Hatha yoga provides millions of practitioners with valuable benefits ranging from improved physical conditioning to greater peace of mind; ultimately, however, yoga’s purpose is not physical fitness or relaxation. Yoga provides a philosophy of living, an ethical approach to life that any person—of any religion—can enjoy.

The ancient yogic philosopher Patanjali identified the “eight limbs” of the path of Raja yoga. These eight limbs, known as Ashtanga in Sanskrit, provide interconnected, progressive steps toward enlightenment. Here are contemporary translations for the original Sanskrit terms:

1. yamas (ethical restraints): nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, moderation and nonpossessiveness

2. niyamas (observances of self-restraint): purity and cleanliness of body, mind and surroundings; contentment; austerity; study; and living with constant awareness of the Infinite

3. asanas (yogic postures): practice of physical poses to harmonize mind and body and create proper alignment

4. pranayama (breath control): observation and practice of breathing exercises to develop the free flow of life force (prana) through the body

5. pratyahara (sensory inhibition): quieting the mind by drawing the senses inward from the external environment to the inner self

6. dharana (concentration): focusing attention on a single object, like the breath

7. dhyana (meditation): experiencing a state of mental stillness

8. samadhi (ultimate union): enlightenment through transcendence and union with the Infinite