Ashtanga Yoga is the systematic set of sutras compiled by Maharshi Patanjali. The Sanskrit word Ashtanga means eight limbs. In other words, it is also said the eight limbs yoga. Sage Patanjali has formulated eight limbs as being the path to yoga. According to sage Patanjali, following all the limbs one can realize the state of Samadhi. It has also been named as Patanjali’s Raja Yoga.
However, the commentaries of different yogis vary in the subject of eight limbs as some regards eight limbs as the certain steps to reach the enlightenment and other consider it like the limbs of the body which grow simultaneously to make a mature body. In spite of having different views on the process of eight limbs, the importance and influence among yogis seem to be striking and remarkable.
Even though yoga sutra of Patanjali has been dated back to 3rd century BC, the application and study of yoga sutra remained dormant till medieval age despite its terse and concise form of writing. Only in the late nineteenth century, the propagation of yoga sutra Patanjali was heighted and embarked by the effort of Swami Vivekananda. At this point in time, Yoga Sutra of Patanjali has been translated into forty different languages.
The Yoga Sutra Patanjali actually talks more than Ashtanga Yoga. In addition to ashtanga yoga, the sacred scriptures also has preserved the sutra focusing on state beyond the Samadhi. Ashtanga Yoga consists of eight different commandments or factors that has to be accomplished to reach the state of yoga. The Ashtanga Yoga recommends specific ingredients and elements which by practice and perseverance leads one to the state of union to the Supreme Self which is called the state of Yoga. The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are as follows:
The word ‘Yama’ refers to the moral conducts and ethical principle made for the society. Yamas are the universal principles that has to be regarded as the practice which should be practiced in relation to the people. They are also called as universal code of conducts which are worthy of implying in our life in relation to the world. The duties that has to be followed while living in the society and in this human world come under Yama. In the yoga sutra of Patanjali, the yama has included five elements in its category:
The Sanskrit word ‘Ahimsa’ refers to non-violence. The word non-violence is not only confined to the physical non-violence such quarrel and war it also indicates mental and psychological non-violence which we think negative and bad by our talks for others. The level of non-violence gets its toughest level when it talks about not to harm anybody even in our minds created in the form of thoughts.
Those three kinds of Ahimsa are called ‘Kayik’, ‘Bachik’, and ‘Manashik’. ‘Kayik’ denotes ‘physical’. The use of physical weapons, quarrel, fights etc. are considered to be Kayik violence. The exclusion of the physical use infers to Kayik Ahimsa. Bachik Ahimsa means not to harm anyone by any words. Manashik Ahimsa means not to think badly about anyone or anything.
Satya means ‘truth’. The state of being truthful to oneself and to the society is the second factor of Yama. The practice of truth, however, should not contradict with the practice of non-violence. By telling the truth, if it harms someone then it’s always better not to speak. The practice of being in truth and honest doesn’t mean that it has to be absolute kind of things. Considering other conditions and circumstances, the truth has to be expressed.
The third element of Yama is Asteya which means non-covetousness or non-stealing. The word ‘steya’ means ‘to steal’. When the prefix ‘a’ is added it becomes non-stealing. It is not only about robbing or stealing someone’s wealth, property or possession, it also means not to steal anything from our sense organs. The desire of sense organs needs to be ceased from being covetous to anything. The state of being content and fulfilled to oneself and not to be envious and jealous of anything even in our sense level is perceived as Asteya.
The state of non-possessiveness can be the optimum translation of the word aparigraha. When one desires to possess anything more than one needs is the situation where one has broken the ethics of Aparigraha. It’s the state of mind and the intention of action that has to be away from any acquisition of property or anything beyond one’s needs and necessities. The mentality to hoard as much as one desires rather than the need has been perceived as disbelief to the God. Aparigraha in this regard follows the will of God to enjoy for what has been granted and not being greedy of anything.
It has been regarded as the state of being celibate not investing and wasting the energy of our body for other things than God. It has also been translated or considered as the journey to the Brahma, the Supreme Self, Divine state or the awakening state. The journey to the supreme self-has been referred as Brahmacharya. Instead of wasting the energy for the sexual practice, it has to be regulated for approving and realizing the presence of God within ourselves.
The conducts and observances that we make for ourselves are Niyama. Niyamas lead us to involve the inner world and make our inner world harmonious to the outer world. The practices that we’ve done for our personal lives and the things that take us an even deeper state of self-are the aspects of Niyama. All the obedience which we do with the honesty to empower and enhances our self-awareness are the factors of Niyama.
- Ishwar Pranidhan
Saucha means cleanliness which includes inner and outer cleansing. It means to say that cleanliness has to be observed not only in the physical body but also in the mental level. In addition to have a bath, cleansing our bowel, expelling toxins through sweating, the act of mental cleansing is necessary. Mental cleansing can be understood as the purity of the mental thoughts. In this manner, Saucha has to be maintained both internally and externally.
Santosh literally means the state of contentment. The ability to be content for what we’ve had and what we’re doing is the state of Santosh which has been placed as one of the aspects of Niyama. The feeling of fulfillment and wonder has been expected as the procedure to follow the path of Niyama. It’s about being content with ourselves how much we’ve and what we’re doing in our life rather than being worried and disappointed for what we don’t have. The mentality of being very observant and fulfilled in different situation of life has been taken as Santosha.
The word ‘Tapas’ means to burn oneself and ignite oneself. In other words, it can be understood as the practice of self-discipline. The self-observance which demands self-discipline and the quality of burning oneself by the positive thoughts, practices, and disciplines.
In the course of attaining the union of God, one has to be much disciplined to oneself with the energy one invests and flows. The practice of being disciplined for union with the Divine is the practice of Tapas which also can be understood as to be discipline while eating while doing asana and while doing any work. With full dedication to follow the almighty one ignites oneself with knowledge and burns and leaves all the negativity which comes with the goal.
The self-study and the study of Holy Scriptures have been regarded as the fourth Niyama. The word Swadhyaya has been formed with the combination of the two words ‘Swa’ which means ‘self’ and Adhyaya which means ‘examine’ or ‘inquiry’. The practice of self-inquiry and self-examination can be literally translated as Swadhyaya.
Furthermore, It is about studying about oneself. It concerns on knowing and understanding our own real self as well as being self-conscious about the things which has been going on in life. The study of our own nature and self through deep contemplation about oneself is swadhyaya. The observances which mainly focuses on the practice of studious our mental thoughts and modification as well as the true nature of our own is the major motto of swadhyaya. The journey of being aware of our true self and reality is the way that Swadhyaya means to apply.
The dedication and devotion to the God can be translated by the meaning of Ishwar Pranidhana. It also implies the meaning of surrendering to the God of everything we’ve been doing. The attitude or practice of acting anything in the hope that God gets the credit. The action that we proceed and perform have been conducted by the very will of the God. It can also be implied as the welcome and accepting the life and its intricacies with harmony and affection. It also indicates the state of facing all the life situations with equanimity.
The physical posture which is done with certain movement in relation to the breathing is called Asana. Asana literally means the physical pose. The word Asana has been derived from Sanskrit which refers ‘to sit down, sitting down, seat or manner of sitting’. It can be further explained that any physical position which is performed in hatha yoga is asana.
Even though the physical posture that we call asana and physical exercise look similar. However, they make a striking difference as far as process and practice are concerned. During the practice of yoga you would want to correlate the physical movement with your breathing whereas in physical exercise you wouldn’t care on associating the physical movement and breathing. In asana, you are supposed to do certain posture with certain movement and flow of breathing.
The asana actually has been the synonym to the word yoga in the world, especially in the western world. As a matter of act, the asana only represents every one aspect of yoga. Yoga itself can be related to the ocean and asana as a bucket of water from that gargantuan ocean. In spite of having different names and the demarcation between and among style of yoga, all these practices which incorporates physical posture as their major practice then they all are under the part of Hatha Yoga.
According to Patanjali, asana should be steady and comfortable. He defines asana in verse 2.46 in Patanjali Yoga Sutra as ‘Sthiram Sukham Asanam’. He emphasizes on the firmness as well as comfort in a state of asana. By the regular practice of the asana, it is said that a practitioner gets no more discomfort in physical level. The state of comfort in physical level also welcomes the state of oneness. There doesn’t remain the existence of duality i.e. happiness/sadness, hunger/satiety, heat/cold, joy/grief etc.
In eight limbs of Patanjali, Pranayama has been positioned at number four order. The Sanskrit word ‘pranayama’ is the combination of two words ‘prana’ and ‘ayama’. ‘Prana’ means ‘vital life force’ and ‘ayama’ means to extend or expand. Thus, pranayama literally means to extend or expand the vital life force or energy. It has also been known as the breath control technique. The much popular name for pranayama has been breathing technique for many practitioners. However, it has the very deeper level of meaning and magnitude than it has generally been understood as breathing technique.
The process of inhalation and exhalation has been continuing till we die. The question here is how to make it more systematic and worthy in our life. The significance of application while practicing breathing has to be kept in mind.
In addition to its understanding as the extension of vital life energy, the major goal is to create the gap between inhalation and exhalation. The longer one can control one’s breathing, the longer one is believed to have lived. Therefore, the practice of pranayama has also a deeper effect on longevity. It makes our physical life longer. Moreover, pranayama has been the weapon to control our breath.
When we become able to control our breath, we also become able to control our senses. And the state comes when we also become able to control our mind. According to Hath Yoga, the way to reach at the level of controlling our mind can be achieved and realized when we become able to control our breath. Therefore, in the system of Hath Yoga, pranayama has been regarded as one of the most important aspects to reach to the higher state of consciousness. In other words, by the practice of pranayama one opens the door to enlightenment even though there is much practice to follow and feel.
In Patanjali yoga sutras, pranayama has been mentioned in the chapter called Sadhana Pada in verse 2.49. It dictates pranayama as ‘tasmin sati shvasa prashvsayoh gati vichchhedah pranayamah.’ The idea of controlling the movement of inhalation and exhalation is called pranayama. The further description on pranayama has been made in verse 2.49 to 2.51 and 2.52 and 2.53 have been dedicated for benefits. However, the variety and development of the practice and its aspects has been one of the evolutionary processes still keeping the jest of the pranayama altogether.
Pratyahara means ‘withdrawal of the senses’. The ability to control the sense organs from external objects and effects through the yogic practice has been referred to as pratyahara. It has also been regarded as the bridge between earlier four limbs Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama and the later three aspects Dharana, Dhyan, and Samadhi.
When a person becomes detached from the sensation of the touch, smell, hear, sight, and taste, one tends to be more open for the internal limbs of the eight limbs. Indeed first four has been said as Bahiranga which means external limbs and later three as Antaranga which refers to internal limbs. In between these two state of yoga comes the pratyahara as a link.
The word ‘pratyahara’ has a Sanskrit root which has been combined with the two words ‘prati’ which means ‘towards’ and ‘ahar’ means ‘bring near or fetch’. By the combination of the two words it gives the meaning of bringing one’s awareness towards oneself. It’s more about turning awareness about our true self which also can be named as inner self or inner world. The journey to inner world starts with the practice of controlling our senses from external objects and captivation.
The focus and consciousness about the internal affairs of mind and self-knowledge rather than outer or external stuffs is what pratyhara means to define. In Yoga Sutra Patanjali, pratyahara has been closely connected in being detached from all the senses. In the verse 2.54 of chapter two, pratyahar has been defined as ‘sva visaye asamprayoge chittasya swarupe anukaraha iva indriyanam pratyaharah’.
When the sense organs cease to be engaged with the objects in mental realm rather turn back to the mental state from where these mental thoughts arise, this has been defined as Pratyahara. The practice of detachment has been emphasized as the process of yoga. One doesn’t have any tendency towards the sensory objects. The state when one has become able to control the illusion and allure of sense objects, the state has been defined as ‘pratyahara’.
In the state of being detached from the external world doesn’t mean that we are not aware of what is happening around us. However, we remain unresponsive about all these events going on outside. This state can be associated with the tortoise which in spite of being inside the shell stills hears and smells and knows about the external world.
Dharana is a noun which has been originated from the Sanskrit root ‘dhri’ which means to hold, maintain and keep’. The practice of holding the awareness and one-pointed focus to the certain object is called Dharana. It has been regarded as the sixth limbs of ashtanga yoga of Maharshi Patanjali. After being able to conquer the enticement and attachment of sensory organs and external orientation, one is supposed to open the path to maintain focus and concentration in the certain object.
The ability to keep one’s mind very aware in one thing has been said as Dharana. The matter of focus has been conceived as something internal or concerned to mind. Moreover, the focus of the mind also can be on certain matras, parts of the body, any object or idea of one’s mind. Being in a state of aware and concentrated in a one topic without drifting and dwelling in different stuffs is taken as Dharana.
The state of dharana can be correlated to the state of ekagra chitta. The ability to be concentrated in a certain object in mind without the consciousness being vacillating from it states the idea of Dharana. Our mind gets distracted and disturbed by many things. The obstructing things to be focused for us may be external or internal things. When one can hold and maintain one’s concentration and d fixation in a certain object that state makes the state of Dharana.
The mind has been engrossed by different ideas and thoughts which come and go like an ocean waves. They float in the mind like floating waves. Such oscillating tendency can be controlled and focused on a specific idea or topic in our mind which can be referred to the state of Dharana.
In Patanjali Yoga Sutra, the talk on Dharana has been mentioned in verse 3.1 which says attention leads to the concentration. It states, ‘Deshah Bandhah Chittaysa Dharana’ which literally means Dharana is to hold or fix the attention of mind into certain object or place. Patanajali remarks in Yoga Sutra Patanjlai that concentration can be achieved through stabilizing the mind and halting the coloring of the mind with Kriya yoga along with the first five rungs of the eight limbs.
Patanjali Yoga Sutra states Dhyana as ‘tatra prataya ekatanata dhyanam’ which can be translated as an uninterrupted stream of one-pointed focus. The seventh rung of Eight Limbs of Yoga, Dhyana according to yoga sutras is to be absorbed in meditation. The state in which one can prolong the time of focus for certain object without any disruption and interference of the sense organs. In the state of Dhyana one doesn’t get entangled in the thought waves and can increase the time duration of one-pointed focus to a certain object. It has been explained as the expansive and extensive state of being aware and orient to a specific object for a longer period of time.
Dhyana can be completed with an observer, observing and observed. There is someone who observes the certain thing. The process of observing also continues there. With incessant flow of awareness and concentration, an observer continues the practice of focusing on observed. When one experiences the consistent series of concentration to the same idea, topic or object for longer with constant state the state can be referred as Dhyana.
Dhyana has been generally translated as the popular word meditation. The Sanskrit word ‘Dhyana’ has been denoted as ‘contemplation, reflection, profound abstract meditation’. Dhyana is to contemplate what Dharana has concentrated on. For Patanjali, Dhyana is mind process in which course of uniform modification of knowledge occurs.
Dhyana flows with awareness without any interruption. When one sits in any comfortable position with closed eyes that has been conferred as the meditation. Indeed this is only one and outer appearance of meditation. The idea of meditation has internally connected to the level of consciousness where one remains away from the any sensory impressions and illusion. One has been able to keep the orientation without any interruption to a certain object for substantial amount of time.
The state of absorption when the separation between the observer, observing and the observed ends can be called as Samadhi. The Sanskrit word ‘samadhi’ means ‘putting together, joining or combining’. The assimilation of three aspects has been explained as Samadhi. According to Patanjali Yoga Sutra, in verse 3.3 Samadhi defines as ‘tada eva artha matra nirvasam swarup sunyam iva samadhi’. The definition of Samadhi mentioned above can be translated as the state of deep absorption with only one essence of that object, place, points which shines forth even being devoid of its own form is called Samadhi, the eighth limb.
The state of Samadhi also has been discussed as the state of being union with the Supreme Self. In thae state of Samadhi body and mind are at rest as if they are asleep whereas the mind and reason are alert as if they are awake; one goes beyond consciousness. In rest of the seventh limbs, one has not been conceived to be unify with the Supreme Self. The total absorption with the true self occurs at the state of Samadhi. The word Samadhi has also been popularly mentioned as ‘liberation, enlightenment, absorption, nirvana, moksha, mukti’ etc.
What a beautiful view and understanding.