Ashtanga Yoga: An eight-fold Path to Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a philosophical and yogic system of Raja Yoga for attaining enlightenment, which has eight limbs or branches mentioned in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It’s lifestyle and practices are based on Vedas and Upanishadic philosophies.

Man is different from animals and all other species on this planet. It is the wisdom, knowledge, rationale and logic which separates us from animals. The enlightened beings always guide us to a peaceful path of life. No amount of wealth or power is any good if its incapable of creating harmony and peace. All the Yogic activities and philosophies are designed to liberate the Jiva from the clutches of the poison of the senses by developing detachment for the object of the senses and the materialistic world.

The Yogic way of life is based on strict principles and self-regulations for spiritual purposes and to grow ones state of awareness. 

Yoga is a four-fold path to attain enlightenment divided on basis of distinct human qualities. 

  1. Bhakti Yoga
  2. Jnana Yoga
  3. Karma Yoga
  4. Raja Yoga
    • Hath Yoga
    • Ashtanga Yoga
    • Kundilini Yoga
    • Kriya Yoga

Raja Yoga is the science of mysticism, but not in a fantasy point of way. It deals with exploring and studying the subtle energies of life like air, water, fire, planets, magnetism and solar radiations. Various Shastras explore the depths and effects of all the energies that interact with our body and mind.

Raja Yoga is the study to understand those energies and balance it with our body and mind which creates a harmony between our body and its environment. Consequently, providing a peaceful state of mind.

Ashtanga Yoga is an extension of the branch Raja Yoga. Ashtanga means eight limbs. Therefore, this Yoga has eight fundamental pillars which one has to uphold in life to be classified as an Ashtangi; a practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga.

The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are:

1. Yama (यम): Moral Codes

Ethical rules and proper code of conduct for rightful living. A life of truthfulness and righteousness. Not to give false statements or to promote a statement which one knows to be false or a lie.

10 Yamas according to the Shandilya Upnishada:

  1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा) is Non-violence. The continuous abstinence from causing pain to all beings by the acts of mind, speech and body is Ahimsa.
  2. Sathya (सत्य) is truthfulness or honesty. Honesty in the acts of mind, speech and body is Sathya.
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय) is non-stealing. The abstinence from stealing the belongings of other beings by the acts of mind, speech and body is Asteya.
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) is celibacy. The abstinence from the bodily union at all forms and places by the acts of mind, speech and body is Brahmacharya.
  5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः) To renounce everything except for the necessities for maintenance of the body.
  6. Daya (दया) is kindliness. The showing of compassion to all beings in all places is Daya.
  7. Arjava (आर्जव) is rectitude. The maintenance of one and the same attitude in the acts of mind, speech and body towards the prescribed as well as the prohibited activities are Arjava.
  8. KShama (क्षमा) is tolerance or forgiveness.
  9. Dhriti (धृति) is will power. The steadiness of the mind even at the loss of wealth, close relative or friend and acquisition of new wealth, close relative (example: a birth of a son/daughter) or friend is Dhriti.
  10. Mithahara (मिताहार) is moderate food consumption. Food should always be taken in moderate quantities and over eating must be avoided in all circumstances for proper maintenance of the body.

2. Niyama (नियम): Self Purification

Recommended duties and rituals to be observed by a Saadhaka in his Yogic life for healthy living and spiritual enlightenment.

Bhujang Asana (Cobra Pose)

3. Asana (आसन): Postures

To practice postures including reclining, standing, inverted, twisting, or balancing as well as seated poses for long duration to maintain a healthy and fit body.

Pranayam

4. Pranayam (प्राणायाम): Breath Control

Pranamaya Kosha is the second of the five Koshas and subtler than the Annamaya Kosha. Pranayama is the science of controlling and moderating the Pranamaya kosha.

Prana Vaayu constantly flows throughout the body and when there is an obstacle in the flow of Prana Vaayu, one experiences pain, fatigue or illness in various parts of the body.
There are five types of Vaayus (vital air force) that circulate throughout the body:

  1. Prana
  2. Apana
  3. Vayana
  4. Samana
  5. Udana

A Yogi must be well versed and trained in 29 different types of pranayama. The science of observing and training the body with different breathing patterns.

5. Pratyahara (प्रत्याहार): Withdrawal of the mind from the senses

Withdrawal of the senses. This means withdrawing the mind from the sensual pleasure seeking.

6. Dharna (धारणा): Concentration

Developing Pin pointed concentration. Fixing the mind on an object internal or external. Brahma ji created the senses with extroverted tendencies, therefore, it’s unnatural for humans to turn their vision inwards. It requires a lot of unlearning old habits and knowledge and learning new skills to develop concentration.

Meditation

7. Dhyaan (ध्यान): Meditation

Meditation on the Atman, Brahman and the Sun (the vital energy of life). When the mind is trained to focus its attention at your will then the path to meditation opens up. As long as there’s craving for the senses and the objects of the senses there will be constant obstacles in meditation. Hence, a Saadhak is advised to practice Brahmacharya to help still his mind by detaching himself from the object of the senses.

8. Samadhi (समाधि): Union with the Brahman

Samadhi is a deep state of meditation and also the highest form of meditation. Turiya or the fourth state of the consciousness is experienced in the state of samadhi when the self and the supreme merge into one and all duality ceases to exist.

About the Author Shravan

Shravan is a practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga and reads philosophy for pleasure. He helps others to seek their inner well being through Yoga and Vedanta. Founder & Author @Worldofyogi.com

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