Maharshi Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga

Pre-requisite : YOGA, definition and a brief introduction to origin, history and development of YOGA <Do read this blog 1st for better understanding.>

Maharshi Patanjali in his Patanjali Yoga Sutras (PYS) gives Ashtanga Yoga i.e. 8 limbs of Yoga in 2nd & 3rd chapters called Sādhana Pāda & Vibhūti Pāda. The following sutra gives the 8 steps of yoga.

Yama + Niyama + Āsana + Prānāyāma + Pratyāhāra + Dhāranā + Dhyāna + Samādhayo ‘ stāva + Angāni (PYS 2.29)


The 8 limbs of Yoga are:


Ahimsā + Satya + Asteya + Brahmacharya + Āparigraha + Yamāh (PYS 2.30)

Yamas refer to the observances and restraints that regulate our interaction with others, they take care of our social equation. The 5 Yamas given by Patanjali are –

  1. Ahimsā – Non-violence in thought, word and deed.
  2. Satya – Truthfulness in thought, word and deed.
  3. Asteya – Non-stealing of material / non-material things.
  4. Brahmacharya – Celibacy <for Sanyasis> or moderation in sensual / sexual pleasures <for householders>.
  5. Āparigraha – Non-possessiveness or non-hoarding.

Patanjali mentions, these Yamas are to be followed irrespective of caste, place, time & circumstances, i.e. they cannot be any excuses of not following the Yamas!


Śauca + Santosa + Tapah + Svādhyaya + Īśvara + Pranidhānāni + Niyamāh (PYS2.32)

Niyamas refer to the observances and restraints that regulate and govern our personal life, they take care of our personal equation. The 5 Niyamas given by Patanjali are –

  1. Śaucha – Physical & mental purity / hygiene
  2. Santosa – Contentment, an ever-present happy state of mind i.e. to be content and satisfied with what we have.
  3. Tapas – Austerity – training & purifying the senses. It means a Yogi might have to face some hurdles / difficulties  and he must have a determined mind to overcome them and continue in the path of Yoga. This is possible if you have the zeal for Yoga. The following 3 kinds of tapas are mentioned in Bhagavad Geeta:
    • Worship of the Divine, the spiritual preceptor, and elders; observing cleanliness, simplicity, celibacy and nonviolence are the austerities of the body.
    • Avoiding offensive speech, and speaking truth, sweetly and beneficially; practicing scriptural texts (Vedic recitation) is considered austerity of speech.
    • Mind-at-peace, gentleness, self-control and purity of thought are the austerities of the mind.
  4. Svādhyāya – Self-study of scriptures, listening to discourses of learned people, being in company of truthful and like-minded people.
  5. Iśvara Pranidhāna – Surrender to Iśvara / GOD. Having the attitude of what ever one achieves is because of God’s will helps kill ego and makes one humble.

Tapah, Svādhyāya & Iśvara Pranidhāna are together called Kriya Yoga.


Sage Patanjali in his Patanjali Yoga Sutra’s defines āsana as

Sthiram + Sukham + Āsanam (PYS 2.46)

Āsana is a physical posture that is steady & comfortable.

Prayatna + Saithilya + Anantha + Samapattibhyam (PYS 2.47)

By practicing again & again and by meditating on infinity (we can think of endless sky) and adopting a relaxed posture, asana will become steady and comfortable. In the performance of asana, efforts have to progressively reduce and the mind should be tuned to infinity.

Tataha + Dvandva + Anabhighata (PYS 2.48)

From that (asanas) there is no assailment from conflicts. Patanjali tells that the effect of asanas is mental in nature i.e. freedom from conflicts. Thus by practising āsana and controlling the body and making it fit & healthy, one is to gain mastery over the modifications of the mind…


Tasmin + Sati + Śvāsa + Praśvāsayoh + Gatih + Vicchedah + Prānāyāmah (PYS 2.49)

When one has gained control over the body by practice of Asanas, they should start practicing Pranayama which is to understand and control the prana. Which can be achieved though observation and control of the movement of breath – inspiration & expiration.

Patanjali talks about four types of breath control – modification of inhalation <abhyantara vrtti / puraka> , modification of exhalation <bāhya vrtti / rechaka> , stoppage of breath as a modification <antara & bāhya kumbaka> & one which is beyond the movement of breath internally & externally <kevala kumbaka>. Prana will become prolonged and subtle when Puraka, Rechaka & Kumbhaka are regulated by place, time & frequency. Practice of pranayama, diminishes the impurities covering the spark of reality in us to the point of disappearance, thereby making the mind fit for dharana.


Sva + Visaya + Asamprayoge + Citta + Sva + Rūpa + Anukāra + Iva + Indriyānām + Pratyāhārah (PYS 2.54)

It refers to withdrawal of senses from their respective objects like the tortoise withdraws its limbs into the safety of its shell. Pratyahara is the bridge between the first four limbs called bahiranga yoga & and last three limbs called antaranga yogai.e. it marks the transition of mind from its extrovertedness to introvertedness.


Patanjali defines dharana as –

Deśa + Bandha + Chittasya +Dhārāna (PYS 3.1)

Confinement of chitta to one place i.e. part of your body / object is dharana. It is intense focussing / concentrating the mind on one place / object. This is the first stage of meditation in Patanjali’s Yoga.

All these first six limbs involve things that we need to do where as the next two limbs are things that happen to you – dhyana & samadhi.


Patanjali defines dhyana as –

Tattra + Pratyaya + Ektāntra + Dhyānam (PYS 3.2)

Therein (in dharana / concentration) when there is stretchedness of only one experience i.e. continuous flow of mind towards an object / place chosen for meditation, it is dhyana. In dharana / concentration all the efforts are directed towards keeping distraction away. When these efforts succeed and there are no distractions, that state of minds called dhyana.


Tat + Eva + Artha + Mātra + Nirbhāsa + Sva + Rūpa + Śūnyam + Iva + Samādhih (PYS 3.3)

The mind appears to have lost its own identity when only the object chosen for meditation is shining in it. This state is called Samādhih. In dharana & dhyana, there are 3 elements – the meditator, the process of meditation & the object chosen for meditation. In the state of Samādhih, the meditator & the process of meditation as if disappear and only the object of meditation shines forth. Patanjali mentions types of this state of Samādhihs – Sabeeja Samādhih, Nirbeeja Samādhih & Dharma Megha Samādhih – it is in this last state of Samādhih that kaivalya / self realisation happens, wherein chitta vritti nirodha <remember, this was the definition that Patanjali initially gave for yoga, it means yoga is to gain mastery over the modifications of the mind> finally takes place.

The last 3 limbs i.e dharana, dhyana & samadhi – together comprise meditation in Patanjali’s Yoga and when they happen together, it is referred to as samyama by Patanjali.

Patanjali also mentions that the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, when done with fervour & determination , leads to disappearance of impurities, illumination of knowledge, enlightened discrimination between purusa & prakriti!

Found the blog informative? Give it a thumbs up 👍 and subscribe for blog updates. I do conduct Patanjali Yoga āsanas, prānāyama & meditation 🧘🏻‍♀️ online classes as nirvāṇa yoga … People who are interested in joining do get in touch with me for further details. Thankyou! 

References: Certification of YOGA Professionals GuidebookPatanjali Yoga Sutras – made easy by Dr. Padiki Nagaraja Rao, Raja Yoga

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Hello & Namasthe ! I am Swetha Reddem, a software professional turned yoga professional ( YIC & M.Sc.Yoga from SVYASA Yoga University and teaching yoga since 2018). I have a 8+ years young naughty boy and another one 30+ years young (my husband 😊) . And about my likes - I love ❤️ doing yoga, nothing feels more relaxing than that, photography 📸 , gardening 👩‍🌾 n reading books on Yogic lore. Am a nature lover 🌴 and would try my best not to harm it and a vegetarian by choice from almost 2 decades. Am a DIYer - n prepare most stuff that all my family 👪 n home 🏡 needs from organic grooming n beauty products 👄 👁 👣 💆 to home cleaners and food 🍲🍨🍧🥗🍦🍰🍪🥞🍕🍹 . I am inspired by the zero waste movement, minimalism & eco friendly lifestyle. I would love to share the recipes and my thoughts with you all!

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