The term “Yoga” has now come to mean poses that everyone does.
But that is so far from the truth.
Asanas are just a step in the path of Yoga.
Yoga means union. Union of soul with the Supreme Being. Yoga is a step by step instruction in the path that leads to the Universal Consciousness.
Sage Patanjali devised a 8-fold process and called it Ashtanga or 8 limbs of Yoga, in his Patanjali Yoga Sutra.
Note: This Ashtanga is not to be confused with Ashtanga school of Yoga popularised by Shri. Pattabi Jois of Mysore, Karnataka. Sage Patanjali is not to be confused with “Patanjali”, ayurvedic company by Ramdev baba of recent times!
The 8 parts of Yoga according to Patanjali are:
Before starting on the journey of self-realisation, the seeker must develop some disciple must be developed. Following the Yama rules will ensure integrity and honesty of the person. They are:
- Non-violence. Both to others and to self.
- Non stealing. This includes non-coveting too.
- Non-greedy. Includes not taking bribes and such other incentives for non-ethical purposes.
Niyama are the rules to be followed in day to day life to improve the quality of mind, body and soul. They are:
- Cleanliness. Outer and Inner included
- Determination to do your best
- Self study
- Ishwara Pranidhana
- Surrender to the Lord.
This is the part where we train our bodies to be balanced and build strength in the muscles. Now-a-days “Yoga” has become synonymous with “Asana”. Performing asanas gives great flexibility to the body. There are so many benefits to doing asanas, they are too innumerable to tell. Each pose has a specific purpose. Doing all of them in a correct manner will ensure a illness free life.
The whole purpose of doing asanas and perfecting the body, is to be able to sit in a comfortable position, without moving for long periods of time to do Praanayaama. Praanayaama is controlling the breath. When breath is controlled, the wayward mind can be made to concentrate on one thing. Praanayaama is very much beneficial to the body too. It helps in concentration.
Withdrawal of senses. With breath control comes mind control. With mind under control, a yogi will attempt this difficult state of withdrawing the 5 senses. The 5 senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing create external influences of the person. To be able to avoid all external interferences is the step of Pratyaahaara.
According to Patanjali’s sutras, Yama, Niyama, Asana and Praanayaama are Bahiranga yoga or outer yoga. With Pratyaahaara starts the antaranga yoga, the final steps of self-realisation.
Concentration. It is the initial step of deep state of meditation. The mind wanders every second. Dhaarana is an attempt to be able to watch the mind wander like a witness and not flow with it. It develops into Ekaagra Chitta or single minded focus.
Deep meditation. A deep sense of self awareness is achieved with Dhyaana. Whereas Dhaarana is being able to concentrate on a single object like ishta daiva (favourite deity) or breath, Dhyaana is being able to concentrate without any such reference. It is the art of going beyond ego, memory and everything else. This will ultimately lead one to the last step.
The state of meditative consciousness. Swami Vivekananda says “When one has so intensified the power of dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called Samadhi”
This is the last state of the union with the Supreme because you realise “tat twam asi” (you are that) and the ultimate truth of “Aham Brahmaasmi” (I am the Lord Himself)
While achieving all the 8 steps may be tough and unimaginable, we only need to take one step at a time. Even if we can’t get to be the antaranga yogis, let us at least try to be bahiranga yogis. If not anything, we can hope for a fit body and disciplined life.
Start Yoga today. After all a long journey starts with a small step.