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Ashtanga Yoga

When we hear the word “yoga” the first thing that comes to mind for most of us is the fancy poses that seem impossible to practice. Either it’s the way we live and think or how it’s presented we only practice the physical aspect of it but there’s much more to it. Let’s look at ashtanga yoga and I’m not talking about the ashtanga classes held in many yoga studios.

The word ashtanga is composed of two Sanskrit words; ashta- eight and anga- limbs; meaning 8 limb path. Although yoga has its roots about 5000 years BC as described in Vedic Philosophy and Tantras, the great sage Patanjali wrote a book called Yoga Sutras that is the first written source in detail about yoga in approximately 2. Century A.C. These 195 sutras written by Patanjali are accepted as the foundation of ashtanga yoga, the yogic philosophy as we know today. The object is describing the path to enlightenment to yogis and yoginis.

The first limb yama is telling us about principles, moral code. The principles mentioned in yama are; ahimsa (non violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (continence or celibacy) and aparigraha (non possessiveness). Patanjali says do not harm any creatures physically, verbally and even mentally. Always be true to yourself and others, don’t take what is not yours, contain yourself sexually, control your desire, have meaningful relations, do not own more than you need.

Second nimb niyama is about personal discipline. Keep your body and mind clean (shoucha), always be grateful for what you have and be content (santosha), endure (tapas), study and learn your own intellectual, emotional and egocentric processes (swadhyaya) and dedicate and surrender yourself to God (ishwara pranidhana).

The third limb is asana- the yoga poses. This is what most of the people mean when they say that they practice yoga although this makes a very little part of yoga. In eastern philosophies it is believed that we all have an energy body interrelated to our physical bodies. As blood flows in our veins, there is energy flowing in channels in our energy bodies and this energy is redistributed through our chakras to our energy body over and over again. Asanas help cleaning these channels and chakras and strengthen them. There are also countless benefits accepted by modern medicine. Doctors started recommending yoga to their patients suffering from various ailments such as spinal problems, menstrual irregularities, hormonal dysfunctions, muscle and joint problems, arthritis, emphysema and even cancer. There are countless studies proving the restorative power of yoga.

Fourth limb is pranayama, which is yogic breath. Pranayama moves awareness from outer world to inner world, from body to mind while nurturing the body at the same time. Yamas and niyamas focus on the actions in the world and set guideline to selfless service with love while asanas help strengthening and honoring the physical body, pranayama sets the path to inner peace through breathing, strengthen and nurture both energy channels and physical body.

Fifth limb pratyahara is about withdrawal of senses to increase the power of mind. Yogi draws away from senses and becomes independent of the power of objects of desire. That leads to control over his/her own actions and thoughts. As indifferent to senses, to outside he is capable of going further in deep levels of consciousness.

The sixth and seventh limbs dhrana and dhyana is about concentration of mind on one object and after accomplishing that withdrawing mind from all external objects and focusing it on one point and meditating on it. These are the following steps after having control on body and senses. In this process the accomplished yogi connects to the universal consciousness accompanied by deep relaxation, expansion and bliss. It is the space where one draws away from all emotional and mental attachments; feels that everything is connected. It is the space where there is indifference to both joy and pain. It is not about being emotionless or distant, it is about liberating ourselves from the outcome of our actions. It’s the space where we are in our essence, we are powerful no matter what life brings. This naturally leads to the final limb Samadhi – the state where yogi is one with the universe, enlightenment.

It is not possible to explain ashtanga yoga in a short post but this is as simple as it can be told. Yoga is not a religion but a philosophy. If followed committedly it will work its magic and transform those willing to walk the path.

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