What is Yoga ? Part 5

The following series of articles, an in-depth look at Yoga has been compiled by Merel Martens founder of Parimukti Yoga and produced and packaged by Avdhoot Limaye for Parimukti.com. From Part 5 we will get deeper into Ashtanga Yoga. 

Ashtanga Yoga: The Eight Limbs of Yoga


Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga: “ashta = eight, anga = limbs

According to Patanjali’s system, yoga is based on 8 spiritual practices:


  1. Yama – restraints, social ethics
  2. Niyama – observances, personal virtues
  3. Asana – steady and comfortable postures, physical postures
  4. Pranayama – regulation of breath, increasing Prana
  5. Pratyhara – sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana – concentration
  7. Dhyana – meditation
  8. Samadhi – union, absorption into the Universal


Patanjali starts the Yoga Path with Yamas & Niyamas – ethical attitude towards the World and yourself. These two first limbs of Yoga are the base and very important limbs of Yoga.

2.1 Yamas

Yama is your attitude towards others and the world around you. There are five Yamas:


  1. Ahimsa or non-violence. This Yama does not only mean not doing harm to others in thought and in deed, but also to practice acts of kindness to other creatures and to one’s own self.
  2. Satya or truthfulness. Satya is the Yama that is about living a truthful life without doing harm to others. To practice Satya, one must think before he speaks and consider the consequence of his action. If the truth could harm others, it might be better to keep silent.
  3. Asteya or non-stealing. This Yama is not only concerned about the non-stealing of material objects but also the stealing of other’s ideas and other forms of possession. Using power for selfish motives or telling someone else about confidential information you had been entrusted with, is against Asteya.
  4. Bramacharya or non-lust. Bramacharya means Divine Routine, to move toward the essential truth or to achieve self-control, abstinence or moderation and it is used especially regarding to sexual activity. It is about not giving in to our ego’s excessive desires or taking nothing in excess.
  5. Aparigraha or non-possessiveness. This Yama is about living a life free from greed or taking only what is necessary and do not take advantage of someone or of a situation. It is about using our powers correctly and appropriately and not exploiting others.

2.2 Niyamas

Niyama is how you treat yourself or your attitude towards yourself. The following are the five Niyamas:


  1. Shaucha or cleanliness. This Niyama is concerned with both the outer and inner cleanliness.

The practice of pranayamas, asanas and Yogic cleansing practices to detoxify and cleanse the physical body are necessary to achieve inner cleanliness. The mind must also be kept clean or pure. Outer cleanliness, on the other hand, means to keep a clean environment or surroundings.

  1. Santosha or contentment. Santosha is to practice humility, modesty and finding contentment with what you have and who you are.
  2. Tapas or austerity. This Niyama refers to keeping the body in good condition. Tapas is practiced through disciplining the body, speech and mind like eating only when hungry and maintaining a good posture.
  3. Svadhyaya or study of the sacred text and of one’s self. This involved studying one’s self, self-inquiry and self-examination and other things that can help you get to know yourself more. As your knowledge about yourself grows deeper, so is your connection to the higher power and your union with all things.
  4. Isvarapranidhama or living with an awareness of the Divine. This Niyama encourages us to let go of our false sense of control and to connect to the Divine or that which gives us the sense of wholeness and sacredness.


2.3 Asanas

 Sthira sukham asanam

Asanam=As (to sit); the posture, the place where you sit, seat


Sthirasukham asanam
The posture should be steady and comfortable (relaxed)


Asana are body positions, originally identified as a mastery of sitting still to meditate. In the context of yoga practice, asana refers to two things: the place where a yogi sits and the manner (posture) in which he/she sits. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali suggests that asana is “to be seated in a position that is firm,but relaxed” for extended, or timeless periods; “comfortable, steady position”.


Asanas have deep impact on the entire body and mind complex, it affects different systems in the body like muscular, respiratory, circulation, digestive, excretory, reproductive, endocrine and nervous system.

Asana categories

Asanas can generally be divided into a number of categories. Here we will provide you with a categorization. However, be aware that some schools of yoga sometimes group certain categories together or know even more categories than the ones presented here.

  1. Standing Poses
  2. Standing Forward Bends
  3. Standing Twists
  4. Seated Forward Bends
  5. Seated Twists
  6. Supine Poses
  7. Backbends
  8. Inversions
  9. Arm Balances
  10. Core/Abdominals


Here follows an overview of asanas per category. The list is never ending and this representation is only a selection made by us. Some schools of yoga give different names to the same poses, so don’t be surprised if you see the same pose presented in another book with another name.


Standing Poses
Tada Asana Tadasana Mountain Pose
Tiriyak Tada Asana Tiriyak Tadasana Swaying Palm Tree Pose/Side Bending Stretch Pose
Anjaney Asana Anjaneyasana Low Lunge
Ashva Sanchala Asana Ashva Sanchalasana High Lunge
Ardha Chandra Asana Ardha Chandrasana Half Moon Pose
Parsva Uttan Asana Parsvottansana Intense Side Stretch Pose
Virabhadra Asana A Virabhadrasana A Warrior A Pose
Utthita Tri Kona Asana Uttitha Trikonasana Extended Triangle Pose
Virabhadra Asana B Virabhadrasana B Warrior B Pose
Tri Kona Asana Trikonasana Triangle Pose
Uttitha Parsva Kona Asana Parsvakonasana Extended Side Angle Pose
Sirsa Angustha Yoga Asana Sirsa Angustha Yogasana Head to Toe Pose/Humble Warrior Pose
Utkat Asana Utkatasana Chair Pose
Standing Forward Bends
Adho Mukha Svana Asana Adho Mukha Svanasana Downward Facing Dog
Dwi Kona Asana Dwikonasana Double Angle Pose
Pada Angustha Asana Padangusthasana Big Toe Pose
Pada Hasta Asana Pada Hastasana Hand under Foot Pose
Uttan Asana Uttanasana Intense Forward Bending Pose
Ardha Uttan Asana Ardha Uttanasana Stading Half Forward Bending Pose
Prasarita Pada Uttan Asana A-D Prasarita Padottanasna A-D Wide Legged Forward Bending Pose
Standing Twists
Utthita Marichi Asana Uttitha Marichyasana Extended Marichi’s Pose
Kona Asana Konasana Angle Pose
Parivrtta Parsva Kona Asana Parivrtta Parsvakonasana Revolved Side Angle Pose
Parivrtta Tri Kona Asana Parivrtta Trikonasana Revolved Triangle Pose
Balancing Poses    
Garuda Asana Garudasana Eagle Pose
Uttitha Hasta Pada Angustha Asana Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Arda Chandra Asana Ardha Chandrasana Half Moon Pose
Nataraj Asana Natarajasana Lord of the Dance Pose
Vrks Asana Vrksasana Tree Pose
Urdhva Prasarita Eka Pada Asana Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana Standing Split
Seated Poses
Agni Stambha Asana Agnistambhasana Fire Log Pose
Vira Asana Virasana Hero Pose
Simha Asana Simhasana Lion Pose
Sukha Asana Sukhasana Easy Pose
Padma Asana Padmasana Lotus Pose
Hanuman Asana Hanumanasana Monkey Pose
Danda Asana Dandasana Staff Pose
Mala Asana Malasana Garland Pose
Parigha Asana Parighasana Gate Pose
Gomukh Asana Gomukhasana Cow Face Pose
Seated Forward Bends
Paschim Uttan Asana A-D Paschimottanasana West Side Intense Stretch Pose
Janu Sirsa Asana A-D Janu Sirsasana Head to Knee Pose
Parivrtta Janu Sirsa Asana Parivrtta Janusirsasana Revolved Head to Knee Pose
Triang Mukha Eka Pada Paschim Uttan Asana Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana Three Limb Forward Bend/Half Virasana Forward Bend
Krounchasana Krounchasana Heron Pose
Upavistha Kona Asana Upavistha Konasana Wide Seated Forward Bend Pose
Sama Kona Asana Sama Konasana Advanced Wide Seated Forward Bend Pose/Same Angle Pose
Shashank Asana Shashankasana Moon Pose/Hare Pose/Rabbit Pose
Bala Asana Balasana Child Pose
Raja Kapotasana Rajakapotasana Pigeon Pose
Manduk Asana Mandukasana A-C Frog Pose A-C
Baddha Kona Asana A-C Baddha Konasana Bound Angle Pose/Cobbler Pose
Urdhva Mukha Paschim Uttan Asana Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana Upward Facing Intense West Stretch
Supta Kurma Asana A-C Supta Kurmasana A-C Turtle Pose A-C
Seated Twists
Vakra Asana Vakrasana Zig-Zag Pose
Ardha Matsyendra Asana A-C Ardha Matsyendrasana A-C Half Lord of the Fish es Pose A-C
Marichi Asana A-H Marichyasana A-H Marichi’s Pose
Bharadwaja Asana Bharadwajasana Bharadwaja’s Pose
Pasha Asana Pashasana Noose Pose
Parivrtta Janu Sirsa Asana Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana  Reclined Head to Knee Pose
Parivrtta Upavistha Kona Asana Parivrtta Upavistha Konasana Revolved Seated Angle Pose
Supine Poses
Pawan Mukta Asana Pawanmuktasana Wind Release Pose
Ardha Pawan Mukta Asana Ardha Pawanmuktasana Half Wind Release Pose
Ananta Asana Anantasana Side Reclining Leg Lift
Sava Asana Savasana Corpse Pose
Sucirandhrasana Sucirandhrasana Eye Through the Needle Pose
Supta Tada Asana Supta Tadasana Reclined Mountain Pose
Supta Dirgha Tada Asana Supta Dirgha Tadasana Reclined Tree Pose
Advasana Advasana Reversed Corps Pose
Supta Pada Angustha Asana A-B Supta Padangusthasana A-B Reclining Big Toe Pose
Markata Asana Markatasana Monkey Pose
Jathara Parivarta Asana Jathara Parivartanasana Revolved Abdomen Pose
Supta Vira Asana Supta Virasana Reclined Hero Pose
Supta Vajra Asana Supta Vajrasana  Reclined Thunderbolt Pose
Supta Baddha Kona Asana Supta Baddha Konasana Reclined Bound Angle Pose
Ananda Bala Asana Ananda Balasana Happy Baby Pose
Bhujanga Asana Bhujangasana Cobra Pose
Bitil Asana Bitilasana Cow Pose
Urdhva Mukha Svana Asana Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Upward Facing Dog Pose
Eka Pada Bheka Asana Eka Pada Bhekasana One Legged Frog Pose
Bheka Asana Bhekasana Frog Pose
Eka Pada Dhanur Asana Eka Pada Dhanurasana One Legged Bow Pose
Saral Dhanur Asana Saral Dhanurasana Easy Bow Pose
Purna Dhanur Asana Purna Dhanurasana Full Bow Pose
Marjari Asana Marjariasana Cat Pose
Salabha Asana Salabhasana Locust Pose
Purna Salabha Asana Purna Salabhasana Full Locust Pose
Viparita Salabha Asana Viparita Salabhasana Inverted Locust Pose
Supta Vira Asana Supta Virasana Reclined Hero Pose
Supta Vajra Asana Supta Vajrasana Reclined Thunderbolt Pose
Setu Bandha Sarva Anga Asana Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Supported Bridge Pose (Hips supported by hands/block)
Kandhar Asana Kandharasana Shoulder Pose (Bridge with interlaced fingers)
Purna Setu Bandha Asana Purna Sethu Bandhasana Full Bridge Pose
Parsva Setu Bandha Asana Parsva Setu Bandhasana Side Bridge Pose
Urdhva Dhanur Asana Urdhva Dhanurasana Upward Bow Pose
Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanur Asana Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana One-Legged Upward Bow Pose
Chakra Asana Chakrasana Wheel Pose
Eka Pada Chakra Asana Eka Pada Chakrasana One-Legged Wheel Pose
Ardha Ustra Asana Ardha Ustrasana Half Camel Pose
Ustra Asana Ustrasana Camel Pose
Laghu Vajra Asana Laghu Vajrasana Little Thunderbolt Pose
Kapota Asana Kapotasana Pigeon Pose
Dwi Pada Viparita Danda Asana Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana Upward Facing Two-Foot Staff Pose
Eka Pada Viparita Danda Asana Eka Pada Viparita Danda Asana One-Legged Inverted Staff Pose
Nataraj Asana Natarajasana Lord Shiva Dancing Pose
Eka Pada Raja Kapota Asana Eka Pada Rajakapotasana One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
Matsy Asana Matsyasana Fish Pose
Uttan Pada Asana Uttana Padasana  –
Salamba Sirsa Asana Salamba Sirsasana Supported Headstand
Adho Mukha Vrksa Asana Adho Mukha Vrksasana Handstand
Vrschik Asana Vrschikasana Scorpion Pose
Salamba Sarvanga Asana Salamba Sarvangasana Supported Shoulderstand
Sarvanga Asana Sarvangasana Shoulderstand
Hala Asana Halasana Plow Pose
Ardha Hala Asana Ardha Halasana Half Plow Pose
Karna Pida Asana Karnapidasana Ear Pressure Pose
Urdhva Padma Asana Urdhva Padmasana  Upward Lotus Pose
Pinda Asana Pindasana  Foetal Shoulderstand
Viparita Karani Viparita Karani Legs up the Wall Pose
Arm Balances
Vasistha Asana Vasisthasana Side Plank Pose
Purva Uttan Asana Purvottanasana Upward Plank Pose
Chatur Anga Danda Asana Chaturanga Dandasana Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Baka Asana Bakasana Crane Pose
Parsva Baka Asana Parsva Bakasana Side Crane Pose
Asta Vakra Asana Astavakrasana Eight-Angle Pose
Pincha Mayura Asana Pincha Mayurasana Feather Peacock Pose/ Forearm Balance Pose
Mayura Asana Mayurasana Peacock Pose
Bhuja Pida Asana Bhujapidasana Shoulder Pressing Pose
Tittibh Asana Tittibhasana Firefly Pose
Tola Asana Tolasana Scale Pose
Camatkarasana Camatkarasana Wild Thing
Nava Asana Navasana Boat Pose
Paripurna Nava Asana  Paripurna Navasana Full Boat Pose


In the next part we will start with a detailed understanding of Pranayama



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