The eight limbs of yoga are found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These eight limbs are believed to lead to enlightenment in Raja, or classical yoga. The third limb in Patanjali’s text is Asana, or body postures. This is the most well known of the eight limbs.
The eight limbs are Yama (universal morality with others), Niyama (universal morality towards self), Asanas (physical yoga poses), Pranayama (control of prana through breath), Pratyahara (control of senses), Dharana (concentration and stillness), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enlightenment).
Asana is the physical act of performing the yoga asanas. The word Asana is derived from the Sanskrit word for sitting down. Patanjali discusses the method of sitting as firm, yet relaxed.
There are many types of yoga that are based on Patanjali’s text. In addition to ancient Raja yoga, Ashtanga yoga, hatha yoga and many others were developed as a result of this definitive ancient text. Hatha yoga classes combine asana and pranayama breathing.
Asana describes the physical position of the body in performing the asanas, but there is more to the practice than just the physical exercise. Asana offers a broad range of physical and emotional benefits. The practice of yoga is used as a form of alternative medicine for a wide range of health conditions in cultures around the world.
In addition to the physical and emotional benefits of yoga, the practice has spiritual benefits. Yoga is said to help prepare the body for meditation and helps along the path to enlightenment. Yoga is often practiced prior to meditation for this purpose.
Although in some forms of yoga, such as Ashtanga, there is a rigid set of asanas performed in a specific order, this is not necessary. The beauty of yoga is that it can be adapted to meet the changing needs of the individual student. Whether modifications are needed for beginners or ongoing for various health conditions, yoga can be made accessible to all.