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Ashtanga Yoga: The Eight Steps Towards Better Life

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Patanjali Maharshi, whose Yoga Sutras date back to more than 2000 years, has shown to humanity that through the practice of yoga, a human being can gain mastery over his body, mind and intellect, which would further lay down the path to spiritual evolution.

The philosophy of yoga was first enunciated by the father of Yoga, Patanjali Maharshi, in his masterpiece called Yoga Sutras containing 186 aphorisms or sutras, more than 2000 years ago.2,3 According to him, ‘Yogah Chittavritti Nirodhaha’ meaning, yoga is the control of thought waves in the mind, gaining mastery over the mind and control over the mental modifications. In his Sutra (II-29), he says, ‘Yama Niyama Asana Pranayama Prathyahara Dhyana Dharana Samadhyoshtavangani’. Thus, in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, he has described the eight steps to yoga called the ‘Ashtanga Yoga’” or the 8-fold yoga for integration of the body, mind and spirit. Yoga is more than just a physical discipline. It is a way of life and a rich philosophical path.

Ashtanga Yoga literally means ‘eight-limbed yoga,’ as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the ‘Universal Self’ consists of the following eight spiritual practices (or eight steps):

  1. Yama
  2. Niyama
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi


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Yama espouses five ethical disciplines namely

  1. Ahimsa (non-violence)
  2. Satya (truth and honesty)
  3. Asteya (abstention from theft, or nonstealing)
  4. Brahmacharya ((continence or nongreed)
  5. Aparigraha (nonpossession)

These five commandments are universal in application and form the basis for the society’s morality and that of the individual.


Niyama are the rules of conduct or observances applicable to individual discipline. Sage Patanjali has listed five Niyamas namely

Saucha (habits of purity)

Santosha (contentment)

Tapas (austerity to burn impurities at the levels of body, mind and intellect)

Svaadhyaaya (study of scriptures and the self to motivate and inspire the seeker)

Isvara Pranidhana (devotion to the divine and dedication to the Lord, to connect ourselves to the cosmos)


Asana or posture is the third limb of yoga. This prepares one for meditation, as  disciplined body is required to control the mind. Patanjali had said, “Posture is mastered by freeing the body and mind from tension and restlessness and meditating on the infinite”.


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Pranayama is the fourth step and is the science of breath. It is the control of breath as Prana is the life force, which governs all of us through breath. The basic steps in pranayama are inhalation or inspiration (puraka), retention or holding the breath (kumbhaka) and exhalation or expiration (rechaka) by emptying the lungs. It is wellknown that rhythmic patterns of slow and deep breathing help in attaining longevity. Pranayama helps in achieving concentration and removing distractions making it easier to concentrate and mediate.


Pratyahara refers to the state of withdrawal of mind and the senses do not come into contact with their objects. Pratyahara, when mastered, will help in attaining focus and the senses are brought under control.


Dharana is the stage involving concentration in one place and training the mind to focus on one point. This stage can be reached after going through the first five stages successfully. The main objective is to calm the mind by focusing on an object like a point or flame.


Dhyana (or meditation) is the seventh step, wherein uninterrupted meditation is done without any object. Here, the objective is to create a sense of awareness and to establish oneness with the ‘Infinite’. Dhyana helps in achieving calm thereby strengthening one’s emotional and spiritual intelligence.


Samadhi is the last stage or limb where one is in a state of absolute bliss and merges with the real truth. The person in a state of Samadhi is fully conscious and alert. Those who achieve the state of Samadhi are enlightened souls who establish their linkages with God.

All the eight steps work in unison. The first five steps deal primarily with body and mind and lay a very strong foundation for the last three steps, enabling the person or sadhaka to recondition the mind to attain complete realization of oneness with the Absolute, and culminating in the integration of body, mind and soul.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 18, 2015

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