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Ashtanga yoga.The eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali.

Recently the distribution of such brand as “Yoga” is increasing. Everywhere you look – you find yoga classes and yoga tours. There are already so many directions and styles of yoga that it is hard to recall all of them. Yoga is wonderful! However in a modern world more and more attention is paid to the external contents, that is physical culture. Not everyone knows that yoga has slightly different purposes that just attaining beautiful body.

In this article we will investigate the classical approach to yoga also known as Eightfold Patanjali yoga path or Ashtanga yoga. That, I hope, will expand borders of understanding of this concept, and will lead to increase in efficiency of practice of existing and prospective yogis.

It is believed that Patanjaliwho lived in the 2nd century BC, is the founder of yoga and the author of the "YogaSutras".There is an opinion and I tend to believe it that in Sutras he only stated what existed long before his birth.A certain sequence of advancement on the yoga-pathis presented in Yoga Sutras. It consists of eight steps or principles: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Let’s take a detailed look at each one of them.

First limb.

Yama – a pledge to an outer world. Patanjali allocates five restrains: Ahimsa. Satya, Asteya. Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha.

Ahimsa – non-violence, inflicting no harm. Everything seems to be clear at the first sight: don't kill, don't cause any harm, treat another as you would like to be treated.However in fact everything is notthat simple.We use leather products, someone still eats animals as for food. Sometimes simplysayinga nasty word can induce unreasonable harm. Thus we often confuse what is actually good and what is detriment. Sometimes it seems that pitying someone, we demonstrate compassion and mercy, therefore we do no harm to that person. Whereas this exact person needs to be told harshly that it is time to stop complaining and wining butswitch to seeing positive moments of the problem. You may decide how to behave using one criteria-question – What will your word or actions lead to: development or degradation. If you pity someone and a person will not draw any conclusions and will come again wining, looking for compassion – then it is the case of degradation. The vow of Ahimsa is broken.If after a call-down this person recognizes that he/she is wining all the time and changes the situation – in this case it would be a development. Thus, you helped and despite the seeming roughness Ahimsa wasn’t broken. Unfortunately, in life everything is not always consecutive. You need to develop a subtle perception of each specific situation. However, you can start small within keeping the Ahimsa compliance – for example, become a vegetarian, preserve water, avoid being rude with others and etc.

It is very difficult to practice Ahimsa.But it is important to understand that first of all it is a desire to eliminate enmity, develop compassion and mercy for all living beings. Also it’s a lack of evil intentions, so that each action, word or thought should be in avail.

Satya – truthfulness, restraint fr om falsehood and self- deception. Tell the truth. Frequent question: “What do I do if it is necessary to choose between being honest and Ahimsa. For example, you know exactly that telling the truth would lead to someone’s undoing?”In this case a decision should base on karmic consequences. For the white lie karmic consequences will be not as long and awful as for the death of the living being.Therefore, it would be better to rather break Satya than Ahimsa. But once again everything cannot be ambiguous. If breaking Satya would develop an illusion for ages and more and more people would follow this illusion obscured in darkness, then possibly you better break 

Asteya – non-cheating, non-stealing, non-coveting other’s property.To be honest both with yourself and others.According to comments on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the outcome of keeping the Asteya restraint would be clairvoyance and intuitive understanding.Meaning the possibility to see things as they actually are. Everything seems to be clear – don’t steal, don’t seize other’s property – but unfortunately nowadays everyone tend to break the virtue. The prices are too high, only few pay taxes and indeed the taxes are overstated, and where these money go in the end is a big question. In the society of parasites and consumers it is extremely difficult to figure out where the truth lies and whether you are being honest or you are feeding the demons. And these are the results of ubiquitous violations of Satya. On the one hand, it is possible to find an excuse that we were put in such conditions. On the other hand - it is necessary to try hard not to aggravate the situation, endeavor to create honest society, starting with yourself.

Brahmacharya – sensual (carnal) abstinence. In my opinion, abstinence has to be carried out as well as a Shaucha (will be discussed further) on the levels of a body, speech and mind.Brahmacharya — it not a simple refusefrom physical contact, it is also a control of behavior, speech and thoughts.It is an important aspect of yoga practice especially at the initial stage. As the practician who hasn't strengthened oneself on the Path.If he/she doesn't take the sexual energy under controlcan quickly get over yoga and leave for an absolutely different direction.In other words, he will get off the point and constantly waste the saved-up energy through the lower chakras.Svadhishtanais responsible for desire and lust — it is the second chakra fr om the bottom.Practicing yoga, we continuously struggle to raise the energy level and we make maximum effort for realization of this energy on higher centers.But if we keep wasting it, progress will appear much more slowly if it appears at all.According to Patanjali, the one who developed Brahmacharyaobviatesthe fear of death.

Aparigraha – non-possessiveness, non-greediness, non-acceptance of gifts.Meaning that yogi should have nothing superfluous. Somewhat it is connected with the fact that we spend energy for maintaining any entity that belongs to us. The most striking example is a car - imagine that at you have three of those. How much energy is needed to support them? That refers not only to your direct participation – let’s assume you have a personal mechanic and so forth – they also need to be paid. Hence you will need to work more to earn more. The same thing happens with any other object. All the items that surround us exist due to our energy, and it doesn’t matter if they are expensive or cheap, large or small.For certain, many of you noticed when worth throwing away stuff you start feeling better, everything becomes easier. The notion of such phenomenon is a decrease in uncontrollable outflow of energy.

In addition, the person starts identifying oneself with the surrounding stuff.Such qualities as greed, egoism, attachments can start developing.All these qualities are obstacles in the Path. The yogi has to let go of both people and things, leaving only the most necessary.

Second limb.

Niyama – an obligation in relation to yourself. According to Patanjali there are also five of them: Shaucha, Santosa, Tapas, Svadhyaya, Isvarapranidhana.

Shaucha – purity.“Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind, one develops an attitude of distancing, or disinterest towards one's own body, and becomes disinclined towards contacting the bodies of others.” (Sutra 2.40) Such benefits are achieved by complying purity at three levels: body, speech and mind.Therefore, to keepShauchaon the body level, it is necessary to make regular ablutions, practice shatkarmas (six cleaning practices), eat pure food, to wear clean clothes, to clean up the house.On the speech level – avoid ribaldry, use proper language and well-built sentences, reduce filler words. On the mid level – stop the uncontrollable stream of thoughts, try thinking about virtuous things, master everything that is running through your head. “Through cleanliness and purity of body and mind comes a purification of the essence, a goodness and gladness of feeling, a sense of focus with intentness, the mastery and union of the senses, and a fitness, preparation and capability for self-realization.” (Sutra 2.41) Observance of this principle promotes improvement of an organism, environment and mind that leads to minimization of distractions during practice.

Santosha – contentment.The practician needs to be satisfied otherwise he may bring up anxiety, various mental problems; depressions can be formed. The unsatisfied person won't manage to achieve success in meditation since the mind will constantly demand for redress and take the yogi away fr om practice. Therefore usually people who are attracted to yoga are well realized socially,they already were disappointed in a Samsara (wordly life) and understand that all this is an illusion which isn't bringing the valid relief; the true satisfaction can be found in absence of desires and passions.

Tapas – asceticism. “Through ascesis or training of the senses, there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions.” (Sutra 2.43) Extremely much attention is being paid to this principle as without asceticism it is impossible to promote on the Path. Through asceticism comes development: overcoming, making mistakes, being disappointed – a person discovers new reserves at all levels in oneself, becomes more hardy and steady in practice.

Svadhyaya–self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-education. In order to change yourself and to develop, it is necessary to understand who you are, what your present level of development is and wh ere you are heading. We are embodied in this world for development and for experience accumulation. I think, the most suitable behavior model for this world looks as following: our Universe is school, our life is a lesson, people around are teachers and we are pupils here.

It is possible to correlate the notions "self-knowledge" and "self-education" through a prism of studying of ancient texts.For example, Andrey Verba often mentions in his lectures that studying the Lotus Sutra (SaddharmaPundarika Sutra), the Mahabharata or Ramayana, we may remember who we actually are.In fact the events described in mentioned compositions took place a long-long time ago and many living beings were involved. In respect that any living being constantly reincarnates, the probability is great that we took part in these events during previous embodiments.For example, we could sit and listen to the Dharma preached by Buddha. Thus recognizing what we were aiming at during our previous embodiments and what we have already learned (simply let slip from memory), it won't be necessary to spend a great lot of time for regaining the previous experience, and it is possible to go on safely further, minimizing mistakes.In other words, observingSvadhyaya leads to understanding of own mission.

Ishvara-Pranidhana – surrender to God, attentiveness to God. It's all in God's hands.Whatever happens is happening exactly the way it should be.Otherwise, the fact that we aren't happy with something means that we put ourselves to the place of God, we think up there a mistake, thereby we dare to doubt perfection of God (The Principal reason, the Absolute). Obedience shows that the person perceives that the Higherpowers create ideal conditions for one’s development. Hence whatever happens: happiness, failure- everything is arranged for gaining the experience. Consequently it is important to understand that Ishvara-Pranidhana doesn't mean shifting responsibility for your actions on God.It is possible to compare relations with Supreme to relations between a pupil and teacher: the teacher gives to the pupil a task but how it will be accomplished, what the pupil will carry out from this lesson and what kind of gratitude will the pupil have for the teacher – all that depends only on the pupil, and approval or sending back for revision depends on the teacher.Usually the person gets acquainted with the subsequent six steps in the context of yoga, but everyone is familiar with Yamas and Niyamas just in everyday life they are known as moral ethical standards, precepts and etc.We anyway observe the majority of themand not because it is written somewh ere in ancient texts or otherwise we will go to Hell, but because it is impossible to exist in this world in a different way.These rules or oaths are natural and if a person doesn't carry them out – that takes place because of the ignorance due to dense state of dellusion.

Third limb.

Asana – a steady posture. After the practician mastered Yama and Niyama, i.e. reduced external and internal irritants a yogi maymove on to asanas. In the context of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Asana is seen as a meditative pose in which a yogi can practice all other steps. But if you try to sit down in a posture with your feet crossed and your back straight, you will be unpleasantly surprised that you may sit in such position for only few minutes (especially in the beginning) as pain in feet then in a back and so on turns up.For this reason it is necessary to do Hatha yoga asit helps to strengthen, stretch and twist all necessary muscles and joints, in other words, to prepare a body for a meditative pose. Meditative asanas: Padmasana, Siddhasana, Sukhasana, Svastikasana, etc. have to be carried out with little effort that during meditation there were no distractions on tension in a body.

Fourth limb.

Pranayama.In broad sense pranayama is the complex of breathing exercises aimed at harmonization and supply of an organism with life energy (Prana).Eventually the practitioner has to learn how to hold the breath for the long period of time.The point is that breath is the only thing that connects our consciousness with the outer world, i.e. fluctuations of mind happen as far as we breathe. The slower and deeper we breathe, the more tranquil our mind becomes.As the mind is the main obstacle to mindfulness (strange as it may sound), it is necessary to take it under control.And the best tool for that purpose is your breath.

Fifth limb.

Pratyahara. “Harmony with the emotions is achieved when the senses cease to be engaged with external objects and thus that which is mutable in human beings (chitta) becomes similar to true nature.” (Sutra 2.54)

This step is a transitionfrom external practices to internal.The point of the practice is to disrupt the communication from the sense organs, brining your attention to an understanding of internal processes. In everyday lifethe opposite process is more common when feelings lead the mind to some extent contradicts to our spiritual nature. Important aspect here is not to suppress feelings but take them under control, and switch attention to the inner world.That’s exactly the reason why you need to master the previous 4 limbsso that the outer world would not disturb neither physically, nor mentally. After that comes an understanding of the depth hidden in us, which the mind cannot comprehend; all the answers are there and it can be learned in the state ofSamadhi.

Sixth limb.

Dharana – concentration. After the yogistrengthens oneself in Pratyahara, he/she can pass to concentration on external and internal objects.It can be flame, a sound, an image, breath, etc.The main goalis to develop mindfulness and remove allfluctuations of thoughts. The mind is completely focused on one "point" that allows to apperceive the object of concentration fully.

Seventh limb.

Dhyana is a continuous flow of consciousness, meditation. The continuous Dharana is Dhyana. In the comments to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Swami SathyanandaSarasvathispecifies that meditation is a sort of concentration, but of a higher quality.In meditation yogi doesn't interrupt concentration, he/she doesn't distract. As long as the thought goes along with concentration — it is a Dharana.

Eighth limb.

Samadhi is a state when your individuality dissolves and there is just an object of meditation. That means Dharana passes into a Dhyana, and Dhyana leads to Samadhi. These three processes are called “Samyama”. In samadkh the self-identification vanishes, i.e. vanishes, so-called, egoism of the practician. In Samadhi the self-identification vanishes, i.e. selfhood of the practitioner disappears. Swami Sathyananda gives a comment on that, “The samyama start with subjective and objective awareness; that is a dual awareness. You are aware of your object of meditation within as well as in the outside world. Gradually the door is outside world closes, and you see only a thing, which is within. This is Dhyana. Then the thing seen inside becomes clearer and clearer, and at the same time you lose understanding of own personality. It is called Samadhi”

Apparently the higher the limb is, the less clarity is there. The fact is that there are things that go beyond one’s mind and theorizing about them would not give more clarity. As Andrey Verba says, “Practice, try and gain experience”. On the one hand, there is a certain sequence in Ashtanga yoga, but on the other — all eight steps should be studied in a complex, and each limb will reveal even more on the base of the other limbs. To reach the higher limbs of yoga, the practitioner has to be thorough, free from desires, healthy, steady, flexible, quiet, he should keep the balance, the body and mind shouldn't distract.

Certain practitioners change the reality on absolutely different levels. They don't need to go on riots or appeal for justice, they know how the world is arranged in general and wh ere it is going. Of course, our level of development is much lower, but each of us has an opportunity to influence at least the microcosm — a family, friends, acquaintances, the city, the country, the planet, and we can make it only by changing ourselves. After all it is impossible to help to get out of a swamp while you are floundering in a swamp yourself.

Thanks to Eightfold yoga path people longing for cognition of the world and themselves will be able to come closer to the truth, or will already comprehend it in this embodiment and will prefer to lead a conscious life for the benefit of all sentient beings to wasting the life.

Andrey Verba often mentions, "There are only three things which we will be able to take with us to the next embodiment. Those are wisdom, experience from practices and gratitude". Why don’t we start packing this baggage already now?


Author of the article: yoga teacher Vera Styopochkina.