The path of yoga 8 steps to liberation
Acquaintance with yoga most often now we begin with the practice of asanas. But is it enough to learn how to perform asanas to find freedom through yoga?
The path to liberation is through the practice of Ashtanga * yoga. The eight steps of Ashtanga yoga are described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Yoga Sutras * of the sage Patanjali are the first source of knowledge about yoga. The sutras were written around the 2nd century BC and provide a complete guide to living a meaningful and purposeful life and come to know your essence. The goal of yoga is to free ourselves from the delusions of the mind that prevent us from being happy and free.
The practice of the 8 steps of yoga is needed in order to cleanse the physical body, learn to control the senses, get rid of illusions and, ultimately, understand your Self. The steps of yoga are the steps of personal, physical, mental and spiritual development to achieve a state of awareness. According to the Yoga Sutras, the 8 Ashtanga Yoga practices should be performed in a specific order and none of them should be missed, since each of them paves the way to the next step. Thus, through self-knowledge, we can free ourselves from suffering and understand the true purpose of life.
8 steps of Ashtanga yoga:
- Yama – moral vows in relation to the outside world, discipline
- Niyama – responsibilities towards oneself
- Asana – pose
- Pranayama – breath control
- Pratyahara – a distraction from the senses
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – enlightenment, liberation
Yama (Sanskrit: यम)
The first step of yoga refers to vows and discipline in relation to the world around us. As we learn to do asanas and practice purification of the mind and body, we develop strength, flexibility and balance, learn to calm the mind. But if the practice of yoga ends after we have rolled up the rug, and in everyday life we remain rigid and weak, then we hardly practice yoga.
The path of yoga is a path of transformation and working through every aspect of life that goes far beyond the rug. Yama are qualities that we must develop in ourselves in order to become more whole. Learning to be kind, truthful and benefit others without expecting gratitude, will be the result that will help us move further along the path of yoga.
5 vows of Yama: Ahimsa (principle of non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-acquisitiveness), Brahmacharya (restraint), Aparigraha (non-accumulation).
Niyama (Sanskrit: नियम)
The prefix “ni” means “inside, inside”. Keeping Niyama refers to duties and vows towards oneself. The Yoga Sutras describe 5 Niyamas: Shaucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline, burning desires), Svadhyaya (self-knowledge, study of spiritual texts), Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to a higher power, God).
Niyamas are practiced by those who want to follow the path of yoga to develop character and will. The second stage of Ashtanga yoga is connected with our energy sheaths (koshas), which lead from the external aspect (physical body) to the inner essence of the practitioner (transcendental body). Likewise, the practice of the niyama vows has a direction: from the grossest aspects to the truth deep within.
Asana (Sanskrit: आसन )
Despite the fact that now most often we get acquainted with asanas before all other aspects of yoga, in Ashtanga yoga Asana occupies the third stage. It is believed that after a practitioner has established relationships with the world around him and with himself, he is ready to move on to Asana and, having mastered it, he will be able to move on the path of yoga further.
Asana in the context of Ashtanga yoga is a stable position of the body for the practice of meditation. And the criterion for a mastered asana is the ability to stay in it for a long time, without being distracted by sensations in the body. The body should be stable, free from suffering, and the mind should be free from sensual desires and anxiety.
Just for fun, try sitting cross-legged and see how long you can do it. A comfortable stay in the asana will most likely end in a few minutes, and then the legs will begin to ache, then the back and shoulders, and holding the position will become simply unbearable. Therefore, hatha yoga comes to our aid – it is hatha yoga that helps to strengthen the body, improve its mobility and flexibility, and prepare the practitioner for meditation.
The word “pranayama” consists of two words: “prana” ( prāṇa ), which means vital energy, and “ayama” ( āyāma ) – expansion of breathing, freedom of breathing.
The practice of pranayama includes techniques that allow us to consciously control breathing, to maintain and increase the supply of vital energy in the body. The practice of pranayama improves respiratory function, balances the work of the cerebral hemispheres and the nervous system. By controlling the breath, we can change our internal state, calming or stimulating the body.
In the practice of pranayama, first we master the basic techniques, then we learn to align the breath and adhere to the necessary proportions of inhalation and exhalation, and add breath holding. The ability to hold your breath for a long time is key for us. The slower the breathing, the calmer the mind, and a calm mind is the result that will help to move further along the path of yoga.
Pratyāhāra ( Sanskrit प्रत्याहार)
“Pratya” means to draw in, retreat, withdraw, and the word “ahara” refers to what we “absorb” into ourselves, in particular, it refers to our sensations and sensory perception.
This aspect is often misunderstood, as the image of “distracting the senses” can be confused with the ability to “turn off the senses”. But instead of losing the ability to feel, on the contrary, pratyahara changes the state of mind – deep focusing helps to avoid distractions and concentrate better.
We close our eyes to meditation, direct our attention to the breath to calm the mind, and turn our attention inward. When external stimuli are not disturbing, feelings calm down and we can become aware of internal processes.
Dhāraṇā (Sanskrit: धारणा)
“ Dha” means retention, “ana” – something else, something else.
Dharana is closely related to the previous stage of yoga – Pratyahara. In order to focus on something, it is necessary that the feelings recede into the background, and all attention becomes directed to the point of concentration.
The task of Dharana is to concentrate the senses on one object. And to attract feelings, we have to concentrate more intensely.
Techniques such as Trataka (contemplation of a candle), Japa (reciting mantras), visualization techniques and concentration on the breath are all Dharana practices. Unidirectional focus becomes possible when we have mastered the 5 previous steps of yoga. It is important to learn to focus on one point or subject in order to reach the next step.
Dhyana (Sanskrit: ध्यान)
Dhyana is continuous Dharana, or total meditative absorption.
All that we can learn from a teacher in a yoga class or from books are techniques that can help us calm down the mind, learn to concentrate. The practice of real meditation is not something that we can “actively do,” it describes the action of something that happens as a result of everything else. At this stage, there will be no thought “I am meditating.” As long as there is thought, it is Dharana.
Dhyana means connection with your inner self, when you can observe it without the interference of the mind and sensory perception. The ability to concentrate deeply will allow you to go beyond the senses of the mind and body. Dhyana is a state of complete silence, physical and mental.
Samadhi (Sanskrit: समाधि)
The path of yoga, which includes the organization of interaction with the outside world and our inner world, leads us to Samadhi. The word “samadhi” consists of the words “sama” – equal, the same is “dhi”, which means to see.
Samadhi is a state of higher awareness and the ultimate goal of yoga. Attaining Samadhi means realizing life itself.
This stage is not associated with the feeling of “bliss”, attachment to the feeling of happiness, on the contrary, it is a pure perception of reality as it is – without emotions, assessments, pleasure, pain, likes and dislikes.
The experienced state of Samadhi becomes permanent if we attain moksha, that is, complete liberation.
By practicing yoga and working through all aspects step by step, the yogi becomes strong, flexible, calm, stable and healthy. Even if in the current incarnation he does not manage to go all this way entirely, the practitioner’s life will be filled with meaning, conscious and useful. And this is already a definite achievement.