500 years Before Christ, in a valley near the river Narmada, India – Yoga was first scripted for the world. The book is known as Yoga Korunta, authored by a rishi (sage) named Vamana. The purpose of practising yoga was to attain enlightenment, a glimpse of one’s highest potential.
A system was created to achieve this harmony between the universe, body, mind and the soul of the individual. To align one’s self with nature. To unfold the mysteries within and the acceptance of one’s self.
In today’s world, we are drifting apart from our true self, leading to a more unhealthy lifestyle, nuisance and chaos of thoughts. We strike hard to feel the bliss, the natural state of being. Yoga practice helps in accomplishing that goal.
Around 200 AD, Patanjali – another sage (guru) who mastered yoga came forward with a system of practising yoga that could help the humankind to reach their full potential, i.e., the oneness with the universe (Enlightenment). He was deeply influenced by the nature, energy and general well-being of humankind. He wrote about yoga, and it’s eight limbs. Also known as Ashtanga Yoga.
Eight Limbs - BreakDown!
The system consists of 8 limbs of Yoga or codes to follow to attain Samadhi – the ultimate truth, where you experience the universe:
- Yama or the Moral Code of Conduct
- Niyama or the Code for self-purification
- Asana or the Code for correct posture
- Pranayam or the Code to breath properly
- Pratyahara or the Code for self-control
- Dharana or the Code for concentration
- Dhyana or the Code for meditation
- Samadhi or the Code for oneness with the universe
Yoga essentially means to control one’s mind. To achieve full control over mind and thoughts, one must first cleanse, concentrate and calm down senses and desires. Let us discuss them in detail:
1. Yama or Behaviour
Yama is a discipline to purify thoughts and desires through mindfulness. There are five steps to Yama; to master Yama, one must practice
- Non-violence or Ahimsaii
- Non-stealing or Asteya
- Non-contentiousness or Aparigraha
- Continence or Brahmacharya
- Truthfulness or Satya
It mainly refers to the purification of the soul through actions. As stated by Confucius and a Mozaic Law "Whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to any other person." They all emerge from the teaching of Ashtanga yoga. Simple steps to keep you from evil doings to others and yourself!
2. Niyama or Observance
Niyam is the daily practices that one should follow to make their body and mind healthy and vibrant. Niyam (Ni+yam) means purification from within. Hence, bring forth the changes in your lifestyle that lead to a healthy body and mind.
- Cleanliness – bathing and cleaning of body
- Contentment – with yourself and your surroundings
- Tapas – discipline (to wake up early, take cold showers and observe one’ desires and actions)
- Study – of self and holy scriptures to attain knowledge and practice wisdom
- Surrender to God – Isvarparinadha – the act of believing in the higher power and surrender yourself completely to it
These practices will lead to a happier and more content life, a clear vision and a deep knowledge of self. You understand what is necessary and important in life and you attain the ability to let go of things that no longer serve any purpose in your life.
3. Asana or Postures
The posture poses or the exercise. Asana is the physical prospect of yoga. You learn how to observe and control your breath – the energy that fuels life. In Hindi Asana means seat. It refers to your ability to sit in a comfortable and steady posture.
The right form of asana helps you improve your posture and strengthen your spine so that you are not pulled by the pain in the body. It relieves you of diseases and disease-causing toxins in the body. It prepares your body for the enlightenment.
The practice of asanas brings inner peace and harmony. It accentuates the energy flow in the body, opening all the chakras to receive the divine guidance and support for enlightenment or samadhi.
4. Pranayama or Breathing Techniques
The observance of breath or the energy (prana). We are energy beings, driven and fortified by the prana or fire within and around us. The practice of breathing in a right way not only extends our lifespan but relieves the symptoms of stress, uneasiness and anxiety. Yoga guru “Baba Ramdev” vouches by the benefits of simple anulom vilom pranayama exercise for a total body transformation. According to ancient yoga scriptures, there are four types of pranayama:
- Bhramari pranayama or Bee breath – It helps is reducing stress and anxiety
- Kapal Bharati – Skull stimulating breathing detoxifies brain and body to bring harmony and peace
- Bhastrika pranayama or below breath breathing practice will pull you out of low energy and depression
- Nadi Shodhan Pranayama balances the energy in your body. It helps in stimulating and regulating the energy flow by calming prefrontal cortex and hippo-campus of the brain
5. Pratyahara or Sensory Withdrawal
Withdrawal of senses or detachment. Ahara refers to the food we intake in the form of physical, sensational and emotional.
- Physical food nourishes our body, and Pratyahara is abstaining from food that is against the very nature of being like alcohol, non-veg, etc
- Feeding our senses through touch, smell, sound, sight and taste. Chanting and burning incense fuels our senses with joy and happiness
- Emotional attachment and detachment nourish our soul. Pratyahara is to abstain oneself from thinking ill or others, keeping grudges and negative emotions.
Pratyahara is refraining from tainted thoughts, food and feelings and moving towards more loving, fulfilling life by choice and consideration.
6. Dharana or Concentration
Dharana means your outlook towards life. Your inner voice. How do you see the world? An unbiased and focused perspective towards every action in life. Dharana is to concentrate on the task at hand and to control your mind to focus on that task. In this way, you turn all your life into a meditation practice.
7. Dhyana or Meditation
Dhyana or meditation is your gateway to self-knowledge and samadhi. Dhyana refers to concentrating on your higher self, undistributed by the sensations of the body and surroundings.
मनसा ध्यानमित्येकभूयं वै प्राणाः With mind, meditate on me as being prana — Kaushitaki Upanishad, 3.2
Concentrate your mind on your life force, and you’ll be free. Free yourself from all the suffering and attachments of this mortal world.
Dhyana will help you attain self-knowledge and unfolds the secrets of the universe.In the meditative state, you withdraw yourself from the world, and your consciousness diffuses. Thoughts, sensations and the world comes to a halt, only your truest form remains.
8. Samadhi or Consciousness
The culmination of self is samadhi A state of total bliss, an endless flow of equanimity. Pure consciousness as many of the gurus suggest. You remain yourself despite the changing situations, people and emotions. You rise above the chaos and disturbances that come with a human body.
According to ancient Hindu scriptures, sages used to stay in the samadhi for many years, but nowadays people get a glimpse of samadhi i.e. it is not a permanent state of being. By practicing other seven limbs of yoga, one can attain samadhi for a brief period When your consciousness remains unadulterated by the pain and sufferings, and you could experience the ecstasy and joy of being alive.
Eight limbs of Yoga is a pathway to a more meaningful life. People who devote their lives to yoga practices have exuberant positive energy in their lives as well as their surroundings. Yoga heals. It heals your body, mind and soul Yoga is not just a system of exercise; it is a way of living.
An unbiased practice of humanity and the knowledge of self. Samadhi is a difficult task, but practicing Meditation and asanas prepare your body and mind to easily accept and manifest your true self, leading to a higher level of consciousness.