Ashtaanga Yoga

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By Sangeetha Rajah

This Yoga is also called Raja Yoga or the 8-Fold Path.

These eight limbs together constitute the complete system known as classical Ashtanga Yoga from the famous yoga textbook known as the Yoga Sutras, written by the Sage Patanjali.

First and foremost, yoga is a systematic process of spiritual unfoldment. Yoga is a 5000-year-old system of self-knowledge and God-realization, the aim of which is to unleash our full human potential-including our physical, ethical, emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual dimensions.

The eight limbs are

  1. Yama - Rules of Social Conduct
  2. Niyama - Rules of Personal Behaviour
  3. Aasana - Physical Postures
  4. Praanaayaama - Control of Vital Force
  5. Pratyaahaara - Control of the Senses
  6. Dhaarana - Right Attention or Concentration
  7. Dhyaana - Meditation
  8. Samaadhi - Absorption

The first five limbs (from Yama to Pratyaahara) make up the outer aspect of Yoga and the last three (Dhaarana, Dhyaana, Samaadhi) are called Samyama or Integration. Yama and Niyama refer to the right attitudes, values and lifestyle practices necessary for Yoga, its ethical foundation. Aasana, Praanaayaama and Pratyaahaara are the means to control the outer aspects of our nature as body, breath and senses. Attention or concentration naturally leads to Meditation, which in time results in Absorption or the Unification of the Perceiver, the Perceived and the process of Perception. We get the knowledge of our true Self [1].

Yama

The five Yamas or the dharmic principles of social behaviour are

  1. Ahimsa - nonviolence
  2. Satya - truthfulness
  3. Asteya - non-stealing
  4. Brahmacharya - abstinence or control of Sexual energy
  5. Anabhinivesa - non-clinging or detachment

Niyama

The five Niyamas or the dharmic principles of personal behaviour are

  1. Santosha - contenment
  2. Saucha - purity
  3. Svaadhyaaya - self-study
  4. Tapas - self-discipline
  5. Iswara pranidhaana - surrender to God

Aasana

Aasana means right posture or the posture in harmony with our inner consciousness. Aasanas bring harmony to the physical body, particularly the musculoskeletal system that is the support of the body.

Praanaayaama

Praana means life force and Aayama means extension or expansion. Praanaayaama is not simply breath control but the controlled expansion of the life force. It consists of deepening and extending the Praana until it leads to a condition of Peace. When Praana is at peace, the life force the senses, emotions and mind are out to rest.

Pratyaahaara

Prati means counteracting or controlling and Aahaara means bringing near or fetching. Here Aahaara is to be taken as our sensory organs. Pratyaahaara is the right management of the senses to put them to rest. The techniques involved in Pratyaahaara either shut off the senses, like closing the eyes or ears, or using our senses with attention and concentration rather than distraction. This includes the various forms of Mantras or visualizations or listening to our inner sounds (naada).

Dhaarana

Dhaarana means holding or controlling. It involves developing and extending our power of attention. The techniques involve various ways of directing our attention like concentrating on the six chakras, Ishta devata, and the like.

Dhyaana

Dhyaana means contemplating, meditating. Meditation is the natural state of awareness. Meditation helps us to realize our own self. The object of meditation may be an external object like the ocean, sky, space, Ishta devata or an idea or a principle. It may be with a form (Saguna) or totally formless (nirguna).

Samaadhi

Samaadhi is but becoming one with the object of our perception. It is the absorption of ourselves into the consciousness that shows joy and fulfillment in life. It brings us to the underlying Divine nature in all the things. It is the natural outcome of true meditation.

References

  1. Yoga and Ayurveda by Dr.David Frawley