Our ancient sages have suggested eight stages of yoga to secure purity of body, mind and soul and final communion with god. These eight stages are known as AshtangaYoga.
The eight stages of yoga are as follows:
Yama is the foundation of yoga. It is the first step in the Eightfold Path of Patanjali. Yama tells us what to avoid doing because it would do harm to the individual and that of society. The observance of yama disciplines the five organs of action which are the arms, the legs, mouth, the organs of regeneration, and the organs of excretion. It is natural for the organs of action to control the organs of perception and of the mind. If the mind wishes to bring harm to something but the organ of action refuse, then no harm will be done. Therefore, Yama is said to be the foundation or root of the tree of yoga.
Ten Yamas are codified as “the restraints” in numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varaha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular. Patañjali lists only five yamas in his Yoga Sutras.
Ten Traditional yamas
The ten traditional yamas are
1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा): Nonviolence. Abstinence from injury; harmlessness, the not causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word, or deed at any time. This and Satya (सत्य) are the “main” yama. The other eight are there in support of its accomplishment.
2. Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, word and thought in conformity with the facts.
3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing, non-coveting, non-entering into debt.
4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): divine conduct, continence, celibate when single, faithful when married.
5. Kshama (क्षमा): patience, releasing time, functioning in the now.
6. Dhriti (धृति): steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance, fear, and indecision; seeing each task through to completion.
7. Daya (दया): compassion; conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.
8. Arjava (अर्जव): honesty, straightforwardness, renouncing deception and wrongdoing.
9. Mitahara (मितहार): moderate appetite, neither eating too much nor too little; nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
10. Shaucha (शौच): purity, avoidance of impurity in body, mind and speech. (Note: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras list Shaucha as the first of the Niyamas.)
Five yamas of Patañjali
In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, the yamas are the first limb of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.
They are found in the Sadhana Pada Verse 30 as:
1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-violence
2. Satya (सत्य): truth in word and thought. absence of falsehood
3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): abstain from sexual intercourse; celibacy in case of unmarried people and Faithful in case of married people. Even this to the extent that one should not possess any sexual thoughts towards any other man or woman except one’s own spouse. It is common to associate Brahmacharya with celibacy.
5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): absence of avarice (greed)
In numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varuha Upanishads, Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, the Tirumantiram of Tirumular and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a set of prescribed actions are codified as niyamas, observances, requirements, obligations. In the above texts, these are ten in number, except in Patanjali’s work, which lists only five.
The ten traditional Niyamas are:
1. Hri: remorse, being modest and showing shame for misdeeds;
2. Santosha: contentment; being satisfied with the resources at hand – therefore not desiring more;
3. Dana: giving, without thought of reward;
4. Astikya: faith, believing firmly in the teacher, the teachings and the path to enlightenment;
5. Ishvarapujana: worship of the Lord, the cultivation of devotion through daily worship and meditation, the return to the source;
6. Siddhanta shravana: scriptural listening, studying the teachings and listening to the wise of one’s lineage;
7. Mati: cognition, developing a spiritual will and intellect with the guru’s guidance;
8. Vrata: sacred vows, fulfilling religious vows, rules and observances faithfully;
9. Japa: recitation, chanting mantras daily;
10. Tapas: the endurance of the opposites; hunger and thirst, heat and cold, standing and sitting etc.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Niyamas are the second limb of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.
They are found in the Sadhana Pada Verse 32 as:
1. Shaucha: cleanliness of body and mind. in the traditional codification, this item is listed under Yamas; this word means purity.
2. Santosha: satisfaction; satisfied with what one has; contentment.
3. Tapas: austerity.
4. Svādhyāya: study of the Vedic scriptures to know more about God and the soul, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within.
5. Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to (or worship of) God.
Asana means holding the body in a particular posture to bring stability to the body and poise to the mind. The practice of asana brings purity in tubular channels, firmness to the body and vitality to the body, mind and soul.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes asana as the third of the eight limbs of classical, or Raja Yoga. Asanas are the physical movements of yoga practice and, in combination with pranayama or breathing techniques constitute the style of yoga referred to as Hatha Yoga. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes asana as a “firm, comfortable posture”, referring specifically to the seated posture, most basic of all the asanas. He further suggests that meditation is the path to samādhi; transpersonal self-realization.
In 1959, Swami Vishnu-devananda published a compilation of 66 basic postures and 136 variations of those postures. In 1975, Sri Dharma Mittra suggested that “there are an infinite number of asanas.”, when he first began to catalogue the number of asanas in the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures, as an offering of devotion to his guru Swami Kailashananda Maharaj. He eventually compiled a list of 1300 variations, derived from contemporary gurus, yogis, and ancient and contemporary texts. This work is considered one of the primary references for asanas in the field of yoga today. His work is often mentioned in contemporary references for Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, and other classical and contemporary texts.
The physical aspect of what is called yoga in recent years, the asanas, has been much popularized in the West. Physically, the practice of asanas is considered to:
1. improve flexibility
2. improve strength
3. improve balance
4. reduce stress and anxiety
5. reduce symptoms of lower back pain
6. be beneficial for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
7. increase energy and decrease fatigue
8. shorten labor and improve birth outcomes
9. improve physical health and quality of life measures in the elderly
10. improve diabetes management
11. reduce sleep disturbances
12. reduce hypertension
The literal maning of pranayama is Breath Control. The aim of practising pranayama is to stimulate, regulate and harmonize vital energy of the body. Just as a bath is required for purifying the body, so also pranayama is required for purifying the mind.
Pranayama is the fourth ‘limb’ of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice. Patanjali does not fully elucidate the nature of prana, and the theory and practice of pranayama seem to have undergone significant development after him. He presents pranayama as essentially an exercise that is preliminary to concentration, as do the earlier Buddhist texts.
Many yoga teachers advise that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yama, Niyama, and Asana.
Pratyahara (Discipline of the senses):
the fifth element among the Eight stages of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. The extroversion of the sense organs due to their hankering after worldly objects has to be restrained and directed inwards towards the source of all existence . This process of drawing the sense inwards is pratyahara or putting the sense under restraint.
For Patanjali, it is a bridge between the bahiranga (external) aspects of yoga namely, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and the antaranga (internal) yoga. Having actualized the pratyahara stage, a practitioner is able to effectively engage into the practice of Samyama. At the stage of pratyahara, the consciousness of the individual is internalized in order that the sensations from the senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell don’t reach their respective centers in the brain and takes the sadhaka (practitioner) to next stages of Yoga, namely Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (mystical absorption), being the aim of all Yogik practices.
Pratyahara is derived from two Sanskrit words: prati and ahara, with ahara meaning food, or anything taken into ourselves, and prati, a preposition meaning away or against. Together they mean “weaning away from ahara”, or simply ingestion.
Dharana means focusing the pure mind on one’s personal deity or on the individual self. The practice of dharana helps the mind to concentrate on a particular object.
Dhāraṇā is the sixth stage, step or limb of eight elucidated by Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga. Dhāraṇā is the initial step of deep concentrative meditation, where the object being focused upon is held in the mind without consciousness wavering from it. The difference between Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, and Samādhi (the three together constituting Samyama) is that in the former, the object of meditation, the meditator, and the act of meditation itself remain separate. That is, the meditator or the meditator’s meta-awareness is conscious of meditating (that is, is conscious of the act of meditation) on an object, and of his or her own self, which is concentrating on the object. In the subsequent stage of Dhyāna, as the meditator becomes more advanced, consciousness of the act of meditation disappears, and only the consciousness of being/existing and the object of concentration exist (in the mind). In the final stage of Samādhi, the ego-mind also dissolves, and the meditator becomes one with the object. Generally, the object of concentration is God, or the Self, which is seen as an expression of God.
Dhyana (meditation) is seventh of the eight limbs of Yoga,
When one sustains and maintains the focus of attention through dharana unbound by time and space, it becomes Dhyana. Deep concentration destroys the Rajas and Tamas Gunas of mind and develops the satvika gunas.
In Dhyana, the meditator is not conscious of the act of meditation (i.e. is not aware that s/he is meditating) but is only aware that s/he exists (consciousness of being), and aware of the object of meditation. Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes one with the object of meditation. He/she is then able to maintain this oneness for 144 inhalations and expiration.
Dhyana, practiced together with Dharana and Samādhi constitutes the Samyama.
The Dhyana Yoga system is specifically described by Sri Krishna in chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita, wherein He explains the many different Yoga systems to His friend and disciple, Arjuna. In fact, Lord Shankar described 108 different ways to do Dhyana to Mata Parvati.
The eighth and final stage of Yoga is Samadhi. At this stage, one’s identity becomes both externally and internally immersed in meditation. The meditator, the act of meditation and the object meditated upon, all the three shed their individual characteristics and merge with one single vision of the entire cosmos. Supreme happiness, free from pleasure, pain or misery, is experienced. Samadhi is climax of Dhyana