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Saturday, September 12, 2015

The art of Ashtanga Yoga

"Ashtanga Yoga" are the eight phases of Yoga that can help a soul to realize the Supreme Soul, a being to realize the oneness with the Supreme Being, a consciousness to realize being the part of the Supreme Consciousness. According to the ancient texts, these eight phases of Yoga were first explained by Lord Shiva during his discourses to Mata Parvati.  After Vedic period, around 400 BC, a great sage Maharishi Patanjali explained Ashtanga Yoga in detail in Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

When a seeker begins his seeking under the guidance of a Self realized Guru, the seeker is expected to follow the logical path, that are the eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga.

The first phase of Yoga involves moral code of conduct that helps the seeker in controlling inner and outer senses. This helps in becoming free of any kind of lust and desire. The five Yamas are: 
Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings
Satya (सत्य): truthfulness
Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
Brahmacārya (ब्रह्मचर्य): celibacy
Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness


The second phase of Ashtanga Yoga helps the seeker to follow a disciplined life which includes virtuous habits, behaviors and observances. As per Vedic culture there are a lot of disciplines that should be followed like:

Śauca: purity, clearness of mind, speech and body

Santoṣa: contentment, acceptance of others
Tapas: persistence, perseverance, austerity
Svādhyāya: study of Vedas, study of self, self-reflection, introspection
Īśvarapraṇidhāna: surrender to the will of God

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥

Translation: An asana is what is steady and pleasant.
— Yoga Sutras II.46

Asana are the physical Yogic postures that help the physical body to stay healthy and gain inner and outer strength. A true seeker performs series of Asanas in his or her daily morning routine to keep the body fit, flexible and strong. Only a healthy physical body can be used as a tool to elevate to the higher spiritual expeeriences. The "Hatha Yoga Pradipika" describes the technique of 84 different kinds of asanas.


Pranayama are the breathing exercises that helps in keeping the subtler breathing body (Pranamaya kosha) healthy. Prāṇāyāma is made out of two Sanskrit words prāṇa (प्राण, breath) and ayāma (आयाम, restraining, extending, stretching). For more details on pranayama, please refer to my previous blog article on Pranayama.


Pratyahara is fetching and bringing near one's awareness and one's thoughts to within. It is a process of withdrawing one's thoughts from the external world. It is turning one's attention to one's true Self. It is a step of self extraction and abstraction. Pratyahara is not just consciously closing one's eyes to the sensory world, but involves consciously closing one's mind to the external sensory world. Pratyahara marks the transition of Yoga experience from first four phases that helps in the perfection of the external forms to last three phases that are focused on the perfection of the inner state.


Dharana (Sanskrit: धारणा) means concentration, introspective focus and one-pointedness of mind. The root of word is dhṛ (धृ), which has a meaning of "to hold, maintain, keep". Dharana is a continuous stream of concentrative thoughts that are focused. The object of that focus could be a Yogic Chakra or a Mantra or the breath or the subject itself. Dharana, states Shankara, is focussed on one object, but aware of its many aspects and ideas about the same object. Shankara gives the example of a Yogi in a state of dharana on morning sun may be aware of its brilliance, color and orbit.


Dhyana (Sanskrit: ध्यान) literally means "contemplation, reflection" and "profound, abstract meditation". Dhyana is contemplating, reflecting on whatever Dharana has focussed on. It is one step beyond Dharana. Dhyana is uninterrupted train of thought, current of cognition, flow of awareness.The spiritual knowledge and practices of a true seeker should be deep rooted in experiences during meditation. Please read my other blogs for meditation for more details.


Samadhi (Sanskrit: समाधि) literally means "putting together, joining, union, harmonious whole, trance". Samadhi is oneness with the subject of meditation. There is no distinction, during the eighth phase of Yoga, between the object of meditation, the "meditation” itself and the subject of meditation. Samadhi is that spiritual state when only one remains and there is no second. During Samadhi one becomes mind-less - with no trace of thoughts. To reach the state of supremely blissful and wholesomely peaceful Samadhi is the goal of a true seeker.

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