The Eightfold Yogic Path: Understanding Yoga at Its Core


The Eightfold Yogic Path: Understanding Yoga at Its Core

The Eightfold Yogic Path: Understanding Yoga at Its Core

 In today's world, the true essence of yoga is often overshadowed by commercialisation. Yoga, which originated as a profound spiritual practice, is now frequently reduced to a series of fitness exercises and trendy classes. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just about physical exercises or stretching routines. It encompasses a holistic approach to life, integrating physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions. It goes much deeper than what is perceived through the modern lens. The true depth of yoga lies in its philosophy and practices that guide practitioners toward self-realization and inner peace. In this article, I aim to convey the authentic message of yoga. My goal is to explore the core principles of yoga as outlined in the Eightfold Path, revealing the profound wisdom embedded in this ancient tradition.

The Eightfold Path - By Patanjali

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is a foundational text in yoga philosophy, comprising 196 aphorisms that guide practitioners towards self-realisation and inner peace. This ancient Indian scripture outlines the eightfold path, or Ashtanga Yoga, offering timeless wisdom on ethics, meditation, and spiritual development.

The first three of the eight limbs refer to the external search (bahiranga sadhana) and include the practice of ethical and social principles as well as physical postures. These initial stages prepare the practitioner for deeper, internal exploration by establishing a strong moral foundation and cultivating physical discipline. These are yama, niyama, and āsana. Each of these limbs plays a crucial role in creating a balanced and harmonious life, setting the stage for the more advanced practices that follow.

First Level - Bahiranga Sadhana: Yama, Niyama, and Āsana


Yama, the first limb of yoga, refers to the control of our interactions with the external world. It encompasses ethical guidelines that govern our behaviour towards others, promoting harmony and integrity in our relationships. Yama is associated with the roots of the tree, representing the foundation from which the rest of the yogic limbs grow. Just as roots anchor a tree and provide nourishment, the principles of yama ground the practitioner in ethical conduct.

Yama comprises five ethical principles and moral codes to follow in daily life. These principles serve as a moral compass, guiding our actions and interactions:

- Ahimsa (non-violence): non-causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word, or deed. This principle encourages compassion and kindness, urging us to avoid causing harm to others and to ourselves.

- Satya (truthfulness): being honest in words and thoughts. It emphasizes the importance of truth in our communications and encourages us to live authentically.

- Asteya (non-stealing): including non-coveting and non-entering into debt. This principle promotes respect for others' possessions and integrity in our dealings.

- Brahmacharya (spiritual conduct): Constant awareness of the universe, immersed in divinity and divine conduct, including celibacy or control of sexual energy. It calls for moderation and the mindful use of energy in all aspects of life.

- Aparigraha (non-attachment): Non-greed and non-possessiveness. This principle teaches us to let go of material attachments and cultivate a sense of contentment.

Without mastering yama, it is not recommended to move on to the next limb. Cultivate compassion for yourself and others, be honest—especially with yourself, find joy in small things, conserve your energy, and remain authentic. Mastery of these principles ensures a stable foundation for the subsequent stages of yoga practice.


Niyama refers to duties directed towards ourselves—inner observances. These practices focus on self-discipline and personal growth, fostering a deeper connection with our inner self. Unlike yama, niyama focuses on personal habits and behaviours. Niyama is associated with the trunk of the Yoga tree, symbolizing the support and strength that these practices provide.

 Niyama includes five principles recommended for healthy living and spiritual existence. These principles nurture personal well-being and spiritual development:

 - Saucha (purity): purity of thought, mind, and body. This principle emphasizes cleanliness and clarity in all aspects of life, promoting physical and mental health.

- Santosha (contentment): acceptance and appreciation of what we have and who we are right now. It encourages gratitude and a positive outlook, fostering inner peace.

- Tapas (spiritual effort): Self-discipline, passion, and courage. It’s the fiery passion that feeds our sense of purpose. This principle inspires perseverance and dedication in our practice and daily life.

- Svadhyaya (self-study): Knowing more about one’s soul through self-reflection, observation, and study. It encourages continual learning and self-awareness, deepening our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe.

- Isvarapranidhana (surrender to a higher power): Letting go of expectations, doing our best, being authentic, and living life fully. This principle fosters humility and trust in the greater order of life.


Āsana, the third limb, involves physical postures and is represented as the branches of the tree. These postures form the most visible and physically engaging part of yoga practice. Just as tree branches vary in length and form, so do yogic āsanas. Each āsana serves a specific purpose, addressing different aspects of physical and mental well-being. Physical postures harmonize the physical and physiological functions of the system with the psychological teachings of yoga. They help to prepare the body for meditation by developing strength, flexibility, and balance.

Āsana is a spiritual practice in a physical form, bringing the body, mind, and spirit into unity. The practice of āsanas goes beyond mere physical exercise; it is a means of cultivating mindfulness and presence. The primary effect of āsana is to promote physical health (pranamaya kosha) and bring the mind closer to the soul. Through the correct performance of āsanas, practitioners can achieve a state of balance and harmony. Correct performance of āsana leads to the disappearance of the division between body and mind, mind and soul. This state is called repose, awareness during action. When attention touches body, mind, and soul equally, we arrive at a state of contemplation or meditation. This is āsana. Āsana should be performed so that the mind relinquishes claims to the body and rushes to the light of the soul, allowing the practitioner to dwell in its abodes. 

Second Level - Antaranga Sadhana: Prānāyāma and Pratyāhāra

The second level of the yogic path involves the internal search (antaranga sadhana) and includes breathing techniques and withdrawal of senses, specifically prānāyāma and pratyāhāra. These practices deepen the connection between the body and mind, preparing the practitioner for more profound states of consciousness.


Prānāyāma is a composite of two Sanskrit words. “Prana” refers to the life energy that permeates all life, both the breath itself and the energy that allows the breath to be taken. This vital force sustains and animates all living beings. “Ayama” means “extension.” Thus, prānāyāma means to extend, slow down, or control the breath. The goal of prānāyāma is to strengthen the connection between one’s body and mind. By regulating the breath, practitioners can influence their mental state and cultivate inner calm. Research shows that prānāyāma can promote relaxation and mindfulness. Scientific studies have demonstrated that prānāyāma techniques can reduce stress, improve respiratory function, and enhance overall well-being.


Pratyāhāra, the fifth limb, translates from Sanskrit as “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.” It is associated with the bark of the yoga tree, preventing energy from escaping through the senses, much like bark protects a tree from decay. This practice involves turning the senses inward, away from external distractions. Pratyāhāra involves transferring perception from the surface of the body to the core of being, to the soul. By withdrawing attention from sensory stimuli, practitioners can focus on their inner experiences and achieve greater self-awareness. It calms the senses and keeps them in a passive state or directs them inward to reside in the core of our being. This inward focus helps to quiet the mind and prepare it for deeper meditation.

Third Level - Antaratma Sadhana: Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, and Samādhi

The third level of the yogic path is the spiritual search (antaratma sadhana) and includes concentration, meditation, and surrender to higher power, specifically dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samadhi. These advanced practices lead to the highest states of consciousness and spiritual realization.


Dhāraṇā, belonging to the third level of yoga, is described as its wealth, preceding the last two limbs of yoga. Dhāraṇā means concentration or full attention. It entails concentrating the mind on a single point or object to attain mental clarity and stability. It is associated with the juice running along the branches and bark of the yoga tree towards its roots, acting as a deterrent to the wandering mind. By practising dhāraṇā, practitioners can cultivate the mental discipline needed for deep meditation. 


Dhyāna, the sixth limb of yoga, is translated from Sanskrit as “contemplation” or “intuitive vision.” It is associated with the flower on the yoga tree, symbolizing the blossoming of inner awareness. Meditation is a state of relaxed concentration, observing the moment without attachment. This practice involves maintaining a continuous flow of attention without distraction.

Pure meditation occurs when all the means at our disposal—organs of perception, organs of action, mind, brain, intellect, consciousness, and conscience—are drawn to the core of our being, creating unity among them. In this state, the boundary between the observer and the observed vanishes. Meditation represents a fluid equilibrium between intellectual and intuitive awareness. Meditation embodies a harmonious blend of intellectual and intuitive awareness. This profound state of awareness leads to a deep sense of peace and oneness with the universe.


Samādhi represents the culmination of a practitioner's efforts, the pinnacle of meditation, where the body and senses are atrest as if in sleep, while the mind and intellect remain alert as if awake, transcending ordinary consciousness. In this state, the individual is fully aware and vigilant, yet the sense of 'I' or 'mine' disappears as the body's, mind's, and intellect's activities cease, akin to deep sleep. The practitioner has achieved true Yoga, experiencing pure consciousness, truth, and indescribable joy. This peace surpasses all understanding, defying verbal expression. Only profound silence can convey this state, as the yogi leaves the material world and merges with the Eternal.

Key References:

Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar, 1995

The Perfection of Yoga by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

The Tree of Yoga: The Definitive Guide To Yoga In Everyday Life by B. K. S. Iyengar, 2013



This blog post was brought to you by Evgeniia Safronova

Evgeniia is a yoga instructor whose journey spans continents and cultures, currently residing in Stuttgart, Germany. She is a global citizen, surfer, latino dancer & a cats' lover

"The yogi knows that the paths of ruin or of salvation lie within himself" - B. K. S. Iyengar 

Follow her journey and insights at @quetzal_yoga