The ancient sage Patanjali consolidated the many yogi teachings into one text called the Yoga Sutras, which describes the eight limbs of yoga, also known as Ashtanga Yoga. It also outlines the eight steps yoga practitioners should follow.
“Practicing individual yoga steps will enhance your experience in the others,” says Jill Ganesh, health and yoga writer. “The first five have been labeled the disciplines of yoga, and the last three, the attainments of yoga.” Done in sequence, the steps lead to a progressively deeper, more internal spiritual experience. They are:
This discipline focuses on the universal moral codes that are the foundation of yoga: nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, chastity and non-covetousness.
Niyama describes personal ethical codes, which bring discipline and order to our daily lives: cleanliness of mind and body, contentment, discipline, self-study and the surrender of all actions to god.
Practicing asanas, the physical postures of yoga, requires a strong focus and attention to bodily alignment, This helps strengthen the mind and brings health and vitality to every cell of the body.
This is the art of controlling the length, volume and direction of our breathing, which then influences our physical and emotional states.
This is the art of detaching the senses from external stimuli. Pratyahara allows the nervous system to quiet and prepares us for concentration and meditation.
Dharana teaches us how to concentrate on a particular point or object. The mind is then stilled and we become completely focused.
When the concentration of dharana is uninterrupted, we enter a meditative state called dhyana. Brain waves become steady and flow easily.
This is the peak meditative state, in which we experience ecstasy. A person in samadhi is conscious and alert; her body and senses are quiet; and her mind is freed from distractions.