II.29 यमनियमासनप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणा-ध्यानसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि

yama-niyamāsana-prāṇāyāma-pratyāhāra-dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhayo ‘ṣṭāv aṅgāni
yama-niyama-āsana-prāṇāyāma-pratyāhāra-dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhayaḥ aṣṭau aṅgāni

Yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi are the eight limbs.”

Here Patañjali lists the parts of yoga. the “limbs” (aṅga), which he says are eight (aṣṭau) in number (thus the term aṣṭaṅga yoga, “eight-limbed yoga”). The imagery of “limb” speaks to the interrelation of yoga’s parts. We use our limbs to move, to make, to do; they are meant to work together. They form a whole.

The parts of yoga, most significantly, are not a ladder. They are not sequential. B.K.S. Iyengar teaches that they are like the petals of a flower, and–like petals–they bloom together.

The attention, compassion, and love of the three last limbs–dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi–are not the final stages of yoga. They are implicit in the first Tadāsana a student does. “Open your feet,” says yoga teacher Matthew Sanford, “and you will open your heart.” Feeling one’s feet is a way in to feeling one’s whole self. Āsana (postures), prāṇāyāma (breath awareness), and pratyāhāra (withdrawal of the senses) lead us out of numbness. We are awakened to our role–in relationship to others, in our treatment of ourselves. We question our automatic behaviors. We choose how we show up in the world.

Rohit Mehta describes a process of  “living into” spiritual life. True spirituality, he says, must have a quality of “naturalness and spontaneity.” Spiritual discipline is discovered from within. Mehta uses the metaphor of a river. The banks do not exist in advance of the flow. The moving water, the flow of life, cuts the banks.

The yamas (ethical observances) and niyamas (inner disciplines) are like the banks of the river. As the banks contain, direct river current, so do the yamas and niyamas conserve our energy and support our health.

It is beautiful to consider that the spirit, like the life force itself, requires movement. What if ethics grow out of our well-being? In the Book of Hours, Rilke writes of the desire “to free what waits within me,” to recover his own spontaneity, to sing his life, to flow.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels into the open sea.
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I.12


“I call the aspects of aṣṭāṅga yoga petals (dalas) because just as a flower unfolds all its petals simultaneously, so the eight aspects of yoga have to bloom at the same time. This makes the flame of the soul light the mind, intelligence and consciousness so that they bloom together.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.29, p. 143

“[Spiritual life] is like the river which, in the very act of flowing, creates its own discipline in terms of the two banks. The banks are not created in advance. One may create such banks and may find that the river has taken a different course altogether. This is equally true of the river of life. If its flow is kept uninterrupted then that very flow creates its own discipline. When the flow is obstructed, disorder starts. It is the mind of man with its conclusions and vested interests that creates obstructions in the flow of life.” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp.139-41

• How would you describe the parts of your yoga practice? (Not necessarily Patañjali’s eight limbs–a description in your own words.)
• What do you do that brings you into the flow of your practice? What does your practice allow you to flow into?
• What is your lived experience of discipline? Are there disciplines you once practiced that you have now relinquished? What disciplines are important to you today?


masculine noun in compound

ethical observance, interpersonal discipline (from yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)


masculine noun in compound
personal rule, inner discipline (from ni-, “in, down,” + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)

neuter noun in compound

posture (from ās, “to sit”)

masculine noun in compound

regulation of the breath (from prāṇa, “breath, life force,” + yama)

masculine noun in compound

retreat, withdrawal (from prati-, “back,” + ā-, “near,”+ hṛ, “to carry”)

feminine noun in compound

placing one’s point of focus (from dhṛ, “to hold, support”)

neuter noun in compound

keeping focus (from dhyai, “to think”)


masculine noun, 1st case plural
absorption, union (from sam-, “with,” + ā, “towards,” + dhā, “to place, to hold”)


neuter adjective, 1st case plural



neuter noun, 1st case plural

limb (from aṅg, “to walk, move about”)

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