Ashtanga Yoga Poses ? Are we really doing yoga?

Did you search for “ashtanga yoga poses” on Google to get here? If you did, then there’s a good chance you’re in the wrong place.

I hate to say it, but unfortunately most people have the wrong idea about what ashtanga yoga is … mostly because one of the most popular modern yoga exercise trends as taken this ancient word “ashtanga” as its own, adding lots of confusion for yoga newbies … not to mention creating dismay for those who know and follow the traditional ashtanga yoga system.

The Sanskrit word ashtanga means “eight limbs,” referring to an ancient system of yoga made up of 8 essential, interconnected parts. Ashtanga yoga poses, the primary part of the “modern ashtanga’ is one of those eight parts … but just the tip of the yoga iceberg.

[B]How Strong Are Your 8 Limbs?[/B]

You may have heard about the first 2 limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas … those pesky morals and ethics that the yogis always seem to keep harping on. Really though, we all know how to be a good person, so what’s the big deal?

Unless you’re from Mars, then you know about the third limb … asana. That’s the cream of yoga for us body obsessed Westerners … and of course, who wouldn’t want to look as young as Madonna in their 50s?

The fourth limb you probably know too. It’s that monotonous breathing they call pranayama (like that exotic word is supposed to make it more interesting?). I already ready know how to breathe, don’t you?

But after that, things start to get vague for most of us. Can you even name limbs five through eight? Don’t feel bad if you can’t, even most yoga teachers today don’t have much to say about them, let alone teach about them. Which is why modern yoga really is more like “yoga preschool” than “yoga college.”

It’s in the last four stages is where yoga really begins. That’s what all the classic literature on yoga says and any real Guru (not the kind with a fake beard and moustache) would agree.

[B]If that’s true, what’s the point of the first 4 limbs then?[/B]

Preparation. The first four limbs can be referred to as Hatha Yoga … the last 4 as Raja Yoga. And as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a classic yoga text) tells us, Hatha and Raja are two ends of the same pole … “Hatha is a ladder for ascending to Raja, and Raja is the goal of Hatha.”

So yama and niyama, asana, and pranayama all prepare us for the higher stages, where REAL YOGA starts to happen. Hatha yoga is a necessary part of the yoga journey, but if we get stuck there, we’re going to miss the best part of the trip!

[B]Why didn’t your teacher mention that?[/B]

Well, to be honest, very few students have enough dedication and discipline to get to those higher yoga levels. Which is probably a good thing, because there are also very few yoga teachers who have really made it there themselves (unfortunately, becoming a certified yoga teacher today doesn’t require mastery of yoga.)

To be fair, these higher levels of yoga are no walk in the park … but that doesn’t change the facts. If we really want to experience the amazing transformative power of yoga, we need to climb higher. Most people, I know, prefer to remain in the land of endless preparation. My only question for them is … what exactly are you preparing for?

Thank you very much for sharing.

Whassup Yogacharya,

This is a very curious post to me: somewhat antithetical and conflicted. Is this your teaching? How did you come to be “Founder” of Yogalayam? What is it? Is this the kind of “tutoring” we would find in your online program? For free? Such a deal!

Pssst! That “exotic word” would be sanskrit. Ever heard of it?

Good luck with your program.


Great post- enjoyed reading it.

Thanks.Very informative.

Yogacharya thank you for your post.

You do however seem/ come across as somewhat angry and belittling. Is it not great that so many people are practicing yoga in the first place, albeit not perfectly? I must admit that I too say ‘I practice ashtanga yoga’, and your post has made me revise what this really means, and moving forward I will be more mindful of the ‘8 limbs’. That said, I do disagree with you, I have experienced the amazing transformative power of yoga, perhaps not in the same way as a ‘real guru’ but I have certainly felt…

For those of you that need a recap on the 8 limbs, I found this to be a good quick reference guide:

[B]Sanskrit [/B]

Yama - moral codes
Niyama - self purification and study
Asana - posture
Pranayama - breath control
Pratyahara - sense control
Dharana - intention
Dhyana - meditation
Samadhi - contemplation

Namaste folks! Yogacharya here …

Thanks for your replies everyone. It’s nice to hear from you! I just wanted to say that some of the things in my post were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, like: “The fourth limb you probably know too. It’s that monotonous breathing they call pranayama (like that exotic word is supposed to make it more interesting?). I already ready know how to breathe, don’t you?.” I’m sorry that the impression seemed to be the opposite Mr. Siva! But I’m not sure if you were being tongue in cheek or critical and sarcastic with your response. By the way, yes, I have heard of Sanskrit and actually I can read, write and speak it ;o)

Thanks for tacking on a list of the 8 limbs Omamana. As for your question “Is it not great that so many people are practicing yoga in the first place, albeit not perfectly?” … YES, it’s fabulous! There is not a single student of yoga on this planet who practices yoga perfectly! However, students only serve to gain by having teachers with a higher level of experience and understanding. In that, I believe the global yoga community has much room for improvement.

Thanks again for sharing. Nice to meet you all!

Yours in Yoga,

Most forms of yoga are great way to improve body?s flexibility and rejuvenating the mind and soul but they do not put much emphasis on physical strength and muscle training. Ashtanga yoga ensures that you not only obtain a calm and peaceful mind but also a strong and toned body.

The most coming definition of Ashtanga Yoga is to purify the mind through eight (Asht) steps, and each step in Ashtanga Yoga has to be mastered before mastering the next can be successfully attempted.

Yama (control):
Nonviolence, truth, honesty, sexual continence, forbearance, fortitude, kindness, straightforwardness, moderation in diet, bodily purity.

Niyama (rules of conduct):
Austerity, contentment, belief in God, charity, worship of God, study of teachings and scriptures, modesty, having a discerning mind, repetition of prayers, observance of vows and performing sacrifices.

Asanas (postures):
As a motionless body makes the mind quiet, 48 postures have been described of which at the least one must be mastered if one is to reach a deep state of meditation. See also Asanas in Hatha Yoga

Pranayama (control of breath):
Inhalation, holding the breath, exhalation?..through 3 kinds of muscular controls (bandhas).

Pratyahara (withdrawal of sensory perceptions):
Consisting of breath suspension and holding the mind, that step by step absorbs the senses in Kundalini energy.

Dharana (concentration):
By the aid of mantras in Ashtanga Yoga, deep concentration on the six subtle centers of the chakras, starting from the first and gradually approaching the seventh.

Dhyana (uninterrupted mediation):
In which the ego, the mind and the intellect dissolve in Kundalini and Kundalini dissolves in the supreme consciousness.

Samadhi (complete equilibrium):
The individual consciousness becomes pure consciousness. After a prolonged state of Samadhi there is no need to practice Ashtanga yoga any longer, because the conscious connection with the divine is everlasting.

In terms of Ashtanga vinayasa yoga, this if practiced properly will require application of the Raja Yoga/Ashtanga yoga as found in patanjalai yoga sutras. If I had time I would like to write an article on this.

I guess when people say Ashtanga yoga, you need to ask, Patanjali or Vinyasa, but the vinyasa includes the patanjali. It’s one. As Gregor Maehle says, yoga philosophy and yoga practice are two sides of the same coin.

Many, in the West at least, are probably doing a watered down kind of yoga that really amounts more to calinetics or gymnastics.

Jane Fonda was doing the same but before eventually adopting something more authentic.



I thought maybe you were trying to distract us from paying attention to the things that matter, to things you can’t possibly learn without a teacher, like pranayama, because that would make it seem like learning yoga online was an actual possibility, taking advantage of those who don’t know better, and that someone who actually knew the difference between the meaning of the word “ashtanga” and using an “exotic” word to market a popular form of yoga, as if it were important, would qualify a person to be a yoga “tutor.”



Ouch Siva! Why the biting sarcasm? I’m sorry if I’ve touched a nerve … Have you even had a look at any of my online yoga programs? Do you know anything about me besides what you have deduced from this post?

I do respect your opinion but I also disagree about whether or not some aspects of yoga can be effectively taught online … because my experience has shown me that much can … and my students, many of whom have had ample “offline yoga training” have gained greatly from what I have given them. They are definitely not learning yoga online “without a teacher” … at least in my case.

Thanks for sharing. Wishing you all the best on your yogic journey …



I have seen your website, and read your articles too, which your post reiterates. I see also that since my first response to your post you have added a “Buyer Beware” article. Good advice. You never answered my question…how did you come to be Founder of Yogalayam?

Good luck with your marketing program: “Buyer Beware.”



You never answered my question…how did you come to be Founder of Yogalayam?


Namaste Siva,

I’m not sure what you mean? I established International Yogalayam (not Yogalayam) in 2006 and continue to direct it. Website is here, if you want to know more about it:


I have learned a lot online. Probably would have learned faster and maybe better with a teacher but my work schedule is up and down and doesn’t like a set schedule of classes. Besides, my personality is good with staying in my cave ( condo ) and practicing. I also have convincing proof that my efforts have produced positive results having had a few different ailments that have been directly fixed by my practice, ailments that had bothered me for years before yoga and don’t now. My life is immeasurably improved since yoga and most of it has been learned by other means than a teacher. Not to put teachers down but to say that a true aspirant really just needs his aspirations. Namaste

what was the question again? - does Ashtanga prepare your body for feelings of bliss?

[QUOTE=Yogacharya;29910]? and of course, who wouldn?t want to look as young as Madonna in their 50s?[/QUOTE]

Well, I for one do really not wanna look like Madonna when I’m 50. THere’s a woman who has not aged well.

Very informative post. Thanks Yogacharya!

… to reach the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Pattabhi Jois popularized the specific style yoga; Ashtanga Vinyasa
On the other hand Ashatanga Yoga roughly translates to eight limbs of yoga, not? Somewhat confusing, yes.

“unfortunately, becoming a certified yoga teacher today doesn’t require mastery of yoga”

Good thing it does not, for no one masters yoga, any anyone who claims to have done so, has missed the point of yoga entirely…

Amazing to me that anyone who practices yoga would go so far as to define and state absolutes. There are guidelines, there are teachers and revered texts, and these can all be good things, yet there is no single path. The paths are many, and each can be very different. Each must be discovered, determined, and experienced individually. Truth is found only in the moment…One who follows anothers truth, anothers path is not living truth at all.

Gurus? Everyone and no one is a guru…

“A guru is nothing more than a really good friend, and nothing less than a really good friend”