What are the 8 Stages of Yoga?


Yoga is an ancient practice that has become incredibly popular in recent years. With its focus on breathwork, meditation, and physical postures, yoga provides a holistic approach to exercise and wellbeing.

What are the 8 Stages of Yoga?

But for beginners, yoga can seem complicated and even mystical. You may have heard advanced yogis talk about things like chakras, prana, or the eight limbs of yoga, and wondered what it all means.

The eight limbs describe the stages that a yoga practitioner moves through on their journey towards spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. Understanding these eight steps provides helpful context on the true meaning behind yoga.

In this beginner's guide, we will break down the eight limbs of yoga in simple terms to help you understand the yoga path.

What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

The eight limbs of yoga provide a step-by-step roadmap that guides a yogi from ignorance to enlightenment. These stages were first described by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, a collection of 196 aphorisms on the theory and practice of yoga.

The eight limbs are:

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

Let's look at each of these stages in more detail.

Stage 1: Yama - Social Disciplines

Yama refers to a set of social disciplines designed to guide our behavior and interactions with others. The five yamas are:

  • Ahimsa (nonviolence) - Practicing compassion and non-harming toward all living beings, including oneself.
  • Satya (truthfulness) - Living honestly and truthfully, including not exaggerating or deceiving others.
  • Asteya (non-stealing) - Not taking or using anything that does not belong to us without permission. Respecting what belongs to others.
  • Brahmacharya (moderation) - Practicing self-restraint and avoiding excess in all areas of life. Moderating indulgences.
  • Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) - Avoiding greed and excessive accumulation of possessions or wealth. Letting go of attachment to material objects.

The yamas remind us to cultivate virtues like compassion, honesty, respect, moderation and detachment in our interactions with others.

Stage 2: Niyama - Personal Disciplines

After the social focus of yama comes niyama, which addresses our personal habits and lifestyle. The five niyamas are:

  • Saucha (cleanliness) - Maintaining cleanliness of the body, mind, and environment.
  • Santosha (contentment) - Cultivating contentment and acceptance of where we are in the present moment.
  • Tapas (discipline) - Practicing self-discipline, austerity, and commitment to yoga. Undertaking challenges to strengthen willpower.
  • Svadhyaya (self-study) - Studying spiritual texts, introspecting, and seeking deeper self-knowledge.
  • Ishvarapranidhana (surrender) - Letting go of ego and surrendering to the divine will rather than our limited egoic desires.

The niyamas encourage habits like cleanliness, discipline, reflection and surrender to support our spiritual growth.

Stage 3: Asana - Physical Postures

Asana refers to the physical yoga postures and sequences practiced in yoga classes. Asana serves several purposes:

  • Improves flexibility, balance, and strength
  • Develops mind-body awareness and coordination
  • Prepares the body for long periods of meditation
  • Releases stress and tension from the body

While asana practice is extremely popular in modern yoga, it is still just one step on the eight limb path. Mastering advanced postures alone will not lead to enlightenment. Asana practice supports spiritual growth by promoting a healthy body and concentrated mind.

Stage 4: Pranayama - Breath Control

Pranayama involves controlling our breathing through techniques like abdominal breathing, alternate nostril breathing, bellows breath and breath retention.

These practices are designed to:

  • Improve breathing efficiency
  • Calm the nervous system
  • Enhance vitality
  • Purify the energy channels (nadis)
  • Awaken inner energy (prana or chi)

As prana means 'life force', pranayama allows us to regulate our subtle life energies and direct them in support of spiritual development.

Stage 5: Pratyahara - Withdrawal of Senses

Pratyahara marks the transition from external to internal practices. It involves withdrawal of the senses from external distractions and a turning inwards of our attention.

We temporarily minimize inputs from our 5 senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) to calm the mind. This withdrawal prepares us for the three stages of internal focus and concentration.

Stage 6: Dharana - Focused Concentration

Dharana involves developing and extending our powers of concentration. Where pratyahara withdraws the senses, dharana actively fixes our mental focus on a single point.

Common dharana practices include:

  • Concentrating on the flame of a candle
  • Gazing meditations on images of deities
  • Mantra repetition focusing on the sound
  • Intently observing the flow of breath

Dharana helps train the mind to concentrate without distractions, allowing deeper states of meditation.

Stage 7: Dhyana - Sustained Meditation

While dharana emphasizes single-pointed focus, dhyana extends this to an unbroken flow of sustained concentration.

In dhyana, the mind remains free of distractions while maintaining awareness on the object, thought or mantra. Dhyana is commonly described as the state of meditation where the mind achieves stillness and oneness with the object.

Prolonged periods of dhyana lead to the highest state of samadhi.

Stage 8: Samadhi - Blissful Union

Samadhi represents the pinnacle of meditative absorption, where the mediator’s consciousness merges and unites with the object of concentration.

During samadhi, a deep state of inner stillness is experienced, along with transcendence of ego and subject-object duality. Here the yogi discovers the mystical bliss, energy and interconnectedness underlying all reality.

This state of undifferentiated unity is the ultimate goal of yoga and the gateway to enlightenment.

The sequential progression through the eight limbs leads from external virtues and disciplines to inner stillness, self-realization and spiritual emancipation. While few of us will achieve the advanced states of meditative absorption, the eight limbs provide a valuable framework for spiritual growth.

Now that you understand the stages, where are you currently on your journey along the eight limbs? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Progress Through the Eight Limbs of Yoga

Many newcomers drawn to the physical fitness benefits of yoga are unaware of the complete system of spiritual development encoded in the eight limbs.

While few attain the advanced stages of meditation, all yoga students can benefit from understanding the progression of the eight limbs.

Below are some suggestions for how to incorporate the limbs into your practice at whatever your current level may be.

Yama and Niyama - The ethical foundations of yoga are accessible to all. We can reflect on how well we are cultivating virtues like non-violence, truthfulness, cleanliness and contentment in our daily lives.

Asana - Include asana in your routine to develop physical health and mental focus. But do not equate yoga solely with physical postures. Respect your body's limits and avoid strain or competition.

Pranayama - Experiment with basic breathing exercises like three-part breath and alternate nostril breathing to calm the mind. But approach advanced pranayama cautiously by working with a teacher.

Pratyahara - Unplug from devices and external inputs for brief periods to unwind. Silence notifications and withdraw attention from sensory distractions.

Dharana - Focus your full attention on a single activity you do throughout the day, whether walking, eating, working or reading. Minimize multitasking.

Dhyana - Try short 5-10 minute meditations focusing on the breath or repeating a mantra. Gradually extend these sessions as concentration improves.

Samadhi - Let go of seeking this advanced state. Allow your practice to unfold naturally, focusing on the journey itself rather than the destination.

While mastery of yoga's higher stages may be distant, we can all make progress along the eight limbs today. By understanding the components of the eightfold path, we can walk this profound journey with intention - bringing us greater peace and purpose with each step forward.

How Yoga and Meditation Can Support Your Wellness Journey

For many, discovering yoga and meditation is the first step on a path of improved health, energy and inner calm. While yoga is not a panacea for all of life's challenges, a regular practice can promote wellbeing in numerous ways.

Here are some of the top benefits of yoga for your mind and body:

Builds Strength and Flexibility

The physical postures in yoga build core strength, balance, flexibility and joint health. Yoga helps prevent muscle atrophy and mobility limitations that often come with aging. A stronger, more limber body prevents injury and boosts confidence.

Relieves Stress

Yoga lowers levels of cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones linked to stress. Deep breathing triggers the relaxation response, while the mental focus required for poses distracts from anxious thoughts.

Reduces Inflammation

Studies show that yoga decreases inflammatory markers in the body. Chronic inflammation contributes to numerous diseases, including arthritis, diabetes and heart disease. Yoga's anti-inflammatory effects protect long-term health.

Lowers Blood Pressure

High blood pressure puts serious strain on the heart and circulatory system. The breathing and meditation practices in yoga have been shown to decrease blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Promotes Better Sleep

Insomnia and sleep disturbances are very common today. The relaxing effects of yoga help initiate the body's sleep-wake cycles, allowing deeper and more restful sleep at night.

Boosts Immunity

Yoga has been linked to an increase in natural killer cells - the white blood cells that defend against viruses and cancer. Yoga also reduces cortisol levels, which can suppress immune function when elevated.

Heightens Mind-Body Awareness

Yoga teaches us to tune into physical sensations within the body. This awareness equips us to notice signs of pain or disease and address them proactively.

Cultivates Mindfulness

The non-judgmental observation of meditation helps counteract negative thought patterns. With regular practice, meditation creates a mindful, present-moment awareness that relieves anxiety, frustration and regret.

Deepens Breathing

Most people take shallow, incomplete breaths in the chest. Yoga breathing exercises train us to breathe fully and deeply down into the abdomen, ensuring fresh oxygen perfuses the whole body. Proper breathing has wide-ranging benefits.

Offers Spiritual Connection

For many devoted practitioners, the purpose of yoga extends far beyond physical exercise. Yoga provides a framework for unity with the deepest, wisest parts of ourselves, allowing our lives to be guided from a place of inner calm and clarity.

The benefits of yoga are both immediate and long-term. A yoga practice can be lifelong journey towards health of body, mind and spirit.

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The journey towards health involves integrating practices that align with our values and benefit our body, mind and spirit. Whether we seek physical vitality, inner calm or self-awareness, yoga and holistic therapies like CBD oil provide accessible tools for living a more balanced life.

What is the history behind the 8 limbs of yoga?

The eight-limb path of yoga (also called ashtanga yoga or raja yoga) was first systematized in the ancient Yoga Sutras text attributed to the Hindu sage Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras were compiled sometime between 500 BCE to 400 CE, condensing earlier oral traditions on the philosophical and spiritual practice of yoga. Patanjali's eight-limbed system provided a structural framework for achieving the state of abhyasa, meaning persistent spiritual practice to unite body, mind and soul.

Do I need to master one limb completely before moving to the next?

The eight limbs are seen as eight aspects of a holistic yoga practice, not strictly linear steps. While following the sequence does provide progressive stages of inner development from yama to samadhi, the limbs are often cultivated simultaneously. For instance, you can practice asana and pranayama at the same time. However, advanced stages like samadhi integrate mastery of the previous limbs.

How do the 8 limbs of yoga relate to the physical postures and breathing exercises I practice in yoga classes?

The physical yoga postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) are just two of the eight limbs. In Patanjali's system, asana and pranayama serve more as preparation for meditation rather than as ends in themselves. Regular asana practice brings health to the body and stability to the mind, creating the foundation for spiritual growth through inner focus and contemplation.

Do I need to adopt unfamiliar principles like non-attachment to use the 8 limbs framework?

The ethical precepts and self-discipline practices in the first two limbs (yama and niyama) may require shifts from habitual behaviors for those new to yoga philosophy. However, the core virtues like non-violence, honesty and cleanliness tend to align with common values. Focusing on cultivating virtues you already prize can make the abstract principles feel more accessible.

What are some practices that embody the different limbs besides just yoga postures? Here are some examples:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence): Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet
  • Satya (truthfulness): Admitting when you make a mistake
  • Tapas (discipline): Waking up early for morning yoga practice
  • Svadhyaya (self-study): Journaling for self-reflection
  • Asana: Incorporating standing, seated and reclining poses into your routine
  • Pranayama: Practicing Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing
  • Pratyahara: Observing a tech sabbath or screen-free day
  • Dharana: Repeating a mantra during meditation

How do I prevent injuries when attempting advanced yoga postures?

Proper alignment and adjustment of poses is essential to prevent injury. Never force your body into a posture or push through sharp pain. Build flexibility gradually over time. Learn safe alignment cues from experienced teachers. For challenging poses, use props like blocks and straps to support the body. Avoid competitive attitudes, and honor your body's limitations in each practice.

Can the 8 limbs philosophy be applied to other areas of my life beyond formal yoga practice?

Absolutely. The wisdom of the eight limbs extends far beyond the mat. For example, you can practice non-violence through your diet, speech and conduct with others. Cultivating discipline, self-reflection and concentration will support your performance in school or work. Seeing life through the lens of yoga philosophy empowers you to align your actions with your values and act from a place of authenticity.

What are other resources for learning about the ancient foundations of yoga?

Some recommend texts include the Bhagavad Gita, texts on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Reading the source material allows you to deepen your understanding of yoga philosophy beyond simplified modern interpretations. However, these classical works require study and guidance to comprehend fully. Take your time parsing the language and translating concepts into practical daily rituals.


The eight limbs of yoga provide a framework for achieving spiritual enlightenment through yoga practice. These stages were first outlined by the Hindu sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The first limb, Yama, refers to ethical disciplines including nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual moderation, and non-possessiveness. Niyama represents personal observances for self-purification such as cleanliness, contentment, discipline, introspection, and surrender to a higher power. Asana refers to the physical yoga postures for conditioning the body and mind. Pranayama involves breath control techniques to regulate energy flow in the body. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from external distractions as preparation for meditation. Dharana means developing focused concentration by fixing one's mental gaze on a single point without wavering. Dhyana involves sustained, uninterrupted concentration where the mind achieves stillness and complete absorption in the object of meditation. Finally, Samadhi represents the pinnacle of meditation where the subject-object duality dissolves and the yogi's individual consciousness merges into unity with the Divine. While dedicated practice is required to attain the higher stages of yoga, the eight limbs provide a valuable step-by-step framework for progressing on the spiritual path.

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