What Exactly is Ashtanga Yoga and How Can Ashtanga Yoga Help You?
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras
The great ancient exponent of raja yoga Patanjali, more than 2000 years ago wrote in His so called “Patanjali Yoga Sutras” that the path of spiritual enlightenment and perfection embraces eight stages. This path is known as ashtanga yoga or (eight limbed path) or the (eight fold path).
I now shall explain to you these eight limbs or eight stages are so you can understand what exactly is ashtanga yoga is and what are the deeper purposes and directions yoga as a whole.
The first two stages of Patanjali’s eight fold path of ahtanga yoga are called yama and niyama. Yama means control, niyama menans non-control. Literally these two stages describe the dos and the don’ts you need to follow if you want to advance spiritually and achieve perfect union with your higher self. They we might say are the Ten Commandments of Yoga. Interesting enough is to say they almost match to perfection with the Ten Commandments of Moses and serve the same purpose seen from different angles. But we will discuss that in another post. For now let’s focus on what exactly Ashtanga Yoga is all about.
The essential purpose of these Yoga Commandments is to plug holes in your body and mind caused by restlessness, wrong attachments, useless material desires, and many forms of inharmonious living. This way you will be able to direct all your energy and fulfillment toward loving and seeking God, and finally you realize that you are one with the infinite bliss of the Spirit.
You need to practice all these in your daily life if you want truly to advance in your spiritual path and in the meantime find unlimited bliss happiness and joy.
The First Stage of the Eightfold Path of Astanga Yoga are the so Called Yamas:
The first stage of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga are so called yamas or the don’ts:
Non-Violence or (Ahimsa)
Non-Sensuality or Brahmacharya
Non-Greed or Non-Attachment
Our natural state of being is being good and blissful. It is because we live in disharmony with our inner selves we have lost our true purpose of life and we seek it in the wrong ways. We think we will find it by feeding our outer senses and our material desires, but that never happens. Never happens. So the first step of finding what we seek is to follow these five yamas or dont’s. This way we will remove our delusions and we will start spontaneously to be benevolent, truthful, respectful of others etc.
The Second Stage of the Eightfold Path of Astanga Yoga are the Niyamas:
The second stage or the other five rules of Patanjali ashtanga yoga described in the Ptanjali’s yoga sutras or niyamas or the do’s are:
Self-Study or Introspection
Devotion to the Supreme Lord
Each of these principles when practiced perfectly one bestows such a rewards, not only spiritual but physical we had never imagined possible. ‘Money’ or ‘Sex” are nothing compared with what you will achieve after practicing these rules to perfection. I will list these below.
The Third Stage of the Eightfold Path of Astanga Yoga is Asana:
Asana means simply posture. Some writers have been trying to translate this stage and said that Patanjali was referring to practicing the yoga postures and make the body strong and healthy enough as a preparation for meditation.
But in fact Patanjali didn’t refer to any particular set of postures but but only the ability to hold the body still in any comfortable posture as long as the spine is kept erect and the body relaxed.
A sign of perfection in an asana is said to be the ablity to sit stil, without moving a muscle for at least tree hours. It is good of course to do hatha yoga asanas every day in order to keep your body healthy and happy, but just to make clear that Patanjali didn’t meant exactly that in His Yoga sutras.
However do not make the mistake like many beginners think that they have to make their hatha yoga practice perfect and then start to meditate. You don’t have to. You need to start meditating now;
The Forth Stage of the Eightfold Path of Astanga Yoga is Called Pranayama:
To learn more about Pranayama click here
The Fifth Stage of the Eightfold Path of Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga is Called Pratyahara or interiorization of the Mind
Once we master the four previous stages we are then ready to interiorise our conciseness inwardly so we can calm our mind and thoughts so that they can no longer disturb us and lead us through endless by-paths of restlessness and delusion and we can focus deeply and one pointedly on the endless ever new joy of our soul. This is one of the first stages of meditation. This is the part when we sit still in asana and relax and calm our mind.
The Sixth Stage of the Eightfold Path of Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga is Called Dharana
This is also one of the stages of deep meditation, and this is the stage where you actually have a real internal contemplation of some of the aspects of spirit, some of which are; light, sound, calmness, love, bliss. Once real Dharana is reached, one can immerse himself in deep concentration in these inner beautiful realities.
The Seventh Stage of the Eightfold Path of Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga is Called Dhyana
Dhyana is real meditation, absolute absorption. This is one of the final stages of meditation. By concentrating more and more in the inner light from the previous stage – Dharana, you will gradually take from the qualities of these wonderful inner realities. Your mind will lose its ego identification and you will begin to merge in the great ocean of cosmic conciseness and eternal bliss of which we are all a part.
The Eight Stage of the Eightfold Path of Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga is Called Samadhi
Samadhi means oneness. Samadhi is a state of conciseness where one dissolves its ego conciseness in the calm inner light of the infinite spirit.
Once the grip of the ego has been broken and the yogi realises that he is actually that light, there’s nothing that can stop him to expand his conciseness to infinity.
The yogi then realises the real meaning of the words of Jesus Christ “I and my father are one”. You the little wave of light lose once and for all the delusion that you have separate existence from the ocean of light and you become this vast ocean of bliss yourself.
This eternal state of conciseness is our soul natural state. Only we don’t perceive it because our ego conciseness is polluted with ego identifications and endless material desires and we are lost in searching this bliss outside ourselves. When all we need to do is sit quietly and meditate.
As the great spiritual poet Tagore once said; “All this struggle to learn when all we need to do is remember, who we really are.” . You can learn more about the experience of Samadhi meditation here
The Physical Practice of Ashtanga Yoga. What is the Difference Between Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga?
Many people associate ashtanga yoga only with its physical practice. Ashtanga yoga however has nothing to do only with the physical body. A broader notion about ashtanga yoga in the west is Ashtanga taught by Pattabhi Jois. This form of ashtanga yoga is a form of hatha yoga which focuses on asana (posture) and pranayama (breath control). Some people call this ashtanga vinyasa yoga in order to distinguish between Patanjali’s ashtanga eightfold path and the physical ashtanga (hatha) yoga
Vinyasa: Movement Breathing System. The physical form of Ashtanga yoga tought by Pattabhi Jois is little but challenging form of hatha yoga which consist of series of flowing hatha yoga asanas also known as Vinyasa (flow)
These dynamical yoga postures heaten up your body and wake up the internal fire. Performed correctly and with focus and intent these hatha yoga asanas will ignite the dormant flame of vital life energy within all of us. The ashtanga vinyasa system works with the synchronization of deep, rhythmic breathing and movement.
By linking the postures it creates a continuous flow of energy that heats up the body, bringing oxygen to the blood, nourishing the glands and internal organs, cleansing and purifying the nervous system, releasing unwanted toxins through perspiration. As the heat goes up toxins are burned up and out of the system, creating a lighter and stronger body, and a clear mind. The heat is not only a physical experience, it is an internal spiritual fire that burns through the fog of illusion and ignorance.
Here’s an example of a Ashtanga Viniyasa Yoga sequence. Note that is beautiful and its really challenging to master. Is performed by a higly advanced students under the direct guidence of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois:
As you perform the ashtanga vinyasa asanas the internal heat goes up, not only do the toxins begin to exit the system, but another amazing thing happens; the body begins to bend and move. As Pattabhi Jois says “even iron will bend with heat.”
With these amazing yoga asanas we are able to open up areas of the body that had been previously restricted or blocked. You will start to feel your body not only more strong and flexible but you will also feel a release, a feeling of lightness.
Although doing your vinyasa ashtanga yoga you need always to remember that Yoga is not just a physical exercise or some new way to pass the time or fill the emptiness, but it is a eternal truth that was given to mankind so we can prepare ourselves for communion with the infinite spirit which dwells in all of us and merge finally with Him in eternal bliss or Samadhi.