We all ought to wish for a happy, healthy and purposeful life but the complications starts when we are ignorant that the environment and people around us have direct or indirect influence on our lives. So the feeling like envy of others or things, ego, anger or hatred, spiritual ignorance, improper dietary habits and astray lifestyle habits have bad and negative effects on our health and stress levels.
Maharishi Patanjali termed these feelings as ‘kleshas’ meaning distress, sore and hardships. He wrote 196 Yoga Sutras (verses) divided into eight organs (therefore also called as Ashtanga Yoga) which were path to spiritual enlightenment, intellect and all round ideal health leading to total well being. He defines in his sutras, Yoga as “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah” which means yoga helps in controlling the fluctuations and patterns that creates disturbance in mind. Thus with the practice of yoga a calm and self-control on mind can be achieved by making the person free from kleshas.
Advice before starting Patanjali yoga sutra practices
The meaning of word “Sutra” is thread that means the yoga sutras are connected with each other and they should be understood in the order as the continuous thoughts to form a complete philosophy. Therefore a yoga practitioner should first understand the “Patanjali Yoga Sutras” completely and should practice it by following the stages accordingly.
For a beginner it is advisable that he or she should first start his yoga practice by practicing yoga gratis or general yoga asanas of hatha yoga or a little of bhakti yoga and meditative techniques so that he develops awareness of his mind and body. As in the later stages of Patanjali yoga one need to have a stable mind and body especially for performing long concentration and meditation before blending deep into samadhi. So with unstable mind and body the yoga practitioner will not be able to get through the final purpose of his practice and moreover it can do harm to him instead of good.
It is recommended that the guidance of a ‘Guru’ is required so as the right understanding of technique can be monitored especially in the beginning. Once the yoga practitioner becomes skilled and capable, he or she can continue the practice by themselves but at latter stage the seeker understands that guru’s guidance is important at advance stage too.
Eight Organs of Patanjali Yoga
The eight organs of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali Yog Darshana are like steps of ladder which should be understood and followed accordingly for the accomplishment of the purpose. The first five stages are called bahiranga (external) practices of yoga as they lay emphasis of yoga in relation to external or outside worldly things like our body, society and social conduct, prakruthi (nature) and many other things outside oneself. The last three stages are called anataranga (internal) practices of yoga as they are more concerned about the development of inner consciousness and realization of one’s own self. The eight organs of Ashtanga yoga or patanjali yoga sutra are as follows:
Yamas are the general ethical principles that should be adopted in life and practiced regularly round the clock. We often neglect the importance of these principles as we are carried away by worldly things, our attachments or sometimes feel burdened and difficult to adopt. But these principles form as a part of our character and sometimes ignoring them is also directly responsible for our mental distress. The purpose of yama is to bring peace and calmness between our mind and social interactions. There are five Yamas which are as follows:
Ahimsa (feeling of nonviolence to all things)
“Live and let others live” the message of Lord Mahavira is what the practice of principle ahimsa means. Ahimsa is not only giving up the acts of killing and cruelty towards any living being but also means that you are kind, friendly and considerate to other people and things.
Satya is our quest to truth; we begin it with speech which should reflect in our words, thoughts and actions. Whether we tell a lie just to flatter someone or think that our lie don’t harm anybody, but it breaks the principle of satya. Any act of lying, cheating, dishonesty and deception contradicts with this principle.
The principle of Asteya says that we should not possess anything that does not belongs to us; even we should not envy the things of others, neither we should use the things in different manner it was intended for use nor we should use beyond the limit or time it was permitted. Eating beyond one’s appetite is also an act of stealing. The practice of asteya makes a person self sufficient and helps to satiate his carving internally.
Brahmacharya (sexual control or abstinence)
In general brahmacharya means abstinence from sex or maintaining celibacy. It does not mean that who are married cannot practice brahmacharya rather it represents a discipline on sexual life. Fantasizing about sex or over indulgence in sexual activities contaminates our thoughts and consumes our vital energy which is also called as “ojas” in yoga. By practicing brahmacharya we preserve, regenerates this energy into spiritual energy that equip us with strength and intellect.
Aparigraha means that we hold or acquire only those things that are necessary. Unnecessary buying of clothes, gadgets and ration etc breaks the principle of aparigraha. Moreover when we indulge ourselves in possessiveness of things, we develop the feelings like attachment, envy which can cause the breach of other principles like satya and asteya too.
Niyamas are the personal code of conduct which could also be called as extension of principles after yama. The practices of niyama give us self-discipline, inner strength and help us providing positive energy required for following yogic path with devotion. There are five niyamas as follows:
Saucha is the practice to maintain cleanliness and purity both externally and internally as well. When we keep our body tidy, our environment hygienic and clean; we practice shaucha externally and staying away from the feeling of avarice, lust, anger etc helps in practice of shaucha internally.
Our life should be a feeling of blessing and gratitude to whatever we get by birth or earn by our efforts. We should always be happy, satisfied and grateful. Thus santosha is the practice of contentment and we should stop mourning unnecessary over the things that are left or denied in our lives.
Meaning of the word tapas is “fire”. Practice of tapas gives us intense self discipline, willpower and it burns all the desires which hold us back from achieving our aim. There are many practices of tapas such as fasting periodically, observing complete silence for sometime by being in the state of speechlessness or practicing a difficult asana like standing on one leg continuously for some time.
Swadhyaya literally means “self-study” which consists of study of our traditional scriptures and manuscripts in relation to our modern existence. By doing so we acquire knowledge and get answers about humanity and ourselves, more lucid vision of our path and self awareness in all our activities.
Ishwarapranidhana (surrender to the cosmic will)
Ishwara-pranidhana is about believing that there is someone above us, by any name we might call him, who listens to us, guides us and provides us with solutions. Thus we accept his presence and surrender ourselves to that divine power. The practice requires that we devote sometime everyday to acknowledge the fact that some omnipresent power is guiding and directing the course of our lives and we are thankful to that.
All the principles of yamas and niyamas are interconnected and are made to minimize the conflicts between an individual’s mind and external environment. These principles seem difficult to adopt in life however their limited application will also help.
Sage Patanjali referred asana as sitting positions so that a steady and calm mind and body can be achieved which is required especially for performing long concentration and meditation techniques. When yoga practitioner masters the asana, he stabilizes the different nerve impulses and eliminates the feeling of discomfort, pain and all other adverse sensations. Thus one is be able to sit for long hours continuously without losing concentration by such feelings. For performing asana our body and muscles should not be stiff and rigid rather we should experience our self free, comfortable and relaxed. There are various asanas like padmasana, siddhasana or sukhasana etc which a yoga practitioner can perform according to one’s ability and skill. With regular practice and experience gradually one will be able to perform more difficult and stable asana.
Patanjali has clearly emphasized that the practice of pranayama should only be done when the asanas have been mastered. The word pranayama means expansion and extension of “pranic” energy which is vital energy responsible for life. By practicing pranayama we learn to move this energy within our body. There are various types of pranayama but all are based on majorly four important aspects of breathing that are:
- Pooraka or inhalation
- Rechaka or exhalation
- Antar Kumbhaka or internal breath retention
- Bahir Kumbhaka or external breath retention
For moving to the stage of concentration i.e. dharana, we need to turn ourselves inward so that we are not distracted by worldly senses. As to hold things in our hands, they should be empty similarly if we are distracted or disturbed by external sense experiences such as heat, cold, sound and smell etc. Then we won’t be able to explore the inner potential of our mind. Thus in pratyahara we develop control over our senses by getting detached from external world.
As the sixth organ of patanjali yoga sutra, dharana is also a part of anataranga (internal) practices of yoga. In dharana a yoga practitioner focuses his consciousness towards one point or object so that all the other thoughts, subjects, emotions or feelings which regularly flow into mind can be prevented. Thus dharana implies concentration of mind on any internal or external thing which patanjali states as a psychic symbol and can be one’s guru, deity, mantra or almost anything. When we practice pratyahara, all outer distractions and disturbances gets minimized but our mind still keeps wondering about the past memories or future instances. Therefore in dharana we practice concentration so that the inner fluctuations can be minimized.
When we are able to be in state of dharana for long hours, it is called dhyana stage. In this stage we move our self from concentration to meditation state. This happens when one is not moved either by outer or inner disturbances and is able to maintain calm, smooth and regular flow of concentration for a period of time. In dhyana a practitioner experiences quietness, relaxation and peace. This stretch out state of quietness makes a person devoid of attachments, resulting in indifference to pleasure and sorrows of life.
This is the final aim of patanjali yoga sutra where in the individual self discovers the super consciousness within and synergizes with divine self. A state where both external and internal modifications of mind stops and only awareness persist is achieved. A person attains self realization and there is absolute integration of the body, breath, mind, intellect and the self.