In the last years, yoga practice grew more than any other natural health therapy, according to the U.S. News & World Report in 2015. Many people are unaware of the yoga philosophy . Though, more than 20 million people, only in the United States, have started practicing yoga since 2002.
Most of us are familiar with the yoga poses (asanas) and some breathing techniques (pranayama). Still, we remain in the dark about other aspects of yoga.
Yoga means “union”. Our yoga practice aims to create unity between body, mind and soul. According to the Sanskrit Vedas, everything started with purusha. This is pure being, pure awareness, the state that we long to return to. When purusha is created, it becomes prakruti, that what we experience in our human existence. Being incarnated and leading a human life makes us forget our essence, purusha.
Patanjali created the Eight Limbs of Yoga to help himself transcend and reach self-realization. Patanjali’s Sutras were designed to give us an inner compass to be able to awaken to our divine essence, remember our true nature, purusha, according to this article by Michelle Fondin.
The 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
Yamas (abstinences) are rules of moral code and include ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
Niyama (self-discipline and spiritual observances) are rules of personal behavior and include saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or spiritual austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual studies), and Ishvara Pranidhana (constant devotion to God).
Asana (yoga postures) refers to yoga postures but in Patanjali’s initial practice, it referred to mastering the body to calm the mind and prepare it for meditation.
Pranayama (breath control) comprises yoga breathing techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process. Pranayama, litterally translated “life force extension,” is believes to not only rejuvenate the body but actually extend life itself.
The first four stages of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga aim to help us refine our personality, gain mastery over the body and become more self-aware. These four limbs constitute the basis for the practice of the last four phases.
Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses, making a conscious effort to draw our attention from the external world, detach from our senses and direct our attention inwardly. We observe our habits without judging them, with equanimity.
Dharana (concentration) refers to slowing down the mental process by focusing on a single mental object: an image, a mantra, our breath or a deity.
Dhyana (meditation) is the practice of meditation, being aware without focus and constantly redrawing the attention when thoughts wander inside our mind.
Samadhi (absorption) is merging with the divine, a state of ecstasy. The thinker, the thought process and the thought fuse with the subject of thought. There is only oneness.