond all the distractions and conditioning that paint our existence.


To achieve "purity", you need to consider the food you eat, the media you consume, and the energies you consume. A clear mind means letting go of negative thought patterns and being present as much as possible.

Santosha (contento)

We live in a world that values ​​achievement and growth, sometimes too much. Of course, those things are absolutely important to feeling fulfilled, but so are gratitude and acceptance of who we are right now.

To practice Santosha, you can record (or even say out loud) the things you are grateful for in the outside world and within yourself. What do you like about yourself? What makes you happy? Celebrate your victories every day instead of focusing on what you haven't achieved. You will feel better about it.

Tapas (Self-discipline)

Tapas means heat or fire. It means lighting that fire inside of you and committing to something that serves your goals and who you are. It means choosing to play the long game of a healthy lifestyle (which takes time) versus the short game of doing what feels good in the moment (but doesn't feel better in the long run).

Practice tapas by doing your best to choose things that serve you in the long run, bring you closer to achieving your goals, and make you feel genuinely good in the moment.


Svadhyaya (Auto-estudo)

Self-study can mean many things to different people. The original texts can mean a more religious way of memorizing mantras and texts. Today, it could mean introspection, meditation, and studies that help you understand and improve yourself.

Self-study, like the rest of these concepts, is a lifelong journey.


Ishvara Pranidhana (entrega/devoción)

As the 8 branches of yoga are closely linked to religion, the original meaning of this Niyama implies surrender to a god. Often there was a student-guru relationship involved.


To practice surrender or devotion for non-religious people, you can focus on the idea of ​​surrendering to the present moment, to your present self, which also means acceptance. Can you accept who you are now?

3) Asana: The physical postures

Asana is the most popular of the 8 branches of yoga because it is physical. People value physical activity, appearance, and exercise, so they use asana practice to achieve these values.

Some may be surprised to learn that "asana" used to simply mean "seat" or a seated posture for meditation. Yoga was meditation. It wasn't the hot yoga classes we do today.

But it's okay. Language can and does evolve, just like ideas and beliefs.

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If you are practicing all 8 limbs of yoga, the asana in its traditional form means that you can sit back and find a state of calm and concentration because you are not obsessed with jealousy or causing harm to people. You were just being Exist.


Now, asana is a broader concept. In yoga classes, you may hear the word "asana" associated with different yoga poses, such as Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Utkatasana (Chair Pose), or Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog).


If you only practice all of these limb asanas, you will still experience many of the benefits of the other 8 limbs in yoga because some of them are naturally incorporated into the sequences.


Pranayama, our next member, is all about breath control, something you'll do a lot during a yoga class. You'll also likely feel calmer and less stressed, which will lead you to become less attached to the little things that bother you and more focused on a sense of contentment.

4) Pranayama: breath control

In yoga, breath control is an important part of asanas and meditation. It is a tool that people can use to center themselves and find calm in their body and mind. At first, pranayama may seem difficult for a number of reasons.

  • We tend to breathe shallowly throughout the day (unless we're really paying attention), so learning to breathe deeply from the belly can be physically uncomfortable or even impossible at first.
  • Many of us spend a lot of time hunched over computers or phones all day. This posture can become a more permanent fixture in the way we stand or sit (and breathe), so we need to correct the misalignment to breathe easier.

    Outside of yoga, breathing is a powerful tool for managing our mental health. It is a scientifically studied tool that is used in therapy, in the workplace and at home with children.


    Now sit up straight so your spine looks long and your head reaches the sky. Take a deep breath in through your nose and let out a long, slow exhalation through your mouth. You might even sigh if that feels right (and it usually does). Do this a few times.


    Do you feel calmer? That is the power of the breath. If you can, take time every hour just to take a few slow, even breaths and notice how it calms your nervous system. If you struggle with anxiety or have an overactive or underactive nervous system, breathing would be a great opportunity to immerse yourself.

    5) Pratyahara: Withdrawal of your senses

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    Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses or sensory withdrawal. No, that doesn't mean you have to cover your nose so you don't smell anything or cover your ears so you don't hear. In essence, it means mindfulness. As one of the 8 most confusing members of yoga, it is also a powerful tool to focus the mind and practice non-attachment or non-reactivity.


    That means you'll probably have a zillion thoughts floating through your brain on any given day. You can bump into people. You may have self-critical thoughts about the food you eat or whether you should stay in this yoga pose or leave it.

    With pratyahara, the goal is to release your reactivity or attachment to results. It means that a difficult thought comes into your head, but you don't hold on to it, letting it float away. This means that you can feel calmer when facing conflict because you are fully present and not taken for granted when a difficult situation occurs.

    For example, you are in a yoga class and it is difficult for you to relax in savasana. You may have negative thoughts that you hate savasana because you don't like to sit still. You are judging yourself and your position because it is difficult. Instead, you may find yourself struggling to relax in savasana. And it is that. You recognize the thought and then stop thinking about it. Just stay there until the next thought comes. Then acknowledge it and let it go.

    6) Dharana: Concentration

    All members of yoga up to this point have a more external focus. Pratyahara begins to create this bridge between how our outer world impacts our inner world and vice versa. Now is the time to really embark on the journey to less suffering.


    Dharana means concentration of the mind, generally on a single point. In a yoga class, you may be guided to focus on a specific part of the body, a point on the wall, or an energetic part of the body.


    The goal is to quiet all thoughts outside of that point of content to strengthen the mind against negative thought patterns.


    To all multitaskers out there, Dharana encourages you to stop. Multitasking is no longer efficient, so Dharana is a good practice for anyone who has difficulty concentrating.


    In your daily life, a great way to start this practice is to be fully present in whatever you are doing. It won't always be easy, of course, just as meditation isn't easy and quieting negative thoughts isn't always easy.


    If you're washing dishes, notice the feel of water running under your hands, the sounds of putting dishes in the dishwasher, and the appearance of a clean counter.


    If you are walking, look around you for the sounds, smells, and sights. Dharana has to do with concentration. So focus on noticing whatever it is you're doing. Stay present with it and come back to it when your mind wanders.

    7) Dhyana: Meditation

    The last part was talking about a type of meditation in motion, which is really just mindfulness. Dhyana is meditation, but instead of seeing it as the practice of meditation, it's more of a state of being.


    The reason it's different from meditation is because meditation focuses on one specific thing. You can focus on your breathing. You can focus on not clinging to the thoughts that bother you. These all have benefits because you are calming your nervous system, but concentrating so intensely on something still requires thought.


    Dhyana is the state you reach during meditation between thoughts. It is the "interval" between thoughts where time seems to disappear completely. Are you there. Some call this soul glimpse.


    Imagine that you are in a restaurant eating the tastiest food you have ever tasted. You close your eyes and savor the flavors in your mouth. Nothing else matters. This is Dhyana.


    Or let's say you're chatting with a friend and before you know it, half the day has passed and it seems like they just arrived. Time disappeared and you were in a pure state of being that required no effort. This is Dhyana.

    8) Samadhi: Enlightenment

    Some may use words like happiness, enlightenment, liberation, or connection to the universe when describing samadhi. You can use any term you want.

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    When you find dhyana, that space between the gap, you are achieving samadhi because dhyana leads to samadhi. There are various levels of samadhi, some describe the space in between where time disappears to where there is only the ego, the I am of the self and nothing else.


    It goes further when some say they have reached a level of consciousness where the self disappears and one becomes pure awareness of the universe. It's probably impossible to teach someone how to get to a state of non-existence, as it's a very personal (and difficult) journey.


    In essence, you can find value in achieving “enlightenment” by focusing on quieting your mind and enjoying activities that you know make time disappear because you are experiencing so much pleasure or joy.


    Everyone's journey is different. As you work towards these different states of being, continue to check in with yourself to ensure that you are connected and grounded to your physical self, as it is easy to fall too far into the "not thinking" space where a person becomes apathetic to the world around you.

    Importance of knowing the 8 branches of Yoga

    Is it essential to know the 8 branches of yoga to live a wonderful life? No, it's not. There are so many ways to achieve bliss, presence, and happiness without understanding these concepts in that particular order.


    Can the eight limbs of yoga lead to a happier life? Of course. The concepts here can be interpreted to support a peaceful life focused on healing our inner wounds and trying to walk through life doing as little harm as possible.


    From a yogi's point of view, you can enjoy a yoga practice without knowing these principles. And you can take your yoga practice to a deeper level by immersing yourself in concepts like these.


    If you're not interested in these spiritual practices but love taking yoga classes here and there, you might enjoy learning about specific concepts that appeal to you, even if it's just learning more about the breath and how it can help you in your daily life. . .


    The 8 limbs of yoga were written a long time ago, but many of the concepts are universal ideals for many people. The best part is that many of these concepts are backed by science as ways to live a happier and healthier life.


    How to incorporate the 8 limbs into your yoga practice (daily life)

    After reading the 8 branches of yoga, you may be curious about how to incorporate each branch into your daily routine. It is very simple to incorporate these practices into your life with a few simple ideas. To see how.

    1. Evaluate your current routines and mindset.

      How do you spend your time each day? Like youto wantspend your time every day? How do you talk to yourself throughout the day? Like youto wantDo you talk to yourself? By evaluating what your current reality is, you can find opportunities to change habits and thoughts.

    2. Make small incremental changes first.You may want to change your life and implement a million different practices at once, but that's often a recipe for disaster. Before modifying a habit, you must first build it as a habit. If you want to meditate for 20 minutes a day, start by setting an alarm to sit for 1 minute a day until it's easy for you. Then add it.
    3. Be kind to yourself.We're all human. You can adopt a practice of nonviolence towards yourself or others, and once you lose your temper, you may feel like you are failing or not growing. That is not true. Our patterns, triggers, and history don't magically disappear, so implementing the 8 Limbs of Yoga is a lifelong process.

    If you're new to these concepts, and even if you're not, pick one that resonates the most. Get started with this practice and find ways to incorporate it into your daily routine first. Little by little, you can add more members and even expand the ones you are currently practicing.

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