Ashtanga Yoga Is An Age-Old Proven Science

Ashtanga Yoga Is An Age-Old Proven Science

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga, one of the classical yoga traditions, has gained significant attention and popularity worldwide. Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Ashta’ meaning ‘eight’ and ‘Anga’ meaning ‘limbs,’ Ashtanga Yoga refers to the eightfold path of Yoga outlined in the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” one of the foundational texts of yoga philosophy.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga stand as a structured, historically verified path towards enlightenment. The term “Yoga” symbolizes a union; it beckons one to dissolve the confines of their individual self, merging with the vast expanse of the cosmos. It transcends mere physical postures, a perception often associated with Yoga in the Western world.

Historically, India’s landscape was dotted with Yogis, who had reached the pinnacle of enlightenment. In ancient times, almost every guru was a Yogi, a beacon of realized wisdom. However, the consistent foreign invasions over millennia marred the depth and spread of this ancient knowledge.

Patanjali, a revered ancient sage, encapsulated the essence of Yoga in his Sutras. This profound document is composed of a mere 196 succinct aphorisms, showcasing the brilliance of conveying depth with brevity.

The testament to Yoga’s transformative power lies in the myriad of enlightened souls who have graced our world. They illuminate the potential inherent in following the principles of Yoga.

Central to this is the “Ashtanga” or “eight-limbed path,” as delineated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

1. Yama – The Foundational Goal of Ashtanga Yoga

Yama is the first of the Ashtanga Yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. You can translate it is as “ethical guidelines” or “moral disciplines.” It refers to ethical guidelines for relating to others.

The five Yamas are:

  • Ahimsa: Embracing non-violence.
  • Satya: Upholding truthfulness.
  • Asteya: Refraining from theft.
  • Brahmacharya: Exercising moderation.
  • Aparigraha: Avoiding possessiveness. Yama paves the way for a life filled with compassion, honesty, and self-control.

2. Niyama

Niyama is the second limb of the eight limbs of Yoga. Though there is not a good definition in for it in the English language, Niyama is often translated as “ethical guidelines” or “moral disciplines” and refers to directing the ethical standards inward. It is about self-discipline and self-study.

The five Niyamas include:

  • Saucha: Prioritizing cleanliness.
  • Santosha: Cultivating contentment.
  • Tapas: Embracing self-discipline.
  • Svadhyaya: Committing to introspection.
  • Ishvara pranidhana: Surrendering to a higher power.

3. Asana – The Most Common of The Ashtanga Yoga

The Yoga Sutras, while an extensive treatise on the mind and meditation, provide a concise definition of Asana. Patanjali defines Asana as ‘Sthira Sukham Asanam’ (Sutra 2.46), which translates to ‘A posture in which one is steady (Sthira) and comfortable (Sukha) is Asana.’

Ashtanga Yoga

Beyond mere poses, it readies the body for deeper spiritual practices, emphasizing balance, strength, and flexibility.

4. Pranayama

Pranayama is one of the key practices within the discipline of Ashtanga Yoga, focusing on the regulation and harnessing of the breath. Derived from Sanskrit, “Prana” means “vital life force” or “energy,” and “Ayama” signifies “extension” or “regulation.” Together, Pranayama can be understood as regulating vital energy through breath control.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara is often described as the withdrawal or control of the senses. It is the fifth limb in the “Ashtanga” or “eight-limbed” Yoga system, as Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sutras. This system provides a roadmap for personal and spiritual development.

The term “Pratyahara” is derived from two Sanskrit words: “Prati,” meaning against or away, and “Ahara,” referring to food or anything we take into ourselves from the outside. Thus, at its core, Pratyahara means to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.

6. Dharana

Dharana, often translated as “concentration,” is the sixth limb of the “Ashtanga” or “eight-limbed” system of Yoga, as laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It follows the practice of Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, and paves the way for Dhyana, which is meditation.

“Dharana” comes from the Sanskrit root “dhri,” which means to hold, carry, or maintain. Dharana is about binding one’s attention to a single point, object, or idea, holding the mind in one place instead of letting it wander.

7. Dhyana

Dhyana, often translated as “meditation,” is the seventh limb in the “Ashtanga” or “eight-limbed” system of Yoga, as delineated by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It follows Dharana, the practice of focused concentration, and leads up to Samadhi, the ultimate state of self-realization and absorption.

The term “Dhyana” stems from the Sanskrit root “dhyai,” which means “to contemplate or meditate on.” While Dharana involves holding the attention on a single point of focus, Dhyana represents a deepened, sustained, and uninterrupted concentration or meditation.

8. Samadhi – The Goal of Ashtanga Yoga

Samadhi is the eighth and final limb of the “Ashtanga” or “eight-limbed” system of Yoga as defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It represents the culmination of all yogic practices and is often translated as “integration,” “absorption,” or “superconscious state.”

The term “Samadhi” is derived from the Sanskrit roots “sama” (meaning “together” or “integrated”) and “dha” (meaning “to get” or “to hold”). Thus, Samadhi signifies a state where the individual consciousness merges with the universal consciousness, signifying complete harmony and unity.

Samadhi, often equated with enlightenment, is the zenith of one’s spiritual journey, symbolizing the transcendence of ego and a harmonious unity with everything. Luminaries like Gautam Buddha, Krishna, Rama, Jesus Christ, and contemporary sages like Sadhguru exemplify this state.

In the annals of various spiritual traditions, enlightenment epitomizes the pinnacle of understanding and realization, achievable through immense dedication and discipline. However, its doors remain open to every seeker.

The Yoga Sutras, in their universal wisdom, echo that every individual possesses the potential to reach enlightenment. Ashtanga Yoga, hence, is not just a practice but a transformative journey. It has been the philosophy of Hindus for eons, who believe in the familial bond of the world and hence, propagate peace. After all, when the world is family, what place does conflict have?