top of page

Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga Yoga by Patanjali

Ashtanga Yoga Bern_edited.jpg

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called Ashtanga, which literally means "eight limbs" (Ashta = eight, Anga = limbs). These eight steps essentially serve as guidelines for a meaningful and goal-oriented life. They serve as a recipe for moral and ethical behavior and self-discipline. they draw attention to one's own health; and they help us to recognize the spiritual aspects of our nature.


1. Yama


The first limb, Yama, deals with a person's ethical standards and sense of integrity and focuses on our behavior and how we behave in life. Yamas are universal practices that best relate to what we know as the golden rule: "Do others as you would have them do."


The five yamas are:


Ahimsa: Nonviolence


Satya: Truthfulness


Asteya: don't steal


Brahmacharya: continence


Aparigraha: not desire


2. Niyama


Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observation. Regular visits to temples or services, grace before eating, developing one's own meditation practices, or the habit of taking thoughtful walks alone are examples of Niyamas practiced.


The five Niyamas are:


Saucha: cleanliness


Samtosa: satisfaction


Tapas: heat; spiritual austerity measures


Svadhyaya: Study of the scriptures and your own self


Isvara Pranidhana: Devotion and surender  to the Divine.


3. Asana


Asanas, the positions practiced in yoga, form the third limb. According to the yogic view, the body is a temple of the spirit, the care of which represents an important stage in our spiritual growth. By practicing asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.


4. Pranayama


Generally translated as breath control, this fourth limb consists of techniques developed to control the breathing process while recognizing the connection between breath, mind and emotions. As is evident from the literal translation of Pranayama, "extension of the life force", the yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body, but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e. just sit and do a series of breathing exercises) or incorporate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.


These first four stages of Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga focus on refining our personality, mastering the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves that prepares us for the second half of this journey that deals with the senses, the mind , and reach a higher state of consciousness.


5. Pratyahara


Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. In this phase we consciously try to steer our consciousness away from the outside world and from external stimuli. We are very aware of our senses, but maintain a detachment from them and draw our attention inwards. The practice of Pratyahara gives us the opportunity to take a step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our desires: habits that may adversely affect our health and are likely to affect our inner growth.


6. Dharana


As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of Pratyahara creates the framework for Dharana or concentration. Now that we have freed ourselves from external distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. Not an easy task! In the practice of concentration that precedes meditation, we learn to slow down the thought process by focusing on a single mental object: a particular energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We have of course already started to develop our ability to concentrate in the previous three phases of posture, breath control and sensory withdrawal. In Asana and Pranayama, our attention travels, although we pay attention to our actions. Our focus shifts constantly when we optimize the many nuances of a particular posture or breathing technique. In Pratyahara we become self-observing; Now in Dharana, we are concentrating our attention on a single point. Longer concentration times naturally lead to meditation.


7. Dhyana


Meditation or contemplation, the seventh limb of Ashtanga, is the continuous flow of concentration. Although concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana) seem to be one and the same, there is a fine line of distinction between these two levels. When Dharana exercises concentrated attention, Dhyana is ultimately a state of sharp awareness without focus. At that point, the mind was calmed and little or no thought arises in the silence. The strength and endurance it takes to achieve this state of silence is impressive. But don't give up. While this may seem like a difficult, if not an impossible task, keep in mind that yoga is a process. Even if we may not achieve the "perfect" pose or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit in every phase of our progress.


8. Samadhi


Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of Ashtanga, Samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage the meditator merges with his focus point and transcends the self as a whole. The meditator recognizes a deep connection to the divine, a connection with all living beings. With this knowledge comes "peace that surpasses all minds"; the experience of bliss and oneness with the universe. On the surface, this seems like a pretty high, "holier than you" goal. However, if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, wouldn't joy, fulfillment, and freedom somehow get on our list of hopes, desires, and desires? What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what all people strive for deep inside: peace. We could also consider that this ultimate level of yoga - enlightenment - cannot be bought or owned. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the constant dedication of the aspirant.

bottom of page