8 Limbs of Yoga to accentuate MENTAL FOCUS - HEALING...through ASHTANGA YOGA

Almost 2 decades ago, I used to find it very difficult to practice yoga. It was always something that felt very slow, and almost depriving me of the speed with which I wanted to move in my badminton matches!!! Today when I practice yoga I realise, I missed employing one of the most critical tools of SUCCESS, blissful state and focus... and how it really heals you not only physically but mentally. It's a complete lifestyle change in perspective and performance. The competence levels can be easily enhanced through practice of basics of Ashtanga Yoga.

Very often Yoga is construed as a flexibility -fitness exercise, however its way more than that in terms of alignment to a path of peace -prosperity -purposeful action, with a detached composure. There was a time during ancient times that it used to be the primary learning material-curriculum in our gurukuls...however with time we have lost some of our most powerful tools of knowledge and wisdom, in our education system.

Yoga literally means union, union of the individual soul with the universal soul; hence union with all. As has been stated elsewhere each who knows himself as one with the supreme, knows he is also one with every other. Though union is the end, the word ‘yoga’ has also come to mean the path which leads to that end.

The word is often found associated with various practices, amongst which Ashtanga Yoga stands out. Ashtanga Yoga as the name suggests means ‘eight limbed yoga,’ as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Yoga Sutras Text is attributed to Rishi Patanjali, which he divided into four chapters (Pada) viz. Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada.

Ashtanga Yoga comes under the Sadhana Pada. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a series of postures (asanas). These asanas heat the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely.

Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and diseases from the internal organs through the medium of the sweat generated while performing these asanas. As a result the body becomes healthy, light and strong, and the mind becomes calm.

Of the eight spiritual practices (eight limbs) as laid out by Maharishi Patanjali, asana or physical yoga posture is merely one branch; the other limbs for the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self as expounded by Rishi Patanjali, consists of the following eight limbs:

  1. Yama (Respect for others, moral code of conduct) -Yama relates to moral codes of conduct in society, respect for others regardless of their social status or circumstances. They are also known as the five Don’ts or abstentions. Yama in other words means to attain control over the mortal body -

  2. Niyama (Respect for self, personal discipline and self purification)-Niyama relates to the mode of conduct which are constructive and disciplinary in nature.

  3. Asana (Posture, Harmony with your body) -The next step is called Asana or postures. The Yoga Sutras define Asana as 'Sthiram Sukham Asana', which means Asana is a posture which is steady and comfortable. It is an essential step towards higher practice of yoga. According to Rishi Patanjali, the ability to hold the body still and relaxed for an extended period of time, is a prerequisite for deep meditation.

  4. Pranayama (Breath control, harmony with your energy) -The word Prana primarily refers to the life force, vital energy itself. Pranayama thus means energy control. Prana is the subtle invisible force that connects the body and the mind. Yoga teaches how to still the mind through breath control. Prana or bio energy flows through the subtle pranic pathways called ‘nadis’. Pranayama helps to clean these nadis and remove all impurities commonly referred to as Nadi Shuddhi

  5. Pratyahara (Sense control, harmony with your emotions)-The fifth stage in Patanjali's journey is called Pratyahara, interiorization of the mind. This means withdrawal of the five senses from external objects , non-attachment ,yet mind remaining fully aware of the internal processes. As a thread must be gathered to pass through the eye of the needle, so with the mind it is necessary to gather one' s thoughts and energies if one wants to penetrate the narrow tunnel that leads to divine awakening.

  6. Dharana (Concentration, harmony with your thoughts) -Concentration of the chitta upon a physical object such as a flame of a lamp, the mid-point of the eyebrow, or the image of a deity.

  7. Dhyana (Contemplation) -Prolonged period of Dharana leads to the next stage, the seventh stage called Dhyana, meditation, absorption. They say, by prolonged concentration on any quality, one begins to assume those qualities. By concentrating on the inner light or 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.

  8. Samadhi (Ecstasy, absorption in the Universal Consciousness) -The eighth step on Rishi Patanjali's eightfold journey is known as Samadhi, oneness. As one proceeds on the path of Dhyana a point comes when one loses self consciousness or the sense of "I". This is the beginning of Samadhi state. In this state the meditator, the process of meditation and the object of meditation becomes one. 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. This state is fullness and completeness.

For Sage Patanjali, yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayam are the Bahiranga aspects of yoga and Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the Antaranga yoga. Pratyahara is the bridge between the two. Do share your experience of YOGA and how it has impacted your journey... Also keen to know, if yoga has also supported your personal spiritual journey.

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