1. Yama - Ethical Social Disciplines
2. Niyama – Ethical Personal Disciplines
3. Asana – Posture
4. Pranayama – Breath Control
5. Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal
6. Dharana – Concentration
7. Dhyana – Meditation
8. Samadhi - A state of joy and peace/Union with your highest self/Union with God
Through regulation of practice, the eight limbs are nourished. Personal insights begin to manifest. We become aware of what we put in our bodies and how we interact with the world around us. From this type of introspection, the qualities of Yama and Niyama begin to develop. Asanas and Pranayama grow when focused awareness of the breath is applied while practicing each posture. As we keep the mind fixed on the sound and quality of our breath, the senses are encouraged to turn inward and the element of Pratyahara manifests. As we improve our abilities of controlling the senses from wandering during practice, the subtle quality of concentration deepens in the form of Dharana. In time, the practice moves further internally and refinement of concentration develops as our ability to remain present is enhanced. The practice then grows into a deep resounding meditative experience known as Dhyana. At this stage, we are creating greater potential to explore the finest realms of yoga known as Samadhi, in which we realize the pure essence of all that exists.
The development of these limbs does not unfold in a linear fashion. They sprout when the time is appropriate. There is no way to rush the growth of a tree. It will expand as our understanding of the depths of yoga matures. Patience may be the greatest tool to assist in our journey down the scenic path of Ashtanga Yoga. It winds through all facets of life. Ashtanga may be utilized as a method of keeping physically fit or it may be traversed as a pathway to explore the subtle realms of spirituality. Whatever purpose we choose, there is only one method to reap its benefits: Practice!
From Ashtanga Yoga “The Practice Manual” by David Swensen