Ashtanga means 8 limbs. Ashtanga yoga is the practice of Yoga which involves 8 stages in reaching the end goalof Yoga which is “uniting the body, mind and soul with the cosmic energy” also called as enlightenment.
THE 8 STAGES OF YOGA
Sage Patanjali, who compiled the first written work on Yoga almost 2300 years ago, enumerates these means as the eight limbs or stages of Yoga for the quest of the soul. They are:
1. Yama (universal moral commandments);
2. Niyama (self purification by discipline);
3. Asana (posture);
4. Pranayama (rhythmic control of the breath);
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects);
6. Dharana (concentration);
7. Dhyana (meditation);
8. Samadhi (a state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation, in which the individual aspirant (sadhaka) becomes one with the object of his meditation – Paramatma or the Universal Spirit).
It is like climbing a ladder with 8 steps. With each step the Yoga practitioner moves one step higher. The physical benefits are obtained in the first 2 stages itself.