What is Anga?

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Aṇga (limb)

Anga Definition

Anga is most often translated as “limb”, however, anga has also been described as a “part”, or an “auxiliary”. In general, anga refers to the integral components constituting the profound science of yoga.

Anga can also be compared to the growing branches (or limbs) of a tree. In the same way that a tree grows from its roots, these angas form the foundation upon which the practice of yoga is built, allowing practitioners to gain higher states of consciousness.

The concept of anga is rooted in the ancient yogic text known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which serves as a guide for all aspiring yogis.

green trees in a forest

Anga Deep Dive

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras were written around 4th century CE. They describe the eightfold path of yoga, known as Ashtanga Yoga. “Ashta” translates to “eight” and “anga” implies “limb”, therefore, Ashtanga Yoga translates to “the eight limbs of yoga”.

Each of these eight limbs acts as a stepping stone on the journey towards self-realization and liberation. By cultivating and integrating these angas into one’s practice, individuals can experience a profound transformation at physical, mental, and spiritual levels.

The eight limbs of yoga are as follows:

1. Yama

The first limb encompasses moral principles and ethical conduct. It involves practicing non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), moderation (brahmacharya), and non-possessiveness (aparigraha).

These principles lay the foundation for harmonious relationships with oneself and others.

a street sign saying: ethics, honesty, integrity

2. Niyama

Niyama focuses on personal observances and self-discipline. It involves practicing cleanliness (shaucha), contentment (santosha), self-discipline (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and surrender to a higher power (ishvara pranidhana).

Niyama helps individuals develop positive habits and cultivate a balanced inner state.

3. Asana

Asanas refer to physical postures practiced in yoga. The practice of asanas enhances strength, flexibility, balance, and body awareness. Through asana practice, one learns to harmonize the body, mind, and breath, creating a conducive environment for meditation.

4. Pranayama

Pranayama involves breath control techniques that facilitate the regulation and expansion of prana. Prana means “life force” or “vital energy”, and yama stands for “control”.

By harnessing the breath, practitioners can influence their energy levels, enhance mental clarity, and deepen their connection with the present moment.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara denotes withdrawal of the senses from external distractions. It involves directing one’s attention inward, detaching from sensory experiences, and cultivating inner stillness. Pratyahara serves as a gateway to the subsequent stages of meditation.

a man in a white t shirt lying down doing breathwork

6. Dharana

Dharana refers to concentration, the ability to focus the mind on a single point or object. Through dharana, individuals can develop mental stability and overcome the constant flux of thoughts.

This unwavering concentration prepares the mind for the further stages of meditation.

7. Dhyana

Dhyana signifies meditation, a state of profound awareness and deep absorption. In this anga, the practitioner experiences a heightened sense of unity, transcending the boundaries of the self. Dhyana nurtures inner clarity, insight, and spiritual growth.

8. Samadhi

Samadhi represents the ultimate goal of yoga, a state of complete absorption.

a woman with her arms open smiling at the sky

Anga In Your Life

As yoga practitioners, in what ways can we integrate the teachings from the eight angas into our lives?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are an important resource for serious yoga practitioners. Patanjali’s teachings focus predominantly on the philosophy of yoga and serve as a useful guide to inspire a yogic lifestyle, both on and off the mat.

The profound wisdom embedded within the eight angas of yoga provide a comprehensive framework for living a purposeful and balanced life. By integrating these angas into our daily routines, we can cultivate self-awareness and a connection with the world around us.

Let us dive deeper into the eight angas to explore practical ways to apply them into our lives:

Yama – Restraint

The ethical principles of yama guides our interactions with others.

  • Practicing non-violence encourages us to respond with kindness and compassion, fostering harmonious relationships.
  • Truthfulness promotes honesty and authenticity in our communication, building trust and understanding.
  • Non-stealing reminds us to respect others’ possessions and ideas, nurturing a sense of integrity.
  • Moderation encourages a balanced approach to our desires and consumption, promoting sustainable living.
  • Non-possessiveness teaches us to let go of attachment, embracing a mindset of abundance and generosity.
a man holding a little red heart in his hands

Niyama – Observances

The observances of niyama support our personal growth and self-discipline.

  • Cultivating cleanliness not only pertains to physical hygiene but also extends to maintaining a clutter-free environment and a clear mind.
  • Contentment invites us to find joy in the present moment and appreciate what we have, reducing the inclination for constant craving.
  • Self-discipline empowers us to make choices aligned with our values and long-term goals, fostering self-mastery.
  • Self-study involves introspection and continuous learning, deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world.
  • Surrendering to a higher power acknowledges the existence of something greater than ourselves, cultivating humility and trust.

Asana – Seat, also refers to Yoga Postures

Integrating asanas into our daily lives allows us to nurture our physical bodies.

  • Regular practice of yoga postures improves strength, flexibility, and balance, enhancing overall well-being.
  • We can incorporate simple stretching exercises or short yoga sequences into our morning or evening routines to invigorate the body and promote a sense of vitality.
a man doing cat cow on a grey yoga mat

Pranayama – Breath Control

Conscious breath control in the form of pranayama techniques can help us to manage stress, increase energy levels, and cultivate mental clarity.

  • Taking a few moments each day to focus on deep, rhythmic breathing can have a profound impact on our state of mind.
  • Breathing techniques can be practiced during breaks at work, before important meetings, or as a grounding ritual before bedtime.

Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the Senses

In our modern world filled with sensory distractions, pratyahara reminds us to find moments of solitude and introspection.

  • By consciously withdrawing our attention from external stimuli, we can create space for inner stillness and self-reflection.
  • This can be achieved through activities like mindful walking in nature, meditation, or unplugging from digital devices for dedicated periods of time.

Dharana – Concentration

Developing the ability to concentrate our minds on a single point can significantly enhance productivity, mental clarity, and creativity.

  • Engaging in tasks with undivided attention, practicing single-pointed meditation, or focusing on a specific goal or mantra can strengthen our dharana skills.
  • Regular practice can gradually extend our capacity to stay present and focused throughout the day.
a hand holding mala beads

Dhyana – Meditation

Carving out time for regular meditation, allows us to access a state of deep relaxation and expanded awareness.

  • Even short meditation sessions, ranging from 5 to 20 minutes, can bring tremendous benefits.
  • Find a quiet corner in your home or workplace, create a serene ambiance, and establish a consistent meditation practice that aligns with your schedule and preferences.

Samadhi – Complete Absorption

While the attainment of complete absorption may be an ongoing journey, we can cultivate glimpses of samadhi through moments of flow, clarity, and connection.

  • Embrace silence and solitude, allowing yourself time for introspection and contemplation, creating an environment conducive to experiencing moments of deep inner stillness and connection.
  • Engage in practices of self-inquiry and self-reflection to deepen your understanding of your true nature and dissolve the illusion of separateness.
  • Explore and connect with nature, immersing yourself fully in the beauty and serenity of the natural world, fostering a sense of unity and harmony.
  • Cultivate an attitude of non-attachment and surrender, allowing yourself to let go of expectations and outcomes, and embracing the present moment as it unfolds.
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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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