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What is Ashtanga Yoga

Wondering what ashtanga yoga is?

If you are a yoga practitioner and know a bit about yoga lifestyle and yogic philosophy, you might have heard of the sage Patanjali and Ashtanga yoga. If not, this is for you to understand more about yoga and its origin.

Maharishi Patanjali was the scientist sage that, 300 b. C, brought order into the yoga system. He wrote the Yoga Sutras, a marvelous text with only 196 verses, where yoga is explained in detail: what is yoga, how to live a yogic lifestyle, what is meditation, asanas, and much more.

According to Patanjali, the development of mankind depends on its capacity to focus its evolution from a restless mind to a calm and enlightened state of mind.

Starting from this observation, he elaborated a highly complex system to attain this state, known as Ashtanga Yoga (ashta means 8 – anga means limbs).

This method consists of eights “limbs” or steps. The first five limbs are referred to the external world and the last three are referred to the internal world:

  • Yamas (social ethical discipline)
  • Niyamas (personal observances)
  • Asana (postures)
  • Pranayama (restrain or expansion of the breath)
  • Pratyahara (letting go of the senses)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (state of ecstasy, peace, enlightenment)

YAMAS and NIYAMAS: an ethical guide to living

Let’s try to understand the first two steps of Ashtanga yoga: Yamas and Niyamas.

First of all, take a moment and think about why you practice yoga. When practicing yoga, it is important to be aware of it. It is just because we want to feel better? Or do we want to be more connected with the world, with our deepest selves?

If we look at it keeping in mind yogic philosophy and the reason why yoga was invented (to reach a blessed state of mind), it has a deeper meaning.

Yoga isn‘t simply about practising Asanas and feeling good. It is about awareness of ourselves and the reality around our lives, which includes observing our behaviour and ethics.

The first two limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are Yamas and Niyamas.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes Yamas as the ethical and moral observations of the Ashtanga yoga tradition, while Nyamas represent the restraints that we practice, creating inner integrity.

In a few words, Yamas are the don’ts and Niyamas are the do’s of one’s life, or how to behave towards others and how to behave towards ourselves.


Yamas consists of the practice of five restraints:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (truth)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (celibacy or non-excess)
  • Aparigraha (non-possessiveness or non-greediness)

Yamas are all those behaviors that make us a good person. They are what you would not do or avoid doing. The control for there restraints comes from within. So the practice of Yamas leads to self-control. Of all Yamas, non-violence is the foundation.

According to the Yoga Sutras, Yamas are absolute and universal. They are applicable regardless of birth, place, time, and circumstances; no one is exempt from them. You can’t divide them or invent a Yamas or practice them selectively. They are the great assertions or vows you undertake before you start to practice yoga.


In contrast to Yamas, which are behaviors in relation with others, Niyamas are requirements/duties towards yourself. In other words, what you should do to bring transformation in yourself. They are considered too, as standards/reminders of self-discipline and spiritual observances of moral conduct. Following Niyamas can make ones’ life happier and healthier.

Niyama consists of the practice of five rules:

  • Saucha (purity)
  • Santosha (contentment)
  • Tapas (self-discipline)
  • Svadhyaya (self-study)
  • Isvara-pranidhana (divine worship)

Niyamas are fundamentals for inner purification and spiritual growth.

They help you to deal with negativity, find balance in the way you think and in your actions. Niyamas intensify your ambition for self-realization.

The practice of Niyamas leads to self-discipline, strengthening of resolve, and devotion to the inner Self.

Yamas and niyamas are interconnected, you cannot practice one without the other. Both are important and essentials for the purpose and practice of Ashtanga yoga.

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If you want to know more about the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga, stay tuned! Next week another yoga-pill.

Love & Life


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