The Yoga Sutras by Pantajali is a compilation of 196 sutras (rules/aphorisms) on the philosophy and teachings of yoga. In these sutras, Patanjali mentions about ashtanga also known as eight limbs of yoga. This eight limb path of yoga is a step by step guideline to live a more conscious and meaningful life ultimately leading to enlightenment of our spiritual soul.
In these eight limbs or the eight disciplines we learn to strengthen our body and gain control over our breath in the first four steps while in the latter we learn to control our mind, senses and gain consciousness leading to the feeling of oneness with God.
Yama ( Restraints )
This deals with the moral behavior of an individual. It tells us about the don’ts in our behavior and also to follow a moral and ethical code of conduct. Following these daily will help us eradicate our selfish nature and live a more truthful life
Ahimsa (Non-violence)– Do not harm any living being through your words, actions or thoughts.
Satya (Non-falsehood)– Do not lie to anyone. Always be truthful.
Asteya ( Non-stealing)- Do not steal anything that does not belong to you whether materialistic or non-materialistic
Brahmacharya (Non-sensuous)- Take control on your senses and restrain yourself from inappropriate sexual behavior in other words chastity, intoxications.
Aparigraha (Non-rapacity)- Do not be greedy. Give away on your wrong desires and cravings of wealth and materialistic possessions. Live with simplicity.
The Niyamas are the Do’s or the practices that one should observe and follow for self-discipline, self-growth towards ethical and intellectual living. There are five major Niyamas that one should observe likely
Saucha (purity)– Purity and cleanliness of our mind , body and surrounding.
Santosha (Contentment)– Be content with what we have. Acceptance of our situations as the way they are although being optimist for self improvements in future.
Tapas (Austerity)– Perseverance and self determination. Be committed to what we are doing and strive hard to keep that commitment.
Svadhyaya(Self-study)– Study self in with respect to our thoughts, actions and speech. Introspect so that we do not behave wrongly with anyone whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Ishwar Pranidhana (Devotion)– Devote/ surrender in the supreme being. Let our actions and practice be a devotion to the universe.
In his eight limbs of yoga, Patanjali describes “Asana” as a posture which one can hold/ be in for a long period of time being motionless and relaxed. Any discomfort caused during any posture is not an asana. We need to be sure to keep our spine straight and face erect while performing any posture. Asanas in yoga are practiced by many as way of physical exercises for improving the flexibility of the body thus promoting healthy body. The art of mastering any asana is when we can stay calm and still in a particular posture with minimal effort put in to feel relaxed and focused. Asana needs concentration and focus which further are helpful for practicing meditation.
Pranayama (Control of breath)
“Prana” meaning life, in this context breath & “ayama” (extension,control). Pranayama is the technique of taking control of our breath. It is the method of mastering our breath and regulating the inhalations & exhalations. It is a conscious control on our breath done by increasing or decreasing the time and length of the breath. Combination of different breathing exercises of inhalations and exhalations help in improving the respiratory organs as well as helps circulate oxygen to different parts of the body making us feel more stress-free and energetic. It helps in proper functioning of the heart and brain keeping them fit thus help increasing our life span. Asana and Pranayama combined together form an important part of Hatha-yoga.
Pratyahara (Withdrawal of senses)
In this stage we learn to withdraw our senses from the outside world and pay more attention towards our internal self in other words controlling our senses and analyzing our own self. This is the transition stage in the eight limb fold where the first four stages teach us about external practices and the last three internal practices will help us with the awakening of our inner self . It is in this stage where we stop getting distracted with our thoughts of outer situations, people and objects and focus more on self knowledge and our inner world.
The practice of pratyahara helps us achieve the next limb i.e dharana (concentration). In the latter we learn to withdraw our senses from our surroundings and outer world, which in turn helps build focus or concentration on our internal self and state of mind . This single pointed focus on an object, idea, mantra or our deity, without letting our mind deviate to unnecessary thoughts or surrounding distractions is dharana. It helps our mind filter the necessary thoughts with better understanding and focus in that particular direction. Long duration of dharana helps attain the next limb i.e dhyana.
Dhayana means “meditation or contemplation”. It is the process of mind to contemplate what we have focused on in all its aspects and forms. There is a difference between dharana and dhayana, in dharana we learnt to have a one pointed focus say on a certain object,idea or deity whereas in dhayana we contemplate this object,idea,deity.It is the process in our mind of concentrated meditation without any interruption leading towards the awareness of this focused object. In meditation our mind becomes still and unaware of anything else but only the object of meditation. It is nothing but the truth and awakening of our mind, soul i.e self-awareness
Samadhi (union, joining)
The continued practice of dhyana takes us to the final path in the eight limb fold of yoga that is samadhi. It is the sense of oneness with the object of meditation. In samadhi the meditator and the object of meditation are no longer distinguishable. The mind stills it itself to the level that it can no longer differentiate between self and the object of meditation obtaining oneness. It is a state of trance where the mind transcends itself to the level that we are one with divine and the universe. It is the most difficult and supreme consciousness path in our life.