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The 8 Limbs of Yoga, Explained

These eight philosophical pillars provide an excellent guide for your yoga practice—and a well-lived life. Here's what you need to know.

By Team PelotonMarch 29, 2023


If you're looking to deepen your yoga practice, diving more into the philosophy of yoga can be a beneficial approach. For many yogis, understanding the eight limbs of yoga can be an initially confusing concept. It sounds like a complicated ideology regarding body alignment, but in reality, it encompasses guidelines for the practice of yoga that allow you to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling, and purposeful life. (Of course, you can absolutely take a yoga class without knowing the eight limbs of yoga!)

If you're unfamiliar with the eight limbs of yoga, look no further. This article aims to address what the eight limbs are, why they're important, and how you can use them to redirect your attention and enjoy a peaceful, prosperous existence. 

What Is the Origin and Importance of the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

Let's begin by briefly discussing Patanjali, a sage in India who is the creator of the philosophy of yoga known as the eight limbs of yoga. Patanjali—also called Gonikaputra or Gonardiya—was a Hindu mystic and author. 

Based on the scholarly analysis of his books and other literary works, Patanjali most likely existed between the 2nd and 4th centuries. While he lived a long time ago, modern yoga teachers still often refer to his expertise.

Patanjali describes the eight limbs of yoga within the pages of his book, Yoga Sutras. In short, it's an eight-fold path to living "right," which we'll expand on here. As an overview, when practicing yoga, you aim to dedicate yourself to creating a partnership between body, mind, and spirit. 

Sage Patanjali utilizes the eight limbs to sketch out how one can practice achieving such a balance, both during and outside of yoga class. These ideas are of great importance for many yogis, encouraging them to live through self-discipline, virtue, and respect for nature while paying close attention to a spiritual mindset. 

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The eight limbs of yoga are more about guiding you toward living with integrity and less about practicing yoga on the mat, however understanding the spiritual practice of yoga is important for honoring its history and roots. Learn more about each of the eight limbs below. 

1st Limb: Yama

You might hear your yoga instructor refer now and then to the first limb of yoga, which is yama. Yama highlights the importance of moral standards, asking you to focus on how you behave in your daily life. Within yama are the yamas, or practices that everyone should adopt to live well and do well by others. 

The five yamas include:

  • Ahimsa, or nonviolence toward all

  • Satya, which embraces truthfulness

  • Asteya, or refusing to steal (this includes things, as well as other people's time and energy)

  • Brahmacharya, or self-restraint and control

  • Aparigraha, resisting greed and the desire for an abundance of unnecessary material goods

2nd Limb: Niyama

Niyama is the second limb of yoga, and it focuses on self-discipline and the spiritual experiences that may accompany that focus. Regularly engaging in the traditions and practices of whatever religion or spirituality guides you, including developing a meditation practice that suits you, will help you remain present in practicing niyama. 

Things like a meditative walk could be a niyama in action. As long as you're contemplating, you're on the right track. 

The five niyamas include:

  • Saucha, or cleanliness (clean up your space and your mental load)

  • Samtosa, or finding contentment within the daily grind

  • Tapas, or evoking passion or fire for your spiritual practice

  • Svadhyaya, or understanding your spirituality and, therefore, yourself

  • Ishvara pranidhana, or surrendering to your faith

3rd Limb: Asana

Whether you take class on the Peloton App, at a yoga studio, or at your gym, every yoga approach will highlight and provide you with in-depth knowledge of the asanas. Asanas are the postures you hold in your physical yoga practice. They make up the third limb of yoga. 

In yoga, we view the body as a temple and caring for it is crucial to growing spiritually. Through practicing asanas, or yoga poses, you can begin to develop and deepen your ability to concentrate, which is necessary for meditation as well as life. 

Every yoga class will have a purposefully designed mixture of the asanas. While some teachers use the Sanskrit words for each pose, you'll primarily learn them in English, and modern yoga classes often use both. 

4th Limb: Pranayama

Ah, the breath. If you've even dabbled the tiniest bit in yoga, then you know the importance of the fourth limb, pranayama. The loose translation of pranayama is "breath control" or "to control the breath," and it embraces instructing yogis to master respiratory functions.  

Your yoga practice will give you plenty of insight into the connections between your mind, emotions, and breathing patterns. When translated literally, pranayama means "life force extension," which is, without question, your breath. 

Many yoga gurus believe that controlling the breath revitalizes the body, possibly extending life. Pranayama is often seamlessly worked into every yoga class, and you'll hear many instructions to "inhale" and "exhale," combining breath with movement. 

However, pranayama is just as effective when practiced alone. You can sit and practice breathing deeply, quietly following your breath in and out, all while gaining a better understanding of your body and developing an awareness of where you stand energetically. 

5th Limb: Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga, and it focuses on transcending your senses or focusing internally while ignoring the never-ending pull of the outside world. Pratyahara is a massive lesson about where we place our awareness, taking a step back and detaching from who we think we're supposed to be. 

The idea behind pratyahara is to observe habits that aren't ideal or that contribute to poor mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health. We should regard these practices objectively, refusing to scold ourselves while taking steps toward positive changes that contribute to our growth. 

6th Limb: Dharana

The sixth limb of yoga is dharana, meaning concentration. Because pratyahara helps to relieve us of our external distractions, dharana can assist in ignoring internal disruptions—which isn't always easy. 

Concentration and meditation go hand-in-hand, so dharana assists in slowing down our cognitive functioning by focusing on a specific mental object. Traditionally, this might be a chakra or even the repetition of sound, common in transcendental meditation. 

Dharana is about focusing our attention on one single point, and you can practice this on a meditation pillow or the yoga mat. Balancing asanas are particularly ideal for dharana because they require that focus, so you can see why yoga is often considered a moving meditation.

7th Limb: Dhyana

The seventh limb of yoga is uninterrupted meditation or contemplation, which you can think of as a step up from dharana. Practicing dharana asks for your attention on one point, while dhyana asks for awareness without intended focus. 

Dhyana wants you to quiet the mind, producing few thoughts and finding stillness. This is a challenge, and it's not something you should expect to do overnight; it could even take years. Quieting your mind through yoga is a process, and you can benefit at every stage through significant and tiny triumphs. 

8th Limb: Samadhi

Sage Patanjali describes the eighth limb of yoga as a state of ecstasy, but we can take it down a notch and call it general contentment and joy. The goal of samadhi is to merge with your quiet point of focus and transcend awareness. 

This is where you'll find peace and oneness with nature—often described as bliss—and it's a huge goal when described as enlightenment. However, when you break it down into what you want out of life, including fulfillment, happiness, peace, and freedom, it seems more accessible. 

Samadhi isn't something you can purchase or possess. Rather, it's an experience. 

Is it Necessary to Practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga in Order?

The eight limbs of yoga are meant to be woven into your daily life. From focusing on concentration to dedicating more of your life to your spiritual practice, you can adhere to the teachings of the eight limbs and yoga whenever you recall them—and it doesn't have to be in order. 

Traditionally, to move to one stage of the eight limbs, you must become familiar with the one before. However, if you're better at quieting the mind than focusing on one single thought right from the beginning, then so be it. Modern yoga allows for the implementation of each of these ideologies without restriction. 

How You Can Practice the 8 Limbs of Yoga

The eight limbs of yoga stem from ancient texts but can absolutely be applied to modern life. Let's break it down. 


Practice yamas by being kind and honest in how you speak to yourself and others. Show up on time, and listen when others talk to you. Use your energy wisely. 


You can practice niyamas by keeping your space and body clean. Eat well and practice coming from a place of abundance and gratitude for what you already have, rather than placing focus on what you lack. 


Take a class on the Peloton App. Practice your asanas and link your breath to movement by practicing regular yoga. 


You can study cultivating your life force in a few ways, but this is a surefire way to practice Pranayama daily: 

  • Block your right nostril with your thumb. 

  • Breathe in and out slowly, counting to 5, 8, or 10 on each inhale and exhale. 

  • Repeat on the other side. 


Pratyahara asks us to let go of life's distractions. You can do this today by reducing social media time, limiting television to one hour daily, or meditating for 20 minutes in the morning. Meditation can come in the form of walking or running, but keep those thoughts in check!


A state with no distractions is easier said than done. For dharana, you can practice transcendental meditation or focus on a flickering candle. 


Meditation can provide a deeper connection to yourself the more you practice it. You can learn meditation from Peloton instructors through the Peloton App.


You can work toward eternal bliss through your daily habits, including yoga and meditation. Humans are not linear, and our goals often change but by placing your focus on kindness, generosity, and honesty, you can achieve samadhi.

The Takeaway

The eight limbs of yoga are the pillars of cultivating a yoga practice that benefits your mind, emotions, spirituality, and body. You can improve your time on and off the mat by paying attention to these philosophies, as they provide a fantastic outline for living well. 

If you're ready to start a yoga practice, strengthening your body and mind, check out the extensive library of classes for all levels available on the Peloton App.


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