Ashtanga is an eightfold path described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra.

It means "eight limbs" (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps are meant to guide you for living a worthy and meaningful life.

Their purpose is to set forth and ensure proper moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they help you to maintain your health and acknowledge and follow the spiritual norms of life.

Having attended the yoga classes regularly for over 5 years now, i have never been bored as Alka always changes the sequence of the postures and introduces new elements and variations. The personal attention and support guarantees that every student gets the maximum benefit from all the excercises. more...

The first limb, yama, sets proper ethical standards and infuses a sense of integrity so that our behaviour and our conduct in life are properly regulated and monitored. Yamas have universal connotations and are derived from the principle of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The five Yamas are:

  1. Ahimsa : nonviolence
  2. Satya : truthfulness
  3. Asteya : nonstealing
  4. Brahmacharya : continence
  5. Aparigraha : no covetousness

Niyama, the second limb, involves being self-disciplined and observing spirituality. It envisages attending temple or church services regularly, saying your prayers before meals and meditating in your own personal way, or walking regularly in a contemplative frame of mind.

The five Niyamas are:

  1. Saucha : cleanliness
  2. Samtosa: contentment
  3. Tapas : heat; spiritual austerities
  4. Svadhyaya : study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self
  5. Isvara pranidhana : surrender to God

The third yogic path involves Asanas, which are the postures practiced in yoga. As per the yogic view, the care of the body, which is considered to be a temple of spirit, is very important for our spiritual growth. Asanas help us to inculcate discipline in our system and enable us to improve our power of concentration - both these aspects being essential for meditation.


The fourth yogic path is Pranayama, which is essentially breath control so that one can regulate one's respiratory process along with maintaining the link between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. Pranayama literally means "life force extension" and the proponents of yoga believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. It can be practiced as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or you can make it a part of your daily hatha yoga routine.

The above four paths of ashtanga yoga are involved with refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves. They also lead us to the second half of the journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.


The fifth path is Pratyahara, which means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. This is when we try to disengage our mind and awareness from the outside world and other distractive stimuli. You will need to direct your attention internally although being aware of and detaching yourself from your senses. This will enable you to take an overview of yourself and objectively view your cravings and other habits that might be injurious to your health and which might be interfering with your internal growth.


The above practice of pratyahara leads us to the next path which is dharana, or concentration. When you have got away from outside distractions the next step is to get rid of the distractions of the mind. This is easier said than done and it is certainly not easy. In the previous stages we have learnt how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. The stages of posture, breath control and withdrawal of the senses have taught us how to increase our powers of concentration whereas in asana and pranayama, our attention wanders around although we might be paying attention to our actions. Our focus never remains constant as we practice any particular posture or breathing technique. Whereas in pratyahara we become self-observant, we focus our attention on a single point in dharana. Meditation is achieved by extending the periods of concentration.


The seventh path of ashtanga is dhyana, which is meditation or contemplation and is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. There is a fine line of distinction between concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana), although they might appear to be the same. Where one-pointed attention is practiced in dharana, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. The time has come when the mind has been quieted, and there are no thoughts in the silence that is produced. A lot of strength and stamina is required to reach this state of stillness. It is important to remember that yoga is a process and as such one should not give up although it might seem to be difficult if not an impossible task. Yoga always brings good results at every stage even though we may not attain the "picture perfect" pose, or the ideal state of consciousness.


Finally, the last stage of ashtanga, which is Samadhi, is described by Patanjali as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator transcends the Self-altogether by merging with his or her point of focus. A profound connection to the Divine, an interconnection with all living things is thus realized by the meditator. One experiences bliss and a feeling of being one with the universe and its creator and with this realization comes the "peace that passeth all understanding". This might appear to be a rather lofty "holier than thou" kind of goal but if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, would not joy, fulfilment, and freedom somehow find their way onto our list of hopes, wishes, and desires? All human beings desire peace and that is what Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path. It is also important to remember that this ultimate stage of yoga - enlightenment - can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced at the cost of continuous devotion.

  To know more or for any other queries about Yoga contact alkathakor@yahoo.co.uk  
  © copyright 2009, Alka’s Yoga. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy  | Disclaimer