Ashtanga Yoga – Eight Branches Of Yoga

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Yoga today is a universally accepted and followed health principle. After knowing the benefits of Yoga on physical and mental health, the entire globe has embraced Yoga and its principles, just as it has embraced Ayurveda. Yoga is acknowledged as a comprehensive method of psycho-somatic healing.
Read – Yoga: Introduction, History, Definition, Shat Karma, Benefits

The traditional Pathanjali Yoga has been divided into 8 branches. They are called Ashtanga Yoga.

Eight limbs of Yoga

Ashta = eight
Anga = parts / branches
Ashtanga Yoga = eight branches / limbs of Yoga
Read – Easy Rules For Practicing And Mastering Yoga

Aim of Ashtanga Yoga
Yoga Sadhana means ultimate control over one’s mind and senses. This can be achieved only after mastering the art of Yoga and practising it while abiding all the rules and regulations tagged with it.

The 8 branches of Yoga advocated by Yoga Darshana would enable one to gain control over the mind and senses. These branches together are called as ‘Ashtanga Yoga’. These eight limbs, when practiced regularly, would enable one to travel in the direction of spiritual growth and development and to better oneself.
Read – Health Benefits Of Yoga: Mind And Body

Yoga Darshana was the philosophical school masterminded by master Patanjali. It is one of the Darshana Shastras. Master Patanjali’s Yoga Darshana and the eight limbs of yoga have been widely accepted as original form of yoga. This school forms the foundation and mainstays of unadulterated Yoga.
Read – Gym Or Yoga? Which One To Choose?

The eight branches or Yoga

1. Yama

1. Yama – guidelines for one’s harmony with society / social ethics

Yama comprises a set of guidelines that one needs to follow which would eventually establish harmony of oneself in the society. They may also be called as social ethics. They are 5 in number, they are as below mentioned.

2. Niyama

2. Niyama – rules for personal spiritual practices
Niyama comprises of five principles, which are basically rules and regulations, one need to follow for personal and spiritual discipline. They are as below mentioned.

3. Asana – Posture regulation

Asanas are set of postures which contribute towards comprehensive body-mind health.

Meanings of Asana –

The ‘postures of Yoga’ which are performed in a particular manner by placing oneself in a comfortable position are called Asanas.

While in asana, one needs to avoid the regular bodily movements by sitting in a comfortable posture, while focusing one’s mind and consciousness on God. The focus may also be on a predetermined subject, object or point which would not scatter the mind from the target. This is said to provide maximum benefits of Asana.

Asanas provide comfort and relaxation to mind and body. They also stabilize and strengthen the muscles, develop concentration of mind and strengthen the body.
Read – Bakasana – Crane / Crow Pose, How to do, Benefits, Ayurveda Details

All asanas do not bestow the same benefits, but all asanas have their own set of benefits. The choices of these yogic postures have their own set of rules, regulations and restrictions bounded with them. One should not do the asanas indiscriminately but shall do under the proper guidance of a expert yoga master.

Asanas are condition, person and disease specific if it is curative. Even when done to balance health and in healthy persons, all asanas do not suit everyone and need to be done only after being guided by an experienced Yoga tutor.
Read – Pincha Mayurasana Forearm Stand Pose How to do, Benefits, Ayurved Details

4. Pranayama – Breath regulation

Pranayama is a technique of controlling and regulating the breathing phenomenon. This enables to control the Prana i.e. life force. When practised regularly, pranayama enables one to develop an inward focus while living a full productive lifestyle.

Pranayama is of three types

  • Rechaka / Bahya Vritti Pranayama – means holding and controlling the breathe outside the body
  • Pooraka / Aabhyantara Vritti Pranayama – means holding and controlling the breathe inside the body and
  • Stambha Vritti Pranayama – means blocking the Prana Vata at the place where it is located, following its normal course i.e. either inside or outside the body
    Read – How To Do Pranayama – A Simple Pranayama Technique

5. Prathyahara

5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of senses from sensual pleasures
Pratyahara is a method of withdrawal of the senses or withdrawal of mind from the senses. It enables one to keep attached to self while being detached from the objects of enjoyment or worldly pleasure which are experienced by the sense organs and mind.

Pratyahara helps in keeping the senses detached from the mind and hence the mind doesn’t experience pleasure. This also enables one to control the mind and senses.
Read – Improper Use Of Sense Organs: A Neglected Cause For Diseases

Pratyahara is said to be a bridge between the first four limbs and last three limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. The first four are the external / bahiranga yogas while the last three are the internal / antaranga yogas, pratyahara is the bridge between these two.

Pratyahara is also the internal deviation of one’s consciousness leading to detachment of senses with the mind. This detached mind helps one in achieving the last three stages of yoga i.e. concentration, meditation and mystical absorption.
Read – Achara Rasayana – Behavioral Therapy For Calm Mind And Long Life

Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi

6. Dharana – concentration of mind
Dharana is an art of focusing the mind over an object or subject so as to inculcate concentration.
Dharana is an art of focusing the mind over an object or subject so as to inculcate concentration.

7. Dhyana – meditation
Dhyana means meditation. This involves focusing the mind and concentrating on meditation.
Read – Meditation By Watching Mind: Stages, Method, Benefits

8. Samadhi – mystical absorption, oneness of mind with the soul
Samadhi means unity of the mind with its object of meditation. In this practice, the form of object(s) is directly experienced to be of a spiritual nature. Thus Samadhi involves unification ofmind with soul.
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