अष्टाङ्ग योग Aṣṭāṅga Yoga
In Sanskrit "Aṣṭa" means eight and "Aṅga" means limbs and so Aṣṭāṅga means Eight Limb Yoga or The Eight Fold Path. Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is based on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali .
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF - Aṣṭāṅga Yoga
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras 229 states,
यम नियमासन प्राणायाम प्रत्याहार धारणा
ध्यान समाधयोष्टावङ्गानि ॥२.२९॥
Yama niyamāsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayoṣṭāvaṅgāni ||
Of these eight limbs, the first five limbs are bahiranga sadhana or external practices while the last three represent antaranga sadhana or internal practices.
1st Limb of
Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Yama: Ṛṣi Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra 2.30 states,
अहिंसासत्यास्तेय ब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहाः यमाः ॥२.३०॥
Ahiṁsā-satya-asteya brahmacārya-aparigrahāḥ yamāḥ
This is to develop our attitude towards the world around us. The five components of Yama, which is as follows:
a) Ahimsā - A principle of non-violence: It means a total withdrawal from the feelings of violence, malice, spite and all sort of negative vehemence .It is the very first precept of Ashtanga Yoga that helps us to enter into the realm of yogic aura. According to the Yajnavalkya Samhita, ahimsa or non-violence is the awareness and practice of non-violence in thought, speech and action.
b) Satya - A principle of Truthfulness: The second part of Yama means an absolute truthfulness both physically and mentally simultaneously .One should be absolutely
loyal to his own truthfulness and no thought should be followed by different action. Patanjali describes truthfulness as: "To be in harmony with mind, word and action, to conduct speech and mind according to truth, to express through speech and to retain it in the intellect what has been seen, understood or heard."
c) Asteya - A principle of non-stealing: This part preaches against the habit of stealing. Greed is one of our greatest enemies that provoke us to indulge into such vices. Even sheer thought of stealing anything or taking any undue advantage might lead our way to mental and physical declination.
d) Bramhachārya - Continence / Celibacy: It is one of the most important virtues a yogi must possess. The Vedas, Smritis and Puranas all glorify the fourth constituent of celibacy. Among the seven basic elements of human body, the purest and most powerful is the semen. It is the greatest source of energy, health, and intellect of our body and mind. Wastage of this element for mere physical pleasure goes against all sorts of development of body and mind. Even the simplest thought of sexual involvement damages our waves of spirit and energy. According to Vivekananda “ The soul has no sex; why should it degrade itself with sex idea? ” Therefore attainment of continence is the prime condition of the practice of yoga.
e) Aparigaha - A principle of non-hoarding or non-possessiveness or non-receiving. Not to accept any gift or not to take any thing from anybody even if one is in trouble is the essence of Aparigraha. Because it is not only the gift but the receiver also receives the negative mental wave of the giver, which ultimately causes psychological and spiritual degeneration. The commentator Vyasa says that this last state of yama is attained when one remains totally detached from sensual pleasures of all kinds and so effectively refrains from committing himsa or violence of any sort.
2nd Limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Niyama:
The 2nd limb of Ashtanga Yoga included how we interact with ourselves, our internal world.Niyamas areself-regulation to develop and maintain a positive environment in which to grow.
Ṛṣi Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras 2.32 states,
शौच संतोष तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः ॥२.३२॥
Śauca saṁtoṣa tapaḥ svādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ
The five components of Niyama should be practiced for purifying the physical and mental body.
a) Śauca – Purity, act of cleaning and purification: In Yoga Shashtra (yogic scriptures) the word ‘Śauca’ denotes a very wide concept. Here ‘Śauca’ means external and internal purification. That is the purification of soul as well as of the gross physical body. We know different ways to purify our body externally and to some extent internally. But to purify the inner self, adoption of some moral virtues is required. In fact internal purity is of greater value than external. Though external purification gives a feeling of peace and purity and creates an ambiance of sacrament it is of no use if the internal purity remains unachieved.
According to Yoga Shastra, there are different ways for outer purification, such as:
Shath-Karma - six Yogic cleansing techniques or Kriyas, such as: Dhouti, Basti, Neti, Lauliki (Nauli), Tratak and Kapalbhati.
Angamardan - Yogic Body massage,
Suddhahar - pure and flawless diet) and
Habishyanna - balanced diet that helps the mind to maintain chastity and protects the inner self from all sorts of evil and degrading perception) which would be covered in later chapters.
b) Saṁtoṣa – Contentment: To be contented and happy towards every situation in life is the basic meaning of Santosha. Mind should not be overloaded with demands and aspirations, which ultimately brings dejection and frustration. Complacence in true sense can only bring the serenity of mind, which is a vital requirement of yogic performances.
c) Tapas – Endurance: According to Patanjali, Tapasya means the power or strength to bear all the adversities of life .It is the way of self mortification through asceticism which strengthens the organs of the body attributing a strong determination and energy to the mind.
d) Svādhyāy- Self-Study of Scriptures, such as the study of Veda, Upanishad and other philosophical and theosophical books, to attain self-realization. After the stage of physical and mental purification and achieving contentment towards life, one should delve into one’s mind to make way for self realization. This can be achieved by going through the spiritual and original theosophical writings or by chanting Mantras. Self realization or “Atma-Darshan” is one of the vital stage of Ashtanga Yoga because this bridges the relationship between the small I and the big I.
e) Ishvara Pranidhana- Dedication, Complete surrender to God: This is the final stage of Niyama where, as stated in Yoga Darshan, lies the practice of surrendering one self absolutely to God .At this stage the yogi has to give up all sorts of desires and passions and must develop the qualities like tolerance, love for all, charity and selflessness. Everything should be performed impersonally. An unconditional and absolute faith towards God in every thought and action is the essence of this stage.
3rd Limb of Ashtanga Yoga is Āsana or Posture:
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra 2.46 states,
- which defines an Āsana as a steady and comfortable posture. Whatever āsana is performed, it should be done with a feeling of steadiness, awareness and delight. The practice of āsana heightens one’s awareness and prepares one for one-pointedness which is essential for Dhāranā.
Throughout the day, when they engaged in praying, Chanting and Self-Realization, they need to seat in one āsana or posture for a long time without feeling pain at any part of their body and without destructing mind. That is the reason only Meditative postures or āsanas are very important in this path to practice and become habituated to sit in one posture for a longer period of time comfortably.
4th Limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Prāṇāyama or Yogic Breathing Techniques:
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra 2.49 states,
तस्मिन् सति श्वासप्रश्वास्योर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः ॥
tasmin sati śvāsa-praśvāsyor-gati-vicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ ||
- It defines Prāṇāyama as the regulation of in-breath and out-breath with retention. It is important to note that Patañjali expressly advises the practitioner to practice Prāṇāyama only after attaining perfection in āsana. The practice of Prāṇāyama prepares the mind for pratyāhāra.
Prāṇāyama is to regulate the proper flow of “Prāṇa” in the body, make the body lighter and to increase the Life-Span.
5th Limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Pratyāhārah:
Withdrawal of “Pancha-Indriyas” or five senses organs & Control over “Ṣaṭ-Ripu” or Six enemies. This is important to achieve the highest result from Yoga-Sadhana.
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra 2.54 states -
स्वविषयासंप्रयोगे चित्तस्य स्वरूपानुकारैवेन्द्रियाणां प्रत्याहारः ॥
svaviṣaya-asaṁprayoge cittasya svarūpānukāra-iv-endriyāṇāṁ pratyāhāraḥ ||
- which defines Pratyahara as withdrawing the senses, mind and consciousness from contact with external objects and then drawing them inwards towards the Seer. After having control over the vital forces of the body, a Yogi retracts the ‘Pancha Indriyas’, the five ‘sense organs’ towards the inner self, the CHITTA.
Organs, having a separate existence, revolve around the mind constantly and try to identify itself with the mind. If the mind restrains itself from taking the shape of these forms, it is called Pratyāhāra. Pratyahara is a mental preparation to increase the power of mind.
6th Limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Dhāraṇā or Concentration:
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra 3.1 states-
देशबन्धः चित्तस्य धार.आ ॥
deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā ||
-which defines Dhāraṇā as the stage of concentration whereby one gathers the scattered mind in one place and get it to concentrate on a certain object. Dhāraṇā occurs when the chitta or the mind-stuff is confined and limited to a certain place or object.
7th Limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Dhyāna or Meditation:
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra 3.2 states -
तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम् ॥
tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam ||
- which defines Dhyāna as withdrawing the mind from all external objects, maintaining constant uninterrupted flow of attention on one point or region and meditating on it.
After mastery over the sixth limb Concentration (Dhāranā), one can proceed for Meditation. My Gurudev (spiritual Master), the greatest living Yogi of India Shri Janakinath Brahmachari said, concentration is to fix the mind in one of the sixteen (“Shorosh Bandha Adhar”-according to Hatha Yoga Pradipika) recommended part of the human body or any other object. However, Meditation follows concentration and there is a continuous flow of one idea only, he added. He said, sitting in any comfortable posture, keeping the back, neck and head in a straight line if you recite his (God) name (chant mentally not verbally) in your mind everyday for a period of time without any disturbance, then it is Meditation. During that period you will be thinking all about your Guru or God only (not like that, chanting his name and thinking all about your problems). He said, it is the only target of your life to feel his presence and to realize him within everything and everywhere, which is known the God-realization, which very important for all the students of Yoga if they want success in their ‘Yoga-Sadhana’ or Yogic path.
Meditation is two types, - Concrete Meditation and Abstract Meditation. When the Yogic student meditates on the form of the Lord, Lord Siva, Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Hari then it is Concrete Meditation. Moreover, when the students concentrates he whole energy or strength on one idea of God or Atman and avoid comparison of memories and all other ideas then it is Abstract Meditation. These are also known as Saguna and Nirguna Dhyāna When one meditates on a name and form of the Lord then it is Saguna Dhyāna, which is Concrete Meditation. In which you need to repeat his (God) name mentally and meditate on him. On the other hand, if repeat OM mentally and meditate on abstract ideas like infinity, eternity, purity, consciousness, truth, bliss etc. and identifying these with yourself, is Nirguna Dhyāna or Abstract Meditation.
8th Limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Samādhi:
Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra 3.3 states -
तदेवार्थमात्रनिर्भासं स्वरूपशून्यमिवसमाधिः ॥
tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ ||
which defines Sāmadhi as the stage when the object of meditation becomes the subject and whereby self-awareness is lost. It is the state of Super Bliss and Joy, merging individual consciousness into universal consciousness, a union between Jivatman (individual soul) and Paramatman (universal soul), a union of Shiva and Shakti in Sahasrara Chakra. Realizing the Brahman (pure consciousness) or Realization of God is the ultimate achievement of Human Birth. Self Realization is the ultimate stage of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga.