The term Ashtanga yoga is mentioned for the first time in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali around 200 B.C. It is a traditional kind of yoga that consists of eight principles (Asthanga = eight-limbed). These are:

  1. Yamas - moral codes in relation to the society (how we relate to others)
  2. Niyamas - moral codes in relation to ourselves (how we relate to ourselves)
  3. Asana - postures that purify and strengthen our body (how we relate to our body)
  4. Pranayama - breath control exercises (how we relate to our breath)
  5. Pratyahara - control over our senses (how we relate to our senses)
  6. Dharana - concentration of the mind (how we relate to our mind)
  7. Dhyana – deep meditation, moving beyond the mind
  8. Samadhi - deep realization and inner union

The above principles could be the subject of thorough discussion; a mere theoretical approach though would be of no great use since each person, through his own personal practice, is experiencing each of the aspects in a different way. We believe that in order for a practice to be complete it should comprise and pay attention to each of the individual principles. This will establish the progress of the practitioner and will make it complete and thorough.

The first two principles of Ashtanga yoga are important since they set the frame of our practice and put the foundations upon which we put everything we gain through it. In the 1st step, called Yamas, we are asked to honor principles such as: non-violence, truth, honesty, self-control and non-possessiveness.

In the 2nd step, called Niyamas, we are asked to care for the cleanliness/ καθαριότητα of the body, mind and senses, and to develop self-acceptance, determination, persistence, self-observation and faith to our practice.

In the 3rd step, called Asana, we exercise our body by taking various more or less usual postures. These asanas when combined with breath and mind control bring us in alternate states of existence. This acts beneficially as it awakens our senses and unclogs our body through a process by which emotions that have been suppressed into the body are gradually released and expelled.

The next step is Pranayama, the control of the breath. Through various breathing exercises we learn how to control our breath and hence purify our spirit.

Next is Pratyahara, the control over the senses where we try to develop non-attachment to what we experience. Having awareness during our practice we are going to realize that our body each time responds differently. In some occasions it will be strong and flexible, in some others it will be feeble and rigid, while some other times we may fund our balance to be steady or not. Though Pratyahara we are asked to not become attached to a certain achievement. In this way we learn to get satisfaction and truly enjoy our practice as we can respond to it at each particular moment, not as we would wish to perform or by yearning previous achievements.

The next step, called Dharana, focuses on our ability to control our mind. We exercise in learning to hold our attention still. This can be achieved by focusing on the sound of our breath and by keeping our gazing point fixed during our practice, by repeating a phrase as done in other practices, or simply by being aware of a routine action of our daily life.

In the 7th step, called Dhyana, we develop in meditation, the ability to hold the mind in a state of calmness and serenity where consciousness is aware not of the action of meditating but solely of the existence of one shelf.

The last step, called Samadhi, describes the clarity of spirit, the liberation form everything trivial and ephemeral. During the practice and in time the practitioner will start experiencing moments of complete awareness and bliss.

Usually, someone will start his practice with the physical postures, developing in Asana; as he progresses though and with proper guidance he will also start entering the rest of the aspects. This is of great importance since all eight steps are interlinked in a way that resembles the individual parts of the same chain. For that reason and if we wish our practice to be complete it would be unfavorable to just do the sequence of postures mechanically, without concentrating and listening to our body. In order to gain the maximum of this tradition we need to practice it as it is, not just the aspects that are more appealing to us, and we need to do so with awareness, patience, persistence, adaptability, faith and gratitude.