Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga :
Everyone is on a quest for eternal youth and happiness. This quest is also the goal of yoga i.e., to attain our eternally youthful and blissful body. The yogic texts explain that we are ätma or the soul. This soul is ever young and full of bliss. However, this soul is not easy to perceive or realize. The blissful and eternally youthful soul is hidden deep within our hearts. The process of connecting within to realize this blissful soul is yoga. Yoga means to connect.
Bhakti-Yoga and Prapatti yoga
The great sage Nathamuni explains that there are eight steps in purifying the body and mind to realize the soul. The realization of the soul is not complete. The complete realization of the soul is attained when the supreme soul is also realized. The yogic texts explain that we are individual souls with a beautiful spiritual personality, and we have an eternal and blissful loving relationship with the supreme soul Sri Vishnu.
The realization of this complete relationship between the soul and the supreme is called “perfection of yoga”. Nathamuni explains the process of purification or the eight steps is called añöäìga yoga or bhakti-yoga. Here bhakti-yoga refers to the blissful connection with the supreme. To the degree he is purified, the yogi connects himself to the supreme. When this connection is perfected, the yogi attains a state of samadhi or perfect intelligence. The yogi is always aware of his relationship with the supreme in a state of complete spiritual bliss. This state is explained in the Bhagavad-Gita as follows.
brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state, he attains pure devotional service unto Me. This is called prapatti or complete surrender in love, which is the real nature of the soul.
Bhakti – Yoga
Ashtänga – Yoga
Jnana – Yoga
Karma – Yoga
In the yoga sutras, this aspect of connecting with the Supreme is explained as Samadhi siddhir Isvara Pranidhanat means yoga’s perfection is to attain our lost connection with the Supreme.
Añöäìga yoga – A boon for the yogi
T.Krishnamacarya also explains that the practice of yoga begins with taking shelter of the Supreme. When we practice a complete yoga system, “The practice of yoga protects the practitioner” in the sense that practice of yoga cures diseases, increases the duration of life, purifies his intelligence, and gives the practitioner good health. When the yogi attains good sturdy health and is confident of a long life, he can focus on meditation. When the stage of meditation matures, the yogi completes his surrender unto the Lord Isvara pranidhana and engages in the Supreme’s pure loving service.
The quest for an excellent physical and mental health is the first quest of a yogi. Therefore, yoga first begins with regulating and disciplining the lifestyle, which cultivates good habits in the yogi and regulates the mind. By disciplining his life, a yogi cuts the root of sin.
Sin the root of a disease, according to Nathamuni. By eliminating sin’s source, the yogi prepares to free himself from the sin’s reactions and then strengthen the body and mind. The root of evils is meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. By practicing Yama and Niyama, the source of sins are gone.
Ahimsa – to not eat meat,
Satya – to always speak the truth,
Asteya – To not steal,
Aparigraha – Not to covet,
Brahmacharya– always practice celibacy.
Niyama is the principle that fosters Yama and also elevates the yogi to the higher platform of yoga. These are the activities a yogi must practice daily.
Saucha – To practice cleanliness.
Santosa – To be satisfied with what one has.
Svadhyaya – Studying the self.
Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender unto the supreme.
With these principles in place, the yogi moves to the next step of yoga i.e., asana or physical postures. Physical postures purify, balance, and strengthen the body and eliminate the bodily susceptibility to diseases. The body becomes balanced and is now fit for balancing the air. The flow of breath (air) is responsible for the slow of thought.
In the Hatha yoga pradipika, it says that “As long as breath moves, thought flows.” We can notice that when we are angry, our thought flow is swift, and when we are relaxed, our flow of thought is slow. This means that our thoughts and breath are related. The flow of breath is made possible in the body by a network of nerves called nadis. These nadis also hold our thoughts and impressions. By purifying the breath through pranayama, a yogi eliminates the troublesome thoughts and prepares the mind for more profound meditation.
When the practice of pranayama matures, then a yogi practices pratyahara, Ahara means food. We eat food not just with the mouth, but every other input to the senses is called ahara. If we watch a scary movie, fear can affect our emotions and digestion. The flow of breath governs the input from the senses to the mind. If we can control breath, we can gradually cultivate control over our eating, sleeping, and other activities. When we regulate all our activities, then this state is called pratyahara. In this Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna explains that
yuktāhāra-vihārasya yukta-ceṣṭasya karmasu
yukta-svapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkha-hā
He who is regulated in his eating, sleeping, recreation, and work habits can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.
After Pratyahara, the yogi begins the process of more profound meditation. This is called Dharana. There are three things required for success in any endeavor.
1. Concentration of mind
2. Persistent effort
3. Grace of God.
Dharana is the process of deep meditation. When a yogi can concentrate his mind on one object for two hours, it is called Dharana. This meditation is unbroken and is without disturbance.
When the ability to concentrate extends to 12 hours, then it is called Dhyana or intense meditation. Firstly the yogi has to gain the ability to sit for 12 hours and then be unbroken in his meditation.
The Eight limbs of Añöäìga-yoga
In the Samadhi stage, the yogi’s spiritual nature is fully awakened, and he is in a state of complete bliss. There are stages of samadhi, however, which will be explained in the later articles. This stage is continuous, and once attained, one never suffers pains in this world, nor is he ever born again. Patanjali Muni explains that the highest stage of spiritual perfection is to “Surrender unto the supreme.” By surrendering unto the supreme perfection and eternal bliss is attained. Prapatti yoga, or loving relationship with the Supreme Lord Narayana, begins when samadhi is perfected.