In today’s post I’m sharing a bit about yoga philosophy – specifically about the eight branches of yoga.

I learned so much during the time I spend doing yoga teacher training. While I learned tons about anatomy, yoga poses, and how to lead a class, I also learned a lot about yoga philosophy. I thought it would be fun to share a bit about the branches of yoga, also known as the eight limbs yoga. The branches of yoga are the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

A woman in child's pose on a blue yoga mat on a wood floor. In top are the words branches of yoga.


The yamas and niyamas are both about things you should and shouldn’t do. They each have five actions (niyamas) and non-actions (yamas). The five yamas are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (not lying), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).


The five niyamas are shaucha (purity), santosha (acceptance), tapas (persistance), svadhyaya (self study), and ishvarapranidhana (contemplation of God). Yamas and Niyamas (affiliate link) by Deborah Adele is a great resource for the first two limbs of yoga.


Asana is the part of yoga that most people are familiar with. The yoga poses that you do during a class are asanas. I was surprised to learn during yoga teacher training that there was so to yoga besides the physical practice.


Pranayama is breath control. It’s about staying in control of your breath while doing yoga. Poses can sometimes be tough (hello downward facing dog), and it’s easy to let control of your breath go. Slow, steady, and deep breaths can be tough when your muscles are burning and you’re trying to balance.


Pratyahara is bringing the awareness from the outside world to the inside world. It’s about focusing on the inner self instead of the outer one.


Dharana the toughest of the eight limbs of yoga for me. It’s about focusing on a single thing, without getting distracted by other thoughts. For example, focusing on a mantra or your breath or a body part without thinking about what you’ll be making for dinner or that email you need to send.


Dhyana is meditation. The hardest part of it for me is when I’m mid-meditation and get distracted. Instead of getting frustrated myself like I usually do, dhyana is all about letting the distraction go and focus again on the meditation. It’s about letting distractions go and then returning to the mantra or thing you’re meditating on.


Samadhi is a state of bliss or almost being in a trance. It’s when you’re most in tune with yourself and letting go of the outside world.

Obviously I’ve only just touched the surface of the eight branches of yoga. There’s so much much more about all of them than what I’ve shared here. Interested in learning more about the eight branches of yoga? There are lots of books that are great at explaining yoga philosophy. I’ve shared some of them here.

Are there any other parts of yoga philosophy that you’d like me to post about?

Branches of Yoga
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