Ashtanga or Eight-limbed Yoga: – It is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). It refers to the eight limbs outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, which include moral and ethical guidelines, postures, breathwork, sense withdrawal, concentration, and meditation. These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures. This process produces intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light, and a strong body, and a calm mind.
The explanation of these eight “limbs” will help to give an understanding of the deeper purposes and directions of yoga.
- Yama: It means control. It shows a series of don’ts so that your relationship, as well as your energy, remains harmonious. Thus it provides a peaceful background needed for deep meditation. The rules of Yama (the Don’ts) are five: – Non-violence or Ahimsa, Non-lying, Non-stealing, Non-sensuality or Brahmacharya, Non-greed or Non-attachment.
- Niyama: It means non-control. A series of do’s that help in detaching from the world & the ego so that it becomes to let go of the doer in deep meditation. The rules of Niyama (the Do’s) are – Cleanliness, Contentment, Austerity, Self-study or Introspection, Devotion to the Supreme Lord.
- Asana: It aims at practicing the yoga postures as a preparation for meditation. Posture means sitting motionless in any comfortable position for a long time. It is only the ability to hold the body still as a prerequisite for deep meditation.
- Pranayama: It means control of breath. Prana does mean breath, but only because of the close connection that exists between the breath and the causative flow of energy in the body. It increases the ability to hold the breath for a long time so that energy can be controlled. By performing these breathing exercises one can hold the energy within the body.
- Pratyahara: Pratyahara means the interiorization of the mind. Once the energy has been redirected towards its source in the brain, one must then interiorize one’s consciousness, so that his thoughts, too, will not wander in endless bypaths of restlessness and delusion, but will be focused one-pointedly on the deeper mysteries of the indwelling soul.
- Dharana: It means contemplation i.e. being entirely pointed to one thing.
- Dhayan: It means meditation. By concentrating on the inner light, then, or upon any other divine reality that one actually perceives when the mind is calm, one gradually takes on the qualities of that inner reality. The mind loses its ego identification and begins to merge in the great ocean of consciousness of which it is a part.
- Samadhi: Samadhi comes after one learns to dissolve his ego-consciousness in the calm inner light. Once the grip of ego has really been broken, and one discovers that he is that light, there is nothing to prevent him from expanding his consciousness to infinity.
Advantages of Astanga Yoga:
- For your body: Develops strength and flexibility, tones muscles, lubricates joints, massages internal organs, releases chronic tension, improves circulation and energizes and refreshes, helps with weight loss as well.
- For your mind: Calms restless thoughts, promotes inner peace, supports mental clarity, and promotes self-awareness. It leads to greater resistance to stress, a balanced nervous system.
- For your spirit: It invites deep stillness encourages self-acceptance, honors inner wisdom.