Eight Limbs of Yoga

In Patanjali's Yog Sutra, the eightfold path is known as ashtanga, which means eight limbs (ashta = eight, anga = limb). These eight steps act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They increase moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline.

1. Yama

The first limb,  Yama, deals with one's sense of integrity and ethical standards, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yama refers to universal practice that relates best to what we know as a saying goes "Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you"
There are five Yamas
  • Ahimsa: Non Violence
  • Satya:  Truthfulness
  • Asteya: Non Stealing
  • Brahmacharya: Continence
  • Aparigraha: Non Covetousness

2. Niyama

Niyama, the second limb, relates to self discipline and spiritual observances. Reguarly visiting temple and church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own meditation practices or taking contemplative walks alone are are all examples of Niyama.
There are five Niyamas
  • Saucha: Cleanliness
  • Samtosa: Contentment
  • Tapas: heat; Spiritual Austerities
  • Svadhyaya: study of the scared scriptures and to one's self
  • Isvara Pranidhana: Surrender to God

3. Asana
Asanas, the postures practiced in Yoga, is the third limb. Through the Practice of Asanas, we develop the habit of  discipline and the ability to concentrate, both  of which are necessary for meditation.

4. Pranayama

Generally known as breath control, this stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.

As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, "life force extension," yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.

These first four stages of Patanjali's ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. During this stage, we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from our senses, we direct our attention internally. This allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.

6. Dharna

The practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. In the practice of concentration, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body or the silent repetition of a sound. Till this stage, we have already begun to develop our powers of concentration, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.

7. Dhyana

Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be the same, some distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus.
At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. Even though we may not attain the "picture perfect" pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress.

8. Samadhi

Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, Samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator realizes a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization "peace that passeth all understanding"; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe comes. 
What Patanjali has described it as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.