When I began my Yoga journey-over 20 years ago, I remember first hearing the words, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” I never forgot those words, and I never understood how my mind would calm down and stop thinking, but miraculously, it did.
What begins as a physical practice for many eventually evolves into something so much more. It begins slowly – little things that once bothered us don’t seem to be such a big a deal. How we react in different situations begins to change, how we think, how we act, how we love, and how we live are all affected. I believe it is important to understand that there are eight limbs of yoga, and out of those eight limbs, Asana – the third limb – is the only physical limb. One of the most important lessons we can learn are the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Yoga is the union of the body, mind and spirit. The physical and emotional. Yoga teaches us equanimity. How to stay calm in the middle of chaos. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are the inner workings of the mind along our journey to find inner peace. I think that when these are broken down, it helps to give an understanding of what each individual goes through at different times in their lives. Since each individual is unique, these experiences are different for everyone.
The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first and second limbs of the Eight Fold Path. The Eight Fold Path is the Buddha’s code of ethics (or written guide) which will help you on your journey in life.
Social Discipline or observances is the foundation of how we treat others. In simple terms, these are the things not to do. The NIYAMAS: Individual Discipline or observances is the foundation of how we treat ourselves. Simply put, these are things we should do.
I truly believe that I live a yogic lifestyle, and have been guided by these principles in one way or another. I follow the Golden Rule, and always try to see the good everyone and treat others as I would like to be treated. I also try very hard to take care of myself.
The poses, the breath, the emotions, and the challenges we face on our yoga mats are stepping stones for when we step off our mats into the real world. How do you treat yourself? How do you treat others? How do you handle stress, change, or things that don’t go as planned? How do you stay calm when you feel like your world is falling apart? How do you get “unstuck?”
The information below is what I feel is so important to understand. Your Yoga practice will evolve, and you will feel happier and more at peace within yourself, which in turn will rub off on others.
Definition of Yoga
In Sutra 2 of the first chapter, Patanjali has defined Yoga as
योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः॥२॥ “yogascitta vritti nirodhah” (Sanskrit)
“Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff”
– translation by Swami Vivekananda
In subsequent Sutras, Patanjali explains that once the mind is properly restrained, then the “seer” or the “soul, the true self” can rest in its own true nature. Further, as long as the mind is not under control, it continues to assume the form of the “vrittis,” or the perturbations in the mind and these vrittis become the cause of human suffering. In simpler terms, what this definition tells us is that we can be peaceful and happy when we can control the mind; or else, the mind continues to control us, and we stay in a state of suffering.
Ashtanga Yoga (Eight limbs of Yoga):
The Eight Limbs of Yoga as defined in the second chapter are as follows:
Yamas (self restraints): The Yamas are guidelines for how to interact with the outside world at a social level. The five Yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (abstinence), Aparigraha (non-hoarding).
Niyamas (observances): The Niyamas represent guidelines for self-discipline. The five Niyamas are Shoucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Swadhyaya (study of the scriptures and self-study), and Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to God). Together, Yamas and Niyamas provide an ethical and moral code to be followed so the aspiring yogi can establish an adequate moral foundation for his/her spiritual journey.
Asana (posture): Asana refers to the seated posture which should be steady and comfortable so the yogi can sit and meditate for long periods of time.
Pranayama (breath control): Pranayama, which literally means stretching or expansion of prana, the vital life force, involves breath control and helps train and prepare the mind for dharana (concentration).
Pratyahara (sense withdrawal): Through pratyahara one gains the ability to withdraw the senses from their objects thus achieving perfect control over the senses.
Dharana (concentration/focus): Dharana involves focusing the mind on a single object of concentration for long periods of time.
Dhyana (meditation): When there is an uninterrupted flow of the mind toward the object of focus, the yogi enters the state of meditation.
Samadhi (total absorption): Finally, when even the self-awareness of the mind disappears and only the object of meditation shines through, this is called the state of Samadhi. It is only in the highest stage of “Samadhi,” called the “Nirbeeja Samadhi” (seedless Samadhi) when the mind is fully under control and brings the yogi to a state of perpetual peace and tranquility.
The main focus of Patanjali is controlling the mind and subduing the fluctuations of the mind, called ‘chitta vrittis.” Once the mind is calm and peaceful, one gets established in his own true nature: Yoga Sutra Study.