Astanga Yoga-A Great Contribution of Maharshi Patanjali
‘Yoga‘ generally means connection. But in the case of spirituality, the meaning of yoga is more deeply rooted. It is the connection of Paramatma with Jivatma. It is a way for every human being to live in complete freedom without fear and to lead a life in complete happiness, peace and joy. That path is the path of Astanga Yoga (8 Limbs of Yoga) as outlined by Maharshi Patanjali in ancient India. A line from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “yogas chitta vritti nirodha” refers to the restraint of mind in order to experience ultimate reality and move toward self-realization. Self-realization is first required for moksha or salvation. And for this self-realization we need a stable and calm mind. In order to purify and calm the mind, Ashtanga Yoga process has been mentioned in Patanjali’s yoga philosophy.
History of Astanga Yoga
Accoding to yoga history, Astanga Yoga was recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript. The text of the Yoga Korunta was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari. Later the idea of Astanga Yoga was passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya. At last the system of Astanga yoga was transmitted to the modern world by Pattabhi Jois.
Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga
Astanga yoga literally means “8 Limbs of Yoga.” But Maharshi Patanjali‘s Astanga yoga means a eight stepped system of yoga. Maharshi Patanjali pointed out eight steps of yoga for one’s self-discovery. He said that yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (absorption) are the eight parts of yoga. These together are known as Ashtanga Yoga. I would like to briefly discuss each of those Astanga Yoga in my article today.
The first step of Astanga Yoga is Yama. Yama means restraint and self-centeredness by removing the senses and mind from violence, evil, etc. Ahimsha, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Parigraha – these are the five types of yama.
Niyama is the second step of Astanga Yoga. Maharshi Patanjali identified Shouch, Santosh, Tapa, Swadhyaya and Ishwar Pranidhan- these five categories of Niyama.
Asana means to be settled with steady and happiness. Various types of postures that are practised to keep the body healthy and stable are called Asana. Asana results in firm, healthy and light body. The practice of Asana creates mental balance. Asana results in body and mind coordination. A yogi conquers the body by practising Asana and builds it as the carrier of the soul. There are different types of Asana, e.g, Padmasana, Sukhasana, Gomukhasana, Halasana etc. Through the practice of Asana, a yogi acquires the ability to immerse his body and mind in the thought of God. The practice of Asana is an important part of yoga. However, this Asan process needs to be taught from a guru or yogi.
Pranayama means the ‘Ayam’ of Pran. Here Pran refers to the air taken as breath and ‘Ayam’ means to spread. In other words, to control the flow of breathing as one’s wish is called Pranayama. In Pranayama, the breathing is extended all over the body. So, the life span of a yogi is not fixed by counting the days, it is fixed by counting his breaths. His life is measured by how many times he breathes. The more he breathes, the more he lives longer. For that reason he breathes slowly, deeply and rhythmically. Breathing in this way he strengthens the respiratory system, calms the nervous system and reduces all types of desire. Pranayama is completed by these three processes – Rechak, Purak and Kumbhak. Breathing is called Purak, exhalation is called Rechak and keeping the breath in is called Kumbhak. Pranayama can be called the science of breathing in one sense. However, without the proper supervision of Sadguru, one should never practise pranayam with Purak-Rechak-Kumbhak.
To take all of the senses inwards avoiding all the interests of our materialistic world is called Pratyahara. The senses can be introverted through hard determination and practice. When the senses are introverted, the worldly interests in the mind are destroyed. In this state the mind can be absorbed in its desired object.
To keep the mind fixed or bound on a particular subject is called Dharana. Dharana means concentration. Nothing can be mastered in the world without concentration. In order to master a subject, one has to withdraw the mind from an emotional feeling and place it on that particular subject. In order to attain God, one has to concentrate on God. To attain God, we can follow a theory. We have to focus our mind on a particular part of our body, especially in the middle of the navel, the tip of the nose, or in the middle of the eyebrows, or in an idol or any object. A yogi usually practises it. He acquires the ability to reach the desired goal by the habit of keeping the mind occupied on his desired object for a long time. Dharana the basis of Dhyana.
Dhyana means uninterrupted deep thinking. If the mind thinks of God incessantly, then after a long thought it can finally become God-like. In Dhyana the yogi’s body, breath, senses, mind, judgement, ego all merge with God and he goes into a conscious transcendental state which cannot be explained. Then he feels nothing but absolute joy and he sees the light of his own heart.
Samadhi means complete surrender to God. When one can completely surrender to God, the soul enters into the Paramatma, and a sadhak ends his search. The sadhak ascends to the highest peak of Dhyana and attains samadhi. Then he gets into mindless, intellectless, proudless healthy state. In the state of samadhi, he gets connected with Paramatma. At that moment he does not have the sense of ‘self’ because then his body, mind and intellect are stagnant. The sadhak then attains real yoga.
Benefits of Astanga Yoga
There are many benefits of Patanjali’s Astanga yoga. By following and practising Patanjali’s Astanga yoga, one’s turbulent mind calms down and his inner strength, flexiblity increase automatically. No one can be a yogi without Astanga yoga. Yama and Niyama are the basis of Astanga Yoga. Through the practice of Yama and Niyama, a yogi can control his thinking and emotions that help him to create harmony with other persons of the world. A yogi can control and purify his mind by controlling breath through Pranayama and Pratyahara. Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi take a yogi into the deepest state of his soul.
The world we live in is a materialistic world. This world is full of unrest, conflict, terrorism, violence, disease etc. Maharshi Patamjali’s Astanga Yoga is a great contribution to this world. At present, almost fifty percent of the world people are staying at home due to Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. If we practice Maharshi Patanjali’s Astanga yoga now, we can achieve our physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual peace and development and we can also achieve social and global peace and unity.