Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras- The 8 Limbs of Yoga

7:35 pm Raja Yoga, Science of Yoga

The Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali represent an excellent analysis on how one may obtain Union with the Divine. Patanjali sets forth the foundation upon which true Raja Yoga may be practiced. The steps, or 8 means of Yoga truly illustrate how one may achieve their goal. (I always have a challenge with the concept of acheiving a goal in Yoga, for one must practice detatchment and not be motivated by the fruits of their labor.)

In order to further my personal, and soul understanding of the Yoga Sutras I read:

The Light of the Soul

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Alice Bailey.

I found this text established proper foundation, and provided sound understandings of the Yoga Sutras. I supplemented this analysis with a perspective from:

The Tree of Yoga

by B.K.S Iyengar

For those of you with strong mental attributes, I would suggest the light of the soul. For those who would like a very simple practical approach to the Yoga Sutras, I would suggest The Tree of Yoga. For those who enjoy multiple perspectives I recommend both.

In this article I’ll provide an overview on the limbs of Yoga as well as the subjects presented by both authors, then add a little perspective of my own and from outside sources. I’ll be adding a little Christ Love and Buddha Wisdom as well.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras- The Steps to Union

By following the 8 means of Yoga one is able to achieve Samadhi, or Union. Patanjali presents them to us in a somewhat linear fashion, however, as with many Spiritual journeys one may find that within one step lies the secrets of achieving the others.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

  1. Yamas – Commandments
  2. Nijama – Rules
  3. Asana – posture or pose
  4. Pranayama – Life Force Energy Control
  5. Pratyahara – Abstration
  6. Dharana – Attention
  7. Dhyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – Union

(6 out of 8 from memory with a few mis-spellings the first time, not bad, but always opportunity to learn, which is why we write things)

The 8 Steps to Union Overview

(Overview taken from The Light of the Soul, noted above)

Yamas – Commandments

  1. Harmlessness
  2. Truth to all beings
  3. Abstention from theft
  4. Abstention from incontinence
  5. Abstention from avarice

Nijamas- Rules

  1. Internal and external purification
  2. Contentment
  3. Fiery Aspiration
  4. Spiritual reading (good on ya for visiting)
  5. Devotion to Ishvara

(The Ten Commandments)

The Yamas and the Nijamas are curiously related to the Ten Commandments. The masses of humanity may thank the Christ and Moses for education upon these first two steps of Yoga. The following was noted from The Holy Bible, Exodus 20, King James Version.

  1. I am the Lord thy God (Devotion to Ishvara)
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Devotion to Ishvara)
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain (Devotion to Ishvara, possibly Truth to all beings, when we consider a broader perspective of the Word)
  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Spiritual Reading, Fiery Aspiration)
  5. Honour thy father and they mother (If we take a Macro perspective of the Father and the Mother, we see devotion to Ishvara)
  6. Thou shall not kill (Harmlessness)
  7. Thou shall not commite adultery (Abstention from incontinence)
  8. Thou shall not steal (Abstention from theft)
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbour (Harmlessness, Truth to all beings)
  10. Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s house (Abstention from avarice, Contentment)

No keepin up with the Jones’ ;-)

Might i suggest that following these 10 commandments supports internal and external purification. These commandments, or rules provide a foundation in life upon which deeper understandings, and proximity to the Divine may be achieved.
(The Four Noble Truths)

It is interesting to bring a Buddhist perspective into our discussion as well. Lord Buddha, gave humanity The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. The cause of suffering is desire
  3. By ceasing desire we cease suffering
  4. The Noble 8 Foldpath is the way

I propose that when the Commandments, or Rules above are followed it builds a foundation of decreased suffering.

I’ve seen it written that we are due for the revealing of a 5th truth in the relatively near future. That should prove exciting indeed.

Asana- posture, or pose this provides the traditional Western perspective on what Yoga is all about. Hatha Yoga in particular is very popular in the West and well noted from the various Asanas which make up the practice. This step or means of achieving yoga supports purification of the system, and works to integrate the Mind, Body, Spirit interchange.

I’ve seen it written that Hatha Yoga was provided to humans during the Lemurian days. I’ve seen that Laya Yoga was provided during the Atlantean era. (Based on my readings on the Laya Yoga of old, it seems most similar to Kundalini Yoga) And that the Yoga that must not lead the way for human consciousness development is Raja Yoga.

Weather or not these sayings are true, do not matter. What matters most is that each is a part of another, and that with proper understanding of the whole, within each one may find the whole. That is to say, that within One, one may find the Whole.

Prior to reading the book listed above by Mr. Iyengar, I must admit I was not aware of the wholeness to be achieved through masterful implementation of Asana alone. Perfected Asana can encompass the means of Yoga to follow and thus work towards the goal of Union.

In my practice I’ve found that Kundalini Yoga provides an approach that integrates these steps of Yoga nicely. Thus both practices can be made into the Kingly Science of the Soul that is Raja Yoga.

Right Asana is key to this approach.

Pranayama- Life Force Energy Control (typically breath control) prana is life force energy, and yama is conrol, thus life force energy control. This is a broader subject than the typical representation of breath control. However, for the purpose of practice to a certain point of development, the focus is on breath control. So using the breath to guide the mind, the body and the soul through the asana. Pranayama is the name given to the practices in which one retains inhalation and or exhalation of the breath. It is also the name for specific types of breat, such as the Breath of Fire, in Kundalini.

I came to Kundalini first in this life time. I really appreciated its benefits and its use of pranayama is profound. Therefore, I believe the Kundalini Yoga system to support this means, or limb of Yoga most appropriately. That being said, its also written that only after mastery of asana should retention of the breath be practiced.

For this limb of Yoga I feel that ones soul will guide them to the expression of Yoga that best fits them. Should you be looking to enhance your pranayama practice, I suggest integrating Kundalini Yoga into your practice.

But what about the other forms of life force energy control. I suspect those should be left for between a Master and a student. It is enough to know that pranayama has additional means and practice.

Pratyahara- Abstraction in studying the text this term took some time for me to understand, now my understanding is better than where it started, but could probably use some strengthening. Abstraction is the withdrawl of the senses. This process reduces the minds tendancy to continually be grasping at thought forms.
My perspective is that the point of abstraction lies within the head of the yogin. That this point within the head is developed between the triangular interplay between the 6th chakra, the crown chakra and the center at the rear of the head. My current thinking is that the point of abstraction is closely related to the “Cave” a concept presented by William Meader in Shine Forth.

This is a Universal into an Individual process. Many of the previous steps focus on the individual preparation./p>

The Kundalini Yoga defitnition of Pratyahara, as noted in Guidelines for Sadhana (Daily Practice) Published by the Kundalini Research Institute, is, “…In this method you inject the universal mind into the individual mind by a concentration process.

This would naturally lead us to the next limb or step.

Dharana – Concentration once the withdrawl of the senese is achieved concentration must be nurtured.

“Concentration is the fixing of the chitta (mind stuff) upon a particular object “

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Light of the Soul.

I interpret this to mean that as it is fixated no additional thought forms are given attention, just the thought form of the particular object.
Patanjali provides many examples of things that can be a “particular object” such as the 1st chakra, or elephant.

Though not noted in the Yoga Sutras, I suspect a particular object could be a specific Asana. And that one pointed concentration on an Asana, can support this step to Union.

Dhyana – Meditation this is the process of prolonged concentration. To achieve concentration is realatively a straight forward task, to prolong that concentration, well that is True meditation.

One finds that the balance of what most call meditation is truly just abstration, mixed in with a few moments of concentration from time to time. Consistent, concentration, which is not easy, now that’s solid meditation. This leads to “…the restraining of the mind from its thought form making tendancies…”

That one always trips me up, the restraining of the mind from thought form making tendancies, so here I am using the mind to create thought forms in order to gain understanding of this information. And that very system which I am trying to understand tells me to restrain the thought forms. Not an easy task.

Again I would propose that through concentrated meditation one may take an Asana as the seed of an object.

Concentrated meditation, without a particular object “seedless” well that’s Samadhi.

Samadhi- Union Contemplation is another word for Samadhi. Samadhi is the typical word used to describe a Yogin who has achieved their goal of Union. I would propose that there are various levels of Union and that for the vast majority, Union, in this case relates to the personality ego in relation to the Soul. The Union between Soul and pure Spirit is achievable, as humanity has witnessed in the Christ, but not common at this stage of evolution.
Patanjali provided this frame work thousands of years ago and its applications are as relevant as ever. Given the shifts in consciousness available to humanity at this time, these steps will become more and more important for the soul education and nurturing we all require as humans.>

In reviewing this article, I found that the Ten Commandments and the Yoga Sutras would benefit from a comparrison to another path, that of the Middle Way.

(Noble 8 Fold Path)

We find many similarities between the Yoga Sutras and the Noble 8 Fold Path as set down from the Buddha, source. I’ve added some initial thinking based on the Limbs of Yoga.


  1. Right view (Abstraction)
  2. Right intention (Contentment, Fiery Aspiration)

Ethical Conduct


  1. Right speech (Truth)
  2. Right action (Asanas, Harmlessness)
  3. Right livelihood (Yamas and Nijamas, Pranayama from the perspective of life force energy control)

Mental Discipline (or Samadhi)


  1. Right effort (Fiery Aspiration, spiritual reading, Devotion to Ishvara)
  2. Right mindfulness (Abstraction, Concentration, Meditation)
  3. Right concentration (Concentration)

It’s very interesting that there is a strong Buddhist and Christian intermingling amongst the 8 Steps to Yoga. It’s almost like these teachings were put in place in order to reinforce specific aspects of the path to Union. ;-)

I hope you’ve found this information to be valuable. It has certainly helped me to group key concepts on this journey. Please add to the comments, and further this work!
I’ll leave you with this inspirational quote taken from The Master Yogi-

“Take my yoke upon you,… for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”

2 Responses

  1. hi Says:

    interesting post. thought you might enjoy this site about meditation and patanjali at

  2. hershel Says:

    thanks for the resource site

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