The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The word yoga can be translated into “union,” and in the practice of yoga we are celebrating the union of our mind, body, soul and spirit. The first practices of yoga were developed in India, dating back somewhere between 1500 BC to 1200 BC. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that yoga masters began to travel to the West to introduce and promote their practice. Now, over 2 million Canadians are practicing yoga, and the interest and number of practitioners continues to grow every day. 

Unfortunately though, our Western society predominantly only focuses on 1 of the 8 limbs or branches of yoga that were developed by Patanjali many many years ago. Most of us are unaware that the other 7 limbs even exist!

When someone says the word “Yoga” to you, what comes to mind? Downward facing dog? Balancing? A leisurely form of exercise? Lululemon yoga pants? Yes, yoga is all of these things (except for the Lululemon part, although, who doesn’t love them?!), but it also has so much more to offer than we Westerners are take advantage of.

Yoga began as various chants and rituals, but most importantly as a way of life aimed as achieving salvation or “moksha”. Over time, yoga was refined and developed by different yogis, and around 200BC, the first systematic presentation of yoga was written in Patanjalis Yoga Sutra. It was in these writings that the 8 limbs of Yoga were given.

The 8 Limbs are as follows;

Yamas: The rules of moral code which includes non-harming or non-violence in thought, word, and deed, truthfulness, non-stealing, proper use of energy and non-greed or non-hoarding.

Niyamas: The rules of personal behaviour which includes purity, contentment, discipline, austerity or burning enthusiasm, study of the self and of the texts and surrender to a higher being or contemplation of a higher power.

Asana: Refers to the yoga postures we know in our western yoga practice. Initially, the purpose of these asanas was to prepare the body to sit still in meditation.

Pranayama: Yoga breathing techniques designed to control your prana or “vital life force”.

Pratyahara: Means the withdrawal of the senses.

Dharana: Refers to concentration.

Dhyana: The practice of meditation.

Samadhi: Merging with the divine.

Living by these 8 Limbs is what it means to be a student of yoga. How our shadow sides present themselves and affect both us and the people around us, and what life is really all about. (Big stuff, I know!)

So...a little breakdown. The Yamas and Niyamas are suggestions on how to deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. Taking these suggestions on board makes life easier, reducing both the amount of drama and the amount of karma we create.


The yoga postures or “Asanas” that we know and practice today provide many benefits and are an important component in yoga, BUT they are only 1 of the 8 limbs, and they are all equally important. Traditionally, meditation was done in a lotus position, (a difficult form of cross-legged. Google-it, it’s a very tricky pose!) and the asanas were actually developed for the purpose of opening and preparing the body to sit in this meditation position comfortably.

Then, the next three limbs, Pranayama (breathing techniques), Pratyahara (withdrawal of your senses) and Dharana (concentration) all lead towards the practice of Dhyana (meditation), which then leads to your highest self. (We all want to be our best version right!?)

Meditation, is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. It’s no wonder that the interest in this practice has been growing significantly in more recent years due to its long list of benefits!

  • Reduces stress
  • Controls anxiety 
  • Promotes positivity 
  • Enhances self-awareness 
  • Lengthens attention span 
  • Improves memory 
  • Improves sleep 
  • Increases self control 
  • Helps to fight addictions or cravings 

Anyone can learn how to meditate, it just takes practice! Your brain is a muscle that you need to train, just like every other muscle in your body!

So there you have it! Yoga is much more than warriors and headstands, it’s about becoming a warrior in every aspect of your life. Together, all of these 8 limbs can contribute to you living a happier and healthy life!

About the Author: 

Emilie Rose joined the LiveWell family in August of 2014 as a Registered Massage Therapist, shortly after receiving an advanced diploma from Georgian College. After participating in a Rotary Youth Exchange to Brazil for a year prior to post secondary, she became an active member of the Rotary Club of Mitchell. Emilie loves to travel, and most recently, her travels took her to Southeast Asia, where she completed her 200 hr Yoga teacher training. She practices both Vinyasa and Yin yoga and will be bringing these teachings to LiveWell. Emilie really enjoys food - cooking, baking, eating, she enjoys being outdoors and active and as a former dancer, she loves a good musical!