Ashtanga yoga described in its simplest form
Ashtanga means ‘eight-limbed yoga’. These eight limbs of yoga are known as: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
The simplest possible way to describe Yama and Niyama is that it is a series of what to do’s and what not to do’s. What kind of actions creates the necessary atmosphere for one’s spiritual possibility? What kind of actions could become an entanglement or a barrier?
For the benefit of the seekers, for those who wish to go beyond their limitations, for those who wish to seek the ultimate, these were identified – they are the dos and don’ts.
The very human nature knows what to do and what not to do. If the compassion within you is overflowing and the divinity within you has come to the forefront, you do not have to be told what to do and what not to do. You would know.
- Ahimsa- compassion for all living things.
- Satya- commitment to truth in speech and action.
- Asteya- non stealing.
- Brahmcharya- path of the divine.
- Aparigraha- no desire to acquire and hoard wealth.
- Shaucha - purity and cleanliness (Inner and Outer)
- Santosha- joy.
- Tapas - sadhana.
- Ishvarapranidhana - laying all action at the feet of the Guru or Lord.
- Svadhyaya - meditation.
It is the third limb of yoga. There are innumerable postures that your body can manipulate. Among these, certain postures have been identified as “yoga asanas” or yogasanas. “Yoga” means that which takes you to a higher dimension or higher perception of life and asana means posture. So, that kind of posture which leads you to a higher possibility is called a “yogasana.”
You may have noticed that as you pass through different mental or emotional conditions, the body tends to adopt a certain posture. One can figure out the emotional state that you are in just by watching your posture - whether you are happy, angry, sad or peaceful.
The science of asana is based on this and at the same time, it is completely contradictory. Guiding your body into certain postures with some level of awareness, you can change the very way you feel, think, understand, and experience life. It is possible to elevate your consciousness through your posture. The science of yoga is that deep.
Asana is not an exercise; it is a way of kneading the body to a higher possibility. If you have ever made bread in your house, you would know how efficiently you knead it decides the quality of the bread. Likewise, if you ever made a pot with a lump of clay, you would know that the perfection of the pot depends upon the kneading of the clay.
Asana is a very subtle process of manipulating your energy towards a certain direction. It needs to be done with a certain level of awareness. Asanas can be practiced merely as a physical exercise or if you go deeper, by being aware of the breath, by being aware of the nadis or with appropriate mantras. You can even practice asana without moving a limb, just by focusing with your senses.
Pranayam is referred to as the path of fire and light because it is both purgative and enlightening in its nature. In yoga, anything that has the cleansing property is referred to as an element of fire and anything that has the illuminating property, that is referred to as an element of light.
When we talk about these eight limbs, the first three limbs of yoga are referred to as the ‘fire’ aspect of yoga; the rest are known as the ‘light’ aspect of yoga. The first five are outward bound, whereas the last three are inward bound.
For today’s human beings, pratyahara is one of the most important limbs of yoga and also the most challenging. Pratyahara literally means ‘turning inward’, taking your attention off from the outside world and directing it inward. Probably never before in the history of humanity did people have as much distraction as the people of this generation. If you had been living with nature and you wished to view the myriads of colour variations, you would have had to go out at dawn or dusk and sit there watching the sunset or the sunrise for about an hour.
You would have had the inclination too and you would have found the time too. But today, you just sit in front of your television; you will see multitudes of colours swaying before your eyes. So the level of external stimulation being bombarded into the human senses is like never before.
When excessive stimulation is there, to take your attention off that, to close your eyes and turn inward becomes a real challenge. So when we talk about turning inward, we are considering the physical body and the mind also as outward, taking your attention off all these things and turning inward is not something that you can do, because there is nothing to turn inward to. It is impossible for you to turn inward, so what you do is to try to cut off the outward flow. That is pratyahara.
Understand this... if you want to see something, you have to throw some energy out; otherwise you cannot see it. It is the same when you want to hear something or feel something… you have to throw some energy out. The sense organs are constantly draining you of your energies; the more active you keep them, the more they drain you. So pratyahara means shutting down all these five gates so that slowly energy builds up in your system.
Imagine went to sleep without having your dinner. Though you slept on an empty stomach, when you wake up in the morning, you wake up with tremendous sense of energy, which was actually not there when you went to bed. All that you did was conserve your energy by closing off all the sensory gates, everything else was on, your body, your mind, the world, everything was on. All that happened was that you shut off the five sense organs.
So, the first step that you need to take is, you stop the outward flow of energy. If you do not let it out, the energy will naturally turn inward. When I say inward, I am talking beyond the body and the mind, because even this body and mind are external accumulations.
You will see that if you pay attention to anything for a substantial amount of time, you develop a strong connection with that thing. But in this present age, a large number of people seem to be suffering from attention deficiency syndrome. We learned the art of print; we produced books, with the result that without even being aware of it, people learned a way to focus their attention on something. Let it be a thriller or a love story; you’re totally there. So while you are reading, dharana takes place without your awareness.
But now that the electronic media has taken over, we are once again losing that capability that we had. Whatever you pay attention to; slowly you become connected with that - I will say ‘intuitively’. Generally, women are more conscious of this. Whenever it becomes evident that whoever is supposed to pay the necessary attention to them, when they’re not paying enough attention, they are the ones who become alert first.
Men wait until a calamity takes place because they don’t realize that when somebody is not paying attention, the connection is being broken. It is only by paying attention, a connection is being established. Whatever you don’t pay attention to, that contact is gradually broken. Whatever you pay attention to, there you have contact. This is dharana
Dhyana and Samadhi
If you can simply pay attention to me right now, slowly you become connected. These are two, there is you and me, but these two can be connected. If this attention becomes focused… one-pointed… after some time this contact or this connection becomes so strong that there’ll be no two - there’ll be only one.
When that happens, we say, ‘it is dhyana.’ There were two; because of paying attention they got connected, that is dharana. They got so connected now you cannot say they are two; they have become one, this is dhyana. Now if this continues, if this can be sustained over a period of time, then there will be no one; they get dissolved into each other and then both get dissolved. Something of the beyond becomes prevalent because these two have become one and then, disappeared. If that happens, we say ‘this is samadhi.’
Sama means ‘equanimous’, dhi means buddhi, the ‘intellect’. When you are in samadhi, your intellect becomes equanimous. If your attention is absolutely unwavering, over a period of time the two will get connected initially, then two will become one, and then eventually, that one will also disappear. Something of the beyond becomes a reality. That is the state of samadhi.
Because of this undivided attention, your intellect became equanimous; it lost its discriminatory capability. Right now, modern science is proving to you that this whole existence is just one single energy. According to modern physics and also according to modern neurosciences, your ideas of this and that, here and there, now and then, you and I - none of this is a reality.
Time and space is the creation of your intellect, because your intellect is dividing everything constantly. It is too powerful an instrument to be used just for your survival. If you are able to keep this tedious fight for survival aside, you can sublimate your intellect to turn into something like a mirror… not discriminatory.
A mirror just reflects everything; nothing sticks to it, no residue is left and it never inquires the quality of what it reflects. It doesn’t make anybody beautiful or anybody ugly; it simply reflects. When your mind becomes like this… when your intellect becomes like this… you are in a state of samadhi.
Once you are in a state of samadhi, there is neither this nor that… but something else prevails!