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What is Ashtanga Yoga ?

Ashtanga Yoga - The Eight Limbs of Yoga

In Sanskrit, Ashtanga is translated literally to “eight limbs" where ashta means eight and anga means limb. The eight steps enact as guidelines and instructions on how to live purposefully and meaningfully in life. The limbs offer a path towards moral and ethical conduct and enabling one to direct their attention towards health through the physical and emotional practices(Feuerstein, 2003).

The eight limbs and their details include:

Yama This is the first limb which is concerned with the behavior in life. It deals with one’s ethics and the sense of integrity in relating to themselves and others. The Yamas are a universal concept and are based on the idea and rule of treating others as you would them do unto you(Adele, 2019). The practice of the yamas helps one to build on their behavior and attitudes. This leads to a state of fulfillment in the inner and outer amity with those around one.

Yama consists of the following:

Ahmisa -which is translated as non-violence or non-harming other living beings.

Satya- this implies truthfulness and non-falsehood, although you don't have to tell a truth that could potentially harm someone, sometimes people need to learn things themseleves.

Asteya- this is non-stealing which implies content and respect of others’ property

Brahmacharya- energy management

Aparigraha- this Yama concerns non-avarice or non-possessiveness.

Niyama

This is the second limb of yoga that concerns one’s self-discipline and spiritual observances. This can be practiced from a personal dedication point in activities that bring peace and connection with the universe and source.

There are five elements to Niyama which include Saucha translated to cleanliness from the inside out body (gut & and body), mind (releasing negative thoughts that do not serve you), Santosa which implies contentment, Tapas Fiery Cleansing which is letting go of things that do not serve you, Svadhyaya which is self study and learning more things, reflection, wisdom and Isvara pranidhana which implies keeping an open mind to source, universe, a higher good.

Asana

Asana Pantanjali talks about asana in three sutras in the ashtanga yoga manuel : 2.46 Asana is a steady comfortable posture, 2.47 By lessening the natural tendency for restlessness and by meditating on the infinite , posture is mastered - this means that once you have mastered your mind your posture will be it's peak state 2.48 once you are comfortable and steady in your posture you won't be affected by dualities ... this means you are you in tune with the posture that you won't be affected by different things outside of you which is a nice state of being to be: get your yoga sutras of Pantanjali book out! The commentaries by Sri Swami Satchidanada explain very well what these all mean! (See last post)

Pranayama

Prana refers to life source and in most contexts it also describes breathe as the source of life and energy. It can therefore be related to the essence that keeps us alive and to imply the energy that is around us. Pranayama refers to the control or restraint of breath(Rosen, 2002).

With the many attributes of yoga, breath and breathe awareness are described as very crucial entities towards the attaining a better lifestyle. With controlled breathe and awareness of the breathing patterns, it is possible to restore the state of balance in the body. Breathe helps to unlock the potential that is imbedded within the body. Thus even and regulated breathing is a great practice that can be used in the process of doing poses (asana) to achieve tranquility.

There are different practices in breathing described as pranayama techniques. Examples of these include the basic breathe awareness, the ocean breathe and the alternate-nostril breathing(Rosen, 2002). The realization of consciousness in breathing helps to calm the mind and ease on the thoughts to afford a person a state of tranquility. Pratyahara This limb defines the act of drawing into one’s awareness. This presents the state of withdrawing from the external forces and drawing inward into the self and focus on the personal processes. The act of drawing in refers to being aware of the sights, sounds, smell and other attributes that the senses take in continuously(Rama et al., 1976). This limb relates with the other limbs such as pranayama and meditation since it is focused on being aware of the individual things that are happening while excluding the other aspects around us.

In the concentration drawn in this practice, the body and mind are not meant to lose the sense of defining the things that are happening around such as smell or sound but rather redefines the state of the mind to concentrate on the points that are the key focus at the moment. With the things outside the focus not being able to bother the yogi, the act of meditation can thus be realized easily. This can be interpreted into the present moment awareness or concentration.

This limb serves as a transition between the first four forms of yoga that serve in perfecting the external forms of a person to the last three that relate to the transforming of the inner state of a yogi, i.e. from the physical form to the spiritual sphere.

Dharana In interpreting dharana, it point to the concentration or the introspective focus and one-mindedness of the mind. In this, one learns and practices how to concentrate through slowing down the flow of thoughts and concentrating on a single subject or mental object at a particular time(Allman, 2020). This can be a point of energy in the body, an image of deity or silent repletion of a sound.

With the previous steps, one is able to learn of the concentration and in this limb, a finer focus is put on a singular thought or point. With long hours of focused attention, one is able to naturally meditate and rid of all the unnecessary factors in the environment. Dhyana This is the process of profound and abstract meditation. Dhyana translates into contemplation and reflection which is the process of giving thought to the point the limb Dharana singled out(Patanjali, n.d.). Therefore Dhyana is the non-judgmental and non-presumptuous observation of the object of thought. This will lead to a train of uninterrupted thought, current of cognition and flow of awareness.

The fifth and sixth limb are related since one leads to the other while the latter concentrates on the details of the subject. Patanjali extends that Dhyana is a mind process that leads to a course of uniform modification of energy. Dhyana will help in refining the thought and revive of the spiritual energy.

Samadhi Samadhi describes a state of union or harmonious whole. This ten is presented as a state of oneness with the subject of meditation. In practice. Samadhi indicates that there is no distinction between the actor of meditation, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation. Samadhi is the state in which the mind occupies itself on the object of thought in meditation till it loses the sense of its own identity.

The state of Samadhi indicates that the meditator ha realized a profound connection with the Divine and an interconnectedness with all living things. This is an experience that guarantees a bliss in nature and being at one with the universe. Patanjali describes that the completion of the path of yoga is defined in achieving peace(Patanjali, n.d.). It also presents an aspect of enlightenment which cannot be bought nor possessed but just experienced. This therefore requires continued devotion, commitment and practice.

References

Adele, F. (2019). The Yamas and Niyamas. Cambridge university.

Allman, L. D. (2020). Yogic Wisdom: Perfect Health, Peace and Success through Applying the Ancient Principles of Yoga as Given to Us by the Yoga Masters. Page Publishing, Inc.

Feuerstein, G. (2003). The deeper dimension of yoga: Theory and practice. Shambhala Publications.

Feuerstein, G. (2011). The path of yoga: An essential guide to its principles and practices. Shambhala Publications.

Patanjali, M. (n.d.). YOGIC PRACTICES.

Rama, S., Ballentine, R., & Ajaya, S. (1976). Yoga and psychotherapy: The evolution of consciousness. Himalayan Institute Press.

Rosen, R. (2002). The yoga of breath: A step-by-step guide to pranayama. Shambhala Publications.


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