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About Yoga & Ashtānga Yoga

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

“The way of establishing the mind within the Ātman should be known as yoga.” ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

◇ About Yoga ◇ About Ashtānga Yoga ◇ The 8 Limbs of Yoga ◇ The 15 Limbs of Yoga ◇ History of Yoga ◇


Yoga is the unified use of body, breath & mind for the purpose of becoming a healthier, happier, more balanced and present human being. Yoga produces greater coordination, flexibility, strength, vitality & mental clarity while reducing tension & disease producing stress. Yoga leads us towards freedom!

“Yoga is – citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ – the controlling of the mind. If we are sitting here, but our mind is not here, then it has gone elsewhere. To control the mind, to bring it back, that is Yoga.” - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Nama Rupa, p. 10, Spring 2003


Ashtānga Yoga begins with the practice of a specific sequence of postures (āsanas) synchronized together with breath and movement (vinyāsa). The sequence begins with sun salutations (sūrya namaskāras), then progresses through standing and seated postures, and finishes with a seated breathing practice. As an extensive system, the Ashtānga sequence is divided into six parts commonly known as Primary (cikitsā vibhāga), Intermediate (nāḍī śodhana), and Advanced A, B, C & D (sthira vibhāga).

The Foundation: Ashtānga Yoga is founded upon even breathing, core strength (bandhas) and gazing (drishti). These components create continuity and stability while practicing the sequence, and when done correctly, ensures progress unfolds safely and successful while cleansing & strengthening both the mind & body.

"[T]he practice of āsana is spoken of in the śāstras – āsanam pūrvam ucyate – as coming first. Why? We do not have enough energy in the body; the body is very weak. We do not have the listening power to comprehend things clearly. If we have enough śakti, energy, then it is possible to get things accomplished. That is why we must first do āsana." ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Nama Rupa, p. 10, Spring 2003

Ashtānga Yoga – literally: eight limb yoga – means Yama (ethical restraint), Niyama (personal improvements), Āsana (physical posture), Prāṇāyāma (breath & bio rhythm control), Pratyāhāra (control of senses), Dhāraṇā (steady focus), Dhyāna (deep concentration), and Samādhi (meditative absorption). Āsana and Prāṇāyāma (the 3rd and 4th limbs) form the foundation of yoga. By practicing these two limbs every day for a long time with faith, enthusiasm & dedication, the other limbs are developed and understood.

"For the yogin who seeks to climb the mountain - to reach the peak - of yoga, practice is said to be the means; as regards the yogin who has already reached this peak of yoga, equanimity and meditation directly on the eternal (śama) is said to be the means." ~ Bhagavad Gītā, Ch. 6 v. 3


Aṣṭāṅga Yoga अष्टाङ्गयोग – From the Pātañjala Yoga Sūtras, 2.29 to 3.03:

Yama यम:

Ahiṁsā अहिंसा – Non-harming & not being mean,

Satya सत्य – Truthfulness that follows Ahiṁsā,

Asteya अस्तेय – Non-stealing of intellectual & material property,

Brahmacarya ब्रह्मचर्य – Appropriate relationships,

Aparigraha अपरिग्रह – Not taking things inappropriately or unnecessarily.

Niyama नियम:

Śauca शौच – Mental & physical purity,

Saṁtoṣa संतोष – Self-contentment,

Tapas तपस् – Mental & physical discipline,

Svādhyāya स्वाध्याय – Mindfluness, practice & study of yoga philosophy,

Īśvara Praṇidhāna ईश्वरप्रणिधान – Equanimity, non-attachment to thoughts, actions & results, trust in a nature, God or something other than self.

Āsana आसन – The body organized with a straight back and smooth even breathing.

Prāṇāyāma प्राणायाम – While doing āsana correctly, rough, uneven and strained breathing is avoid, that is prāṇāyāma.

Pratyāhāra प्रत्याहार – Directing the senses inward toward the physiological Self.

Dhāraṇā धारणा – Containing the mind within a chosen place of attention; there is awareness of object, meditator & surroundings.

Dhyāna ध्यान – An intensification of dhāraṇā wherein concentration flows in a single stream such that there is only awareness of object & meditator; all else has faded.

Samādhi समाधि – An intensification of dhyāna wherein there is no longer any self-awareness – only the object of meditation shines forth; it is as if the meditator has become the object of meditation.

"Yama, niyama, āsana and prāṇāyāma are the external practices. The internal practices are pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi… If the āsanas are not correct, correcting is possible. If prāṇāyāma is not correct, correcting is possible… [However, if the internal practices] are not correct, correcting is impossible… [I]f you do the correct method, then correction on the internal practices is possible… [viz.] if the first is correct, the second will also be correct." ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: A Tribute, 2002


from the Aparokṣānubhūti by Ādi Śaṅkarācārya

v. 100: Now for the attainment of [the knowledge of brahman], I shall expound the fifteen limbs of yoga through which one may practice profound meditation.

ripañcāṅgāny atho vakṣye pūrvoktasya hi labdhaye,

taiś ca sarvaiḥ sadā karyaṁ nididhyāsanam eva tu.

v. 102 - 103: The fifteen limbs, in order, are described: yama, niyama, tyāga (relinquishing), mauna (silence), deśa, kāla, āsana, mūla-bandha, deha-sāmya (evenness of body), dṛk sthiti (steadiness of seeing), prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, ātma-dhyāna, and samādhi.

yamo hi niyamas tyāgo maunaṁ deśaś ca kālatā,

āsanaṁ mūlabandhaś ca dehasāmyaṁ ca dṛksthitiḥ.

prāṇasamyamanaṁ caiva pratyāhāraś ca dhāraṇā,

ātmadhyānaṁ samādhiś ca proktāny aṅgāni vai kramāt.

Yama यम: Restraint of the senses by directly realizing everything as Brahman (God, Supreme Reality) is correctly called yama; this should be practiced repeatedly.

sarvaṁ brahmeti vijñānād indrayagrāmasaṁyamaḥ,

yamo ‘yam iti saṁprokto ‘abhyasaniyo muhurmuhuḥ. (v. 104)

Niyama नियम: The continuous flow of only one thought, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, is calledniyama; indeed, the wise derive a very special bliss from the practice of niyama.

sajātīyapravāhaś ca vijātīyatiraskṛtiḥ,

niyamo hi parānando niyamāt kriyate budhaiḥ. (v. 105)

Tyāga त्याग: Abandoning the illusory nature of things by realizing the all conscious Ātman (the Eternal Self, God within) is true renunciation honored by the wise because it is the nature of immediate mokṣa (liberation).

tyāgaḥ prapañcarūpasya cid ātmatvāvalokanāt,

tyāgo hi mahatāṁ pūjyaḥ sadyo mokṣamayo yataḥ. (v. 106)