“Ashtanga Yoga” [ Eight limbs of Yoga]~ Part-3



The article is purely based on my studies, my thoughts, my concept, my beliefs, my experiences and self realization.
☆I found some link between modern science and teachings of ancient sages as mentioned in Vedanta, regarding Universe, Supreme Consciousness or the Ultimate truth , the Ultimate Reality whatever we say.
☆ The term “MAN” wherever used in this entire text is intended to consider as “HUMAN” irrespective of gender differences.
♡ Having gone through the Vedanta/ancient texts, commentaries, translated by different writers, translators, publishers on the same topic, I have tried my best to share the subject matter as I understood and convinced too. My intention is to reach to you with the topic that I found very useful for human lives. I am not good in English literature. Please give your valuable suggestions for the improvement and valuable inputs to make the text beneficial for mankind. 
☆ The Spiritual context is purely based on ancient sacred texts. Sanskrit slokas are taken from books and websites. There may be little variation in the translations and commentaries. I have shared my own views and explanations according to my concept gathered in the subject through experience and intuitions. There is no discrimination against any religion, race, cast or creed.  Your positive feedback will be highly appreciated. I am sure that the subject matter is highly logical and does not bring any conflict. Hope you will enjoy reading. Regards. NAMASTE.

"sankalpa prabhavan kamanas tyaktva sarvan asheshatah manasaivendriya gramam viniyamya samantatah shanaih shanair uparamed buddhya dhriti grihitaya atma sanstham manah kritva na kinchid api chintayet " :- from Bhagavad Gita-Ch-6/ver-24.
Lord Sri Krishna said : One should engage oneself in the practice of Yoga with determination and faith and not to be deviated from the path. One should abandon without exception, all material speculation and thus control all the senses on all sides of the mind.

This part is devoted to the discussion of ” Ashtanga Yoga”  : Eight Limbs according to Patanjali Yoga Sutras :-


In my previous blogs part-1 and part-2 of  “Ashtanga Yoga Sutras”, I have tried to explain about Yoga Philosophy and the basis of it. We have discussed four sutras of Samadhi Pada. A brief recap is presented here again. 

Four sections of Patanjali Yoga Sutras are as under:

  1. Samadhi Pada: The first section:  Portion on contemplation has 51 sutras. Samadhi refers to that state of the Yogi, where his Self-identity is absorbed into the pure consciousness with collapsing of three categories of Self (witness, witnessing and witnessed). Beyond this state it is “Kaivalya” (Liberation which is known as “moksha” in Vedanta). The essence of Patanjali’s Yoga sutra is in the second sutra: “Yogas citta-vritti-nirodah” which literary means “Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of the mind” . Target is to achieve the state of mind which is calm, tranquil and free of distortions. It is the control of thought waves in the mind. One must not have conflicts in the mind.
  2. Sadhana Pada: It has got 55 sutras: Sadhana means practices. Author describes two systems of Yoga.
    1. Kriya Yoga: which includes following steps: 
    a) Tapas (Austerity) ;
    b) Svadhyaya; (Self study of scriptures);
    c) Isvara pranidhana- devotion to God or pure consciousness.
    2. Ashtanga Yoga:    [We will focus here on “Ashtanga yoga”. ]
  3. Vibhuti Pada: This section has 56 sutras: This chapter describes about “Siddhi” (supra normal powers) which can be acquired by the practice of Yoga.
  4. Kaivalya Pada: 34 sutras: Describes the process of liberation (isolation) which is commonly known as emancipation (moksha) too.

    Maharshi Patanjali  divided the path of Yoga, also known as “Raja Yoga” into eight levels (Eight limbs) named “Ashtanga yoga”.  Kriya Yoga will be discussed in later parts.

As we know that Ashtanga means Eight Limbs. Ashta = Eight, Anga = Limbs. Eight limbs are : Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

Limbs literally  means "anga" in Sanskrit. All limbs together form the complete system Yoga to reach the final goal. We will frequently now call anga as a prime point of discussion here. Eight limbs can be treated as 8 steps.
  1. Yama: The first “anga”  consists of prohibitions against unethical deeds. These are basically restraints. Following are to be noted: 

2. Niyama : This second  limb (“anga” ) is composed of some injunctions to develop various ethical virtues. Following are the components of Niyama.

At first sight, these 5 yamas and 5 niyamas might seem to resemble the 10 commandments of the Bible. Unless an aspirant has mastered these two steps of discipline, practice of subsequent steps of yoga will be ineffective.

Sadhana Pada (portion on practice) :  teaches on ashtanga(eight limbs) ” 

Beginning of Sadhana Pada describes Kriya yoga. But we will discuss here ashtanga yoga which has been described in the later part. From 28th sutra onwards explains ashtanga yoga.

"Yoganganusthanad Asuddhi ksaye JnanadiptihrA vivekakhyteh" : (sutra 2.28:  from sadhana Pada ) which means-- By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities diminishes and light of wisdom appears which leads to discriminative discernment.

Yamas and Niyamas are basic foundation to develop a lifestyle that effectively supports your practice of meditation. If the foundation is  strong, then evidently state of mind will be ready enough to progress further. These first two angas direct control our behaviour. Without practicing Yamas and Niyamas sincerely and honestly, one can not have a mind free from stress and conflicts. All of you will agree to this point.

The next three angas asana, pranayama and pratyahara mandate certain kinds of control over our body, breath and senses respectively. Very important to practice these with full devotion. We will discuss one after other in sequence.

Now, we will look into the third “anga” asana : Let us see what sutra says on Asana? 

"sthira sukhamasanam" sutra 2.46: this means one must have practice to sit for a long period without feeling discomfort.

The third anga ” Asana” is important part of Ashtanga Yoga. The importance is to make spine held erect and relaxed with the three upper parts of the body, the chest, the neck and the head in a straight line. This is required for nerve currents to channelize for further improvement in concentration. In Yoga culture around the world , some asanas are taught, which are very complex and performed with great difficulties. As such, aspirants remain busy with the perfection of asanas. Finally the essence of Yoga gets spoiled. Since they concentrate on asanas only, other seven limbs do not get due attention. Practicing asanas only becomes a part of Hatha Yoga which is mainly concerned with the maintenance of the health and attainment of longevity of the body. Getting too much engrossed in asanas will make a man body minded only. But the object of  Yoga is to make a man rise above body consciousness. In Patanjali Yoga sutra, it is simply stated that poster should be stable and comfortable for meditation.

" jati desa kala samayna vacchinnah sarvabhauma mahavratam" sutra 2.31 

Let us look into a very important sutra 2.31 in Sadhana Pada. What it says?  In this Sutra Maharshi Patanjali says that these great vows are not limited to any class, place, time and circumstances. This path of Yoga is Universal. 

The fourth anga “pranayama”  commonly believed as control of breath but scholars says this is actually control of Universal Energy. The Prana  moves the whole Universe. Prana is believed to be a cosmic energy. It is prana vibrating at the beginning of cosmic cycle that shapes akasha (space) out of which all energies are evolved. Biological functions of all kinds are performed by this vital energy. The knowledge and control of this prana is known as pranayama. Let us see what Yoga sutra (2.49) says:-

"tasmin sati svasaprasvasayorgativicchedh pranayamh" sutra 2.49: This literally means that after practicing firm posture, the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled. This is "pranayama" and  Patanjali Sutra 2.49 to 2.52 says all about it.

Practice of pranayama is done after mastering asana. When pranayama is practiced under the guidance of right “Guru” (Teacher), one can have control over prana and it becomes possible to feel the vibrations which helps attaining higher insight. Initially one can feel that how pranayama is creating motion in lungs. Thereby ,the power generated will help the nerves in getting optimum functions. It is believed that Pranic healing, faith healing etc. are  the results of doing pranayama. I am not going into details of pranayama. Aspirants can have the knowledge of pranayama through further reading and doing under authorized Institutions. The Prana is very powerful energy. One should not play with cobra without a training from trainer. It is like that.

By regulating prana, we can regulate our mind, because both moves together. If one is controlled, the other will automatically be controlled. Finally we need a controlled mind.

Now we will discuss “pratyahara” the fifth anga.

1)"svavisayasamprayage cittasvarupanukara ivendriyanam pratyaharh". sutra 2.54: Which means: When the senses withdraw themselves from the objects and imitate, as it were, the nature of the mind-stuff, this is pratyahara. 
2) " tath
paramo vasystendriyanam" sutra 2.55:
This means : Then follows supreme mastery over the senses.
with this sutra the sadhana Pada ends here].

Our perceptions are developed through sensory inputs that we see, hear, feel, touch, and taste which influence internal organs in the brain and mind acts accordingly. We react through inputs received by our senses. If the inputs are not favourable to our expectations or wishes, we become unhappy, angry, depressed. Our minds are engaged constantly evaluating the inputs and categorize whether inputs are favourable or not. This is our reaction on 24X7 basis. Pratyahara gives our mind a moment to not evaluate and teaches us to be free from any reactions developed by senses. Now step by step we have reached to this point of Pratyahara.


In this section, sadhana Pada, we have discussed about the means to still the mind which is our final objective. So far we have discussed Five angas.  First two angas “Yamas” & “Niyamas” have ten guidelines which are very practical, logical, visionary for making a man free from all agonies, stress, miseries and sufferings. If followed properly, the person will definitely feel joy and peace of mind which will accompany to the bed at the end of the day. Who does not want a peaceful sleep?  

All practices as mentioned above will make ways for next higher stages which are Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Eight limbs constitute one complete path which leads the aspirant upwards. When the mind is set into a pattern, automatically one connection will be established with higher Self. That is individual’s experience which can be considered as Self-Realization.

Now we may compare these eight angas, the methods or process whatever we say, with Vedanta, how it would be? Let us look into:- 

In Vedanta we have seen , prequalification required for a person  is to be competent to understand and study sastras(Scriptures). The aspirant must have tranquil mind, with required attributes as described in Vedanta. After attainment of certain preliminary qualifications which are known as four salvations ,one can progress towards the direction of knowing Brahman. Four salvations are:

  1. “Nitya-anitya-vastuveveka” which means discrimination between the eternal and non eternal.
  2. ” IhamutrarthaphalabhogaViraga” : Indifference to the joys in this life or in in Heaven, and of the fruits of one’s action.
  3. ” Shatsampat” : Six fold virtues that are : i) Sama (Control of mind), ii) Dama ( Control of senses),iii) Uparati (Cessation from worldly enjoyments), iv) Titiksha ( Endurance of pleasure and pain, heat and cold), v) Sraddha (Faith), vi) Samadhana (Deep concentration).
  4. “Mumukshautva” (Desire for liberation).
What we see above is that point number 3  "Shatsampat"  the Six fold virtues has enough resemblance with the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

In the next part, part-4 we will discuss last three angas, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi which mandate specific practices to control our mind which is most essential part in this philosophy. 

Notes:-  Having gone through all the books listed below, I have composed this blog as a concise text for Ashtanga Yoga.  

Recommended readings:

  1. Patanjali Yoga Sutras: commentary By Swami Vivekananda.
  2. FOUR YOGAS OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA :Condensed and retold by Swami Tapasyananda.
  3. Patanjal Yogasutra : Commentary , by Swami Premeshananda.
  4. Inside the Yoga Sutras- By Reverend Jaganath Carrera.
  5. Four Chapters on Freedom- By Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

My sincere request to the esteemed readers to share their opinion or queries. Any suggestion to make the site attractive will be highly helpful for me.  Readers are requested to read part-1 to have continuation of the topic from the beginning. My mail ID is : 

Thank you. Regards!  NAMASTE ! JAI GURU!

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