Raja Yoga is the path of psychic control or the path of controlling the mind (or taming the mind) through will power. As the name suggests it is the king’s path. It is a difficult path yet an effective path to reach the highest state of ‘moksha’. Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’, Sage Vasistas’s ‘Yoga Vasista’, and Sage Swatmaram’s works are considered as one of the finest and authoritative works on ‘Raja Yoga’. In common parlance, they can also be considered as authentic books on ‘Yoga’ as well. Rāja Yoga is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind to further one’s acquaintance with reality and finally achieve liberation. Ashtanga Yoga is a part of Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga, on the other hand, is a set of “asanas” cultivated for specific practices.
“Ashta” means “eight”; “Anga” means “Part or limbs”. So Ashtanga Yoga literally means the eight limbs of Yoga. So let us see what the eight limbs of Yoga are:
The eight limbs explained in detail
The five Yama’s or principles as prescribed by Sage Patanjali are: (These are a must for a Raja Yogi).
• Ahimsa: Non-violence
• Sathya: Truth
• Asteya: Non-stealing
• Brahmacharya: Celibacy
• Aparigraha: Non-hording
The five niyamas are:
• Shaucha: Cleanliness
• Santosha: Happiness
• Svadhyaya: Self-study
• Ishwara Pranidhana: employing or fixing the mind on the lord, to make a vow, etc.
• Tapas: asceticism, austerity, penance, etc.
The cure to the evils of pollution, corruption, insufficiency of resources say natural resources, etc. is in following the golden yogic principles. No amount of external efforts can suffice the need of the hour. The root cause for all the problems is in the human heart; in the human mind. Unless this root cause is addressed, everything that is done to cleanse the external environment; to cleanse any system of corruption; will be like applying perfume to the body of a person with a filthy mind. By following the Principles of yoga i.e. Yama & Niyama, one is able to bring a balance within oneself & with the environment surrounding himself. Following ‘Yama & Niyama’ lead to the path of righteousness and the well-being of the whole of humanity.
The word “asana is defined in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras-
’स्थिर सुखं आसनं ।’ meaning
‘one (posture) in which you are stable, comfortable, & happy.’
Asanas are performed with comfort & not with pain. That which gives happiness performed without strain is asana. There is another adage in Sanskrit in this regard – “वज्रादपि कठॊराणि म्रुदूनि कुसुमादपि ।”
– One becomes as hard as the diamond & as soft as a flower.
Yogasanas are for strength as well as for gentleness. The body gets attuned to the situations & surroundings. At a time when strength is required, strength is presented; and at a time when gentleness is required, gentleness is displayed. Very subtle, yet marvelous are the benefits of asanas.
Rudimentarily there are 4 types of asanas:-
3. Prone (performed on the stomach)
4. Supine (Performed on the back)
Another form of classification is based on the object of asanas i.e. –
1.Culturative (Trikonasana, Paschimottanasana, Halasana, Dhanurasana, etc.)
2. Relaxative (Shavasana, Makarasana, etc)
3. Meditative (Padmasana, Siddhasana, etc.)
We shall discuss a few asanas individually and in depth in the ensuing articles.
Prana means ‘Vital Force’ & not ‘breath’ or ‘air’. Prana is the ‘Vital Force’ that sustains the being or our very existence. So Pranayama means that which stretches, expands, or enhances the vital force in our body. There are five major “Pranas” or “Vital forces” in our body:
1. प्राण: prANa – Controls the facial activities
2. अपान: apAna – Excretory & reproductive functions.
3. व्यान: vyAna – sense of touch, sweat, & peripheral activities.
4. उदान: udAna – vomiting, belching, etc.
5. समान: samAna – Respiratory functions & the functioning of the heart.
Prana is also the 2nd layer among the 5 layers of our body –
1. Annamaya Kosha (Food/Physical Body)
2. Pranamaya Kosha (Pranic Layer)
3. Manomaya Kosha (Mental Body/Layer)
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha (Psychic Body/Consciousness)
5. Anadamaya Kosha (Bliss Body)
Pranayama helps stabilize or harmonize the flow of prana along the two nadis in our body viz ‘Ida’ & ‘pingala’. The Ida & Pingala displays itself along the left & right of the sushumna nadi or the spinal column respectively.
There is this very good shloka on pranayama. It is chanted before the practice of pranayama: –
ॐ प्राणस्यॆदं वशे सर्वं त्रिदिवॆ यत् प्रतिष्ठितं ।
मातॆव पुत्रान् रक्षस्व श्रीश्च प्रज्नाश्च विदॆहिन इति ॥
prANasyEdam vaShe sarvam tridive yath pratishtitam
mAtheva putran rakshasva shrEscha pranjnAshcha videhi na ithi
Meaning: – With the help of ‘Prana’ – the ‘vital force’ we can conquer all that is in existence in this three worlds. May that prana, protect us like the mother who protects her child; may that prana grant us wealth (knowledge) & wisdom (intellect).
We shall discuss further in detail about what Pranayama is and some types of pranayamas in the ensuing articles.
The word pratyahara means withdrawal. Withdrawal does not mean dis-interest in worldly matters. It only means the performance of all actions without being attached. Taking up to tasks, work, or job with interest & enthusiasm and yet being withdrawn from its sensory perception that is pratyahara. The “Lotus Plant” is the best example. The Lotus leaves live on water, yet it remains untouched by a single drop of water. Same is the case with us. We cannot live without sense organs, but the motto is to remain unattached in all actions.
The word literally means concentration or retention. The process of dharana not only enhances the ability of the practitioner to assimilate ideas & things better, but also magnifies the ability of retention. This is the phase where a yogi fixes his mind on just one object. Surya or the Sun God is the incarnation of dharana. His duty is to raise in the morning & set in the evening. He does that every day, without fail. There is only one thought; one duty; one vision; one mission & one motto. That is the path to success. That is the path of dharana.
Dhyana means meditation. Meditation is not an activity. Many confuse it to be one. A man may not be meditating with all the calmness & peace around, yet a man may be in a meditative state with a lot of commotion & chaos around. Lord Shiva is said to be in the state of meditation during “Tandava Nrutya” and is said to meditate on the world in silence. That is dhyana – “Inner Peace”. External peace is immaterial to the yogi in meditation. There is peace within; that peace percolates to all places. Dhyana helps bring that “inner peace”.
It is the final stage of Yoga. It is said that one attains ‘Moksha’ or liberation in this final phase. There exists no difference between the subject, object, & process. It is the ultimate phase and that one phase every yogi aspires for. Samadhi is oneness with the object of meditation. There is no distinction between the act of meditation and the object of meditation. It the realization of the ultimate reality. It is the absolute state of bliss and liberation.
This is about the eight limbs of Yoga. Going forward, we shall see the two topics “asanas” and “pranayamas” in detail.