The practice of yoga may look very physical on the outside looking in; however, it has many layers. The physical poses, or asanas, is just one of the first layers and also the most accessible for many individuals because of its tangible nature. And that is why many people start there.

Yet, yoga has many layers, but it is often misunderstood. In fact, when I teach meditation in a corporate setting, I often have to refer to it as mindfulness since that term is more accepted. And if I mention yoga, they think of a physical fitness class during the work day. Rather than beat my head against the wall, I just adapt to what the mainstream understands, but I thought we’d dive deeper here.

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which can be translated into “yoking” or “union.” The birth of yoga is originally comes from the Vedas, about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago and was passed down orally from teacher to student. In the second century B.C.  According to Vedanta philosophy, our true nature is pure and divine. However, we often forget our essence and through chitta, which is the evolution of consciousness, we can remember who we truly are. Therefore, if we gather all the pieces of ourselves—mind, body, soul, spirit, emotions—we are more inclined to remember that we are, in fact, divine in nature.

The wise sage, Patanjali, is credited to writing down the Yoga Sutras, including the eight-fold path {or Ashtanga, Eight Limbs of Yoga} so that the world could come to understand these ancient teachings. This eight-fold path is a set of guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life and gives us a way to remember who we truly are. And even though asana is the most popular, it doesn’t begin there. So, let’s dive in!

The yamas are rules of moral code and self-restraints. They include ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). I relate them to the Ten Commandments of my Catholic upbringing.


The niyamas are rules of personal discipline and spiritual observances, including saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual studies), and Ishvara Pranidhana (constant devotion to God).

Asanas are the postures practiced in yoga and what we normally associate as yoga. This third limb reminds us that our body is a temple and must be cared for in order to grow spiritually. It is a physical practice that prepares the body for meditation; however, the actual asana practice can be a moving meditation in itself.

The fourth limb is translated as the extension of our life force. Essentially, it is the practice of breathing techniques that move this energy or life force within us by building lung capacity, deepening the connection to the mind and body, and rejuvenating the body.

The fifth limb is the stage where we consciously withdraw our awareness away from the outside world and look within. It gives us a chance to objectively look at the habits and attachments we have that keep us from living our fullest potential.

The sixth limb is all about concentration. As we’ve drawn awareness internally through Pratyahara and have learned to not get taken away from outside distractions, we begin concentrating, or one-pointed attention. This is the practice of mindfulness in every day life. Although, often through of as the same, this is the actual precursor to meditation.

Ah, finally, the seventh limb, meditation, in the form of contemplation or being keenly aware without a specific focus. The mind is quiet.

This is the stage of enlightenment. The practitioner become connected to their true nature and connected to the Divine.

Ultimately, yoga is a way of creating a relationship with your Self {yes, with a capital S}. And luckily for us, Patanjali gave us guidelines to follow to help us peel away our own layers, connect our mind, body and spirit, and remember that our deepest essence is divine. If you learned one thing, the eight limbs of yoga are just ways to nourish our path to wholeness.


Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah

Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam.

“Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind. Then one abides in their own true nature.”


About The Author:  Alyssa Pfennig, Embarque Yoga Therapy LLC, is passionate about sharing yoga as a therapy and helps makes yoga accessible and comfortable to every student. As a yoga therapist, Alyssa works one-on-one using yoga practices such as asana, pranayama and meditation to help individuals facing health challenges manage their condition. And for the past two years, Alyssa has assisted in research studies on using yoga to manage chronic pain and PTSD with veterans in conjunction with the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. She is an E-RYT 200/RYT 500 with the Yoga Alliance and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). She is also certified in enzyme nutrition with the Food Enzyme Institute and certified in Thai Yoga Massage.

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