Hatha Yoga – a Part of the Eight-Limb Yoga of Patanjali
Patanjali, the author of Yoga Sutra, called his system Ashtanga Yoga (Yoga of eight steps).
Yoga is a science that studies liberation forces that we already have within us. It is the science of mental discipline, which includes a variety of methods to make the mind one-pointed. Patanjali describes some steps for “the destruction of mental fluctuations.”
Patanjali brings a wide range of techniques that harmonize mind and gradually develop a more subtle perception.
The main line of action passes through the Patanjali’s eight basic steps.
- Yama (codes of restraint, abstinences, and self-regulations). It includes Satya (truthfulness); – Ahimsa (non-violence toward people, animals, or anything); Asteyya (honesty); Brahmacharya (control of the sexual sphere or abstention); Aparigraha (non – possessiveness).
- Niyama (observances, practices, self-training) are Saucha (cleanliness); Santosha (contentment); Tapah (asceticism); Svadhyaya (self-study); Isvara pranidhana (fully relying on the will of God).
Yamas are needed to harmonize the interaction with society, whereas niyamas are for harmonization of internal sensations. All the rules of yama and niyama are designed to reduce the disharmony between our actions and our internal position. The purpose of the Yamas and Niyamas is to calm the mind with the help of intelligent action and respect to all beings. Yama and niyama include ten vows, which cover a wide range of human activities. The rules are not easy, but even their limited use leads to a significant calming of the mind.
- Asana (sitting, meditation posture).
Patanjali defines asana as a stable and comfortable sitting position. Preparation may include many different asanas of hatha yoga, but the goal is to be able to comfortably sit in padmasana (lotus pose), siddhasana (accomplished pose), or in similar sitting positions. The purpose of the asanas is balancing the different nerve impulses: sensations of pain and pleasure, hot and cold, heaviness and lightness and the other, opposite perceptions.
- Pranayama (expansion of breath and prana, regulation, control).
Pranayama is practiced in order to control the mind by breathing practices. As a result, the mind becomes steady.
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, bringing inward).
This practice trains to hold back the mind’s tendency to pursuit the external objects, so that awareness is directed inward. As a result, one can cut off sensory experience, such as the perception of sound, smell, and so on. To reach this goal, Patanjali suggests meditative practices like Antar Mauna, Ajapa Japa, and Trataka.
The first five stages of the Eight-limb yoga are exoteric (outer) practices of Yoga. They develop body-mind in the right direction and prepare it for the final stages. The last three stages is an esoteric (internal) Yoga practice:
- Dharana (concentration).
Dharana means focusing the mind. Fixing awareness on a single object and exclusion of all other objects. If the previous state of pratyahara is reached, all the external distractions are excluded. However, the mind is full of inner chatter in the form of the memories of the past and the plans for the future. To focus the mind at one point Patanjali Yoga recommends concentration at a specific psychic character. They can be our guru, a deity, mantra, or some question. Anything that corresponds to the nature of our mind and fit our personality. It should be something that spontaneously attracts our attention. This attraction should be spontaneous, otherwise the mind will be scattered.
- Dhyana (meditation).
Dhyana is an extension of dharana. It appears when we are able to maintain a smooth flow of awareness in the direction of an internal symbol for a certain period of time. This process is compared with a smooth passage of oil. Ultimately, this leads to the exclusion of duality. The seer, the process of seeing and the object of seeing merge into a unity and our essence “melts” and goes into a state of samadhi.
- Samadhi (superconscious concentration)
Samadhi occurs “When the five sense perceptions and the mind are at rest, when even the intelligence ceases to function.” In this state, all that remains is consciousness. Samadhi leads to self-realization. The Bhagavad Gita states: “When your mind is no longer disturbed by the flowery language of the Vedas, and when it remains fixed in the trance of self-realization, then you will have attained the divine consciousness” (BG 2:53)
All commentators of Yoga Sutra agree that these methods are not designed for an average person. These techniques require practitioners to eliminate all thoughts and cease all sensations. For most people, whose minds are unbalanced, it would bring more harm than good. This practice is for a few advanced individuals who have no desires for material enjoyment and whose mind is pure.
In any case, one should not try to practice the eight stages until he or she meet a guru who can teach them personally.
TODAY’S TIP: It is important to note that the name Ashtanga Yoga is nowadays identified with a system of physical postures, which was never the ancient intent of it. Asanas were developed to train the body to counter cramps and stiffness caused by long periods of sitting, so one was able to meditate for hours and even days.