Holistic Yoga

No, I am not starting a new Yoga Studio. Not Inventing a new type of Yoga(although I am not sure, if the above name is not taken already!!)

On this Yoga day (21st of June) I wanted to touch upon those aspects of yoga that is usually overlooked. In my opinion, Aṣṭāṅga Yoga (Eight-folds of Yoga) was originally intended for the overall well-being of the society rather than, its current plight of being classified as a physical exercise.

Imagine holding a leaf of a tree, admiring the vivid colours, the visible veins, patterns. Then you realise you standing in front of a tree filled with thousands of such leaves, but further, it has sweet fruits, tangy bark, fragrant flowers as well. Yoga, specifically yogasana, although great in its own right, is dwarfed when you compare it with other aspects of Yoga as a whole. Read on, to know what you are missing out on!

As everything in India, there is no “originator” for the Yoga Sutra`s (the text from which all the knowledge about Yogas are originated). The Yoga Sutras were compiled sometime between 500 BCE and 200 BCE by the sage Patanjali in India who synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from much older traditions. The Sutras fell into relative obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society and others. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century. Before the 20th century, history indicates that the medieval Indian yoga scene was dominated by the various other texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasistha, as well as literature on hatha yoga, tantric yoga and Pashupata Shaivism yoga rather than the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali.

Patanjali defines yoga as having eight components (aṣṭ āṅga, “eight limbs”): The eight limbs of yoga are

  • Yama (abstinences),
  • Niyama (observances),
  • Asana (yoga postures),
  • Pranayama (breath control),
  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses),
  • Dharana (concentration),
  • Dhyana (meditation) and
  • Samadhi (absorption).

Most of us know the famous once like Asanas, Pranayama or to some extent Dhyana. Let me try to convince you in this article, that, rest of the aspects are as important if not greater than those we already know and practise.

Broadly put, the first three parts can be considered as conditioning the body and mind, changes in life style and Self- purification. With the fourth and fifth one we start the journey inwards, finally attaining the pure self consciousness/ bliss by the last leg of the practice.

Here is what a brief description of each item looks like:

1. Yama

Yamas are ethical vows in the Yogic tradition and can be thought of as moral imperatives. The five Yamas listed by Patañjali in Yogasūtra are:

  1. Ahiṃsā : Nonviolence.
  2. Satya : Truthfulness (Non- Falsehood).
  3. Asteya: Self Satisfied (Non- Stealing).
  4. Brahmacarya:  Control of Sensual indulgences
  5. Aparigraha: Self-Content (Not being Greedy)

The commentaries on these teachings of Patanjali state how and why each of the above self-restraints help in the personal growth of an individual.

Patanjali calls the Yamas Mahavratam, which means a Great Vow.

2. Niyama

The second component of Patanjali’s Yoga path is called niyama, which includes virtuous habits, behaviours, and observances (the “dos”, if you may say so) The five Niyamas listed by Patañjali in Yogasūtra are:

  1. Shaucha: Purity
  2. Santosha: Contentment
  3. Tapas: Patience/ Persistence
  4. Svadhyaya: Introspection
  5. Ishvarapranidhana: Contemplation

3. Āsana

Interestingly, the major part of Yoga, for most of us, being the Asanas, is not a part of the Astanga Yoga.  Patanjali begins discussion of Āsana merely as meditation posture.

Asana is thus a meditation posture that one can hold for a period of time, staying relaxed, steady, comfortable, and motionless. Patanjali does not list any specific asana, except the brief suggestion, that the asanas are “posture one can hold with comfort and motionlessness, which over time and practice stops the quivering of body.

However, the Bhasya commentary attached to the Sutras, (widely thought to be written by Patanjali himself), suggests twelve seated meditation postures:

  • Padmasana (lotus pose),
  • Virasana (hero/warrior pose),
  • Bhadrasana (glorious pose),
  • Svastikasana (lucky mark pose),
  • Dandasana (staff pose),
  • Sopasrayasana (supported pose),
  • Paryankasana (bedstead pose),
  • Krauncha-nishadasana (seated heron pose),
  • Hastanishadasana (seated elephant pose),
  • Ushtranishadasana (seated camel pose),
  • Samasansthanasana (evenly balanced pose) and
  • Sthirasukhasana (any motionless posture that is in accordance with one’s pleasure)

4. Prānāyāma

After a desired posture has been achieved, we move forward to the next limb of yoga, prāṇāyāma, which is the practice of consciously regulating breath (inhalation and exhalation). This is done in several ways, inhaling, and then suspending exhalation for a period, exhaling and then suspending inhalation for a period, slowing the inhalation and exhalation, consciously changing the time/length of breath (deep, short breathing)

5. Pratyāhāra

Pratyahara means not taking any input or any information from the sense organs. It is a process of retracting the sensory experience from external objects. It is a step of self-extraction and abstraction. Pratyahara is not consciously closing one’s eyes to the sensory world, it is consciously closing one’s mind processes to the sensory world. Pratyahara empowers one to stop being controlled by the external world, fetch one’s attention to seek self-knowledge and experience the freedom innate in one’s inner world. Its enabling one towards true freedom.

As I mentioned before, Pratyahara marks the transition of yoga experience from first four limbs that perfect external forms to last three limbs that perfect inner state, from outside to inside, from outer sphere of body to inner sphere of mind.

6. Dhāraṇā

Dharana as the sixth limb of yoga, is holding one’s mind onto a particular inner state, subject or topic of your mind. The mind is usually fixed on a mantra, or one’s breath. Fixing the mind means one-pointed focus, without drifting of mind, and without jumping from one topic to another. It is a fore-runner for our next step, contemplating in the true sense.

7. Dhyāna

Dhyana is contemplating, reflecting on whatever Dharana has focused on. If in the sixth limb of yoga one focused on a personal deity, Dhyana is its contemplation. If the concentration was on one object, Dhyana is non-judgmental, non-presumptuous observation of that object. If the focus was on a concept/idea, Dhyana is contemplating that concept/idea in all its aspects, forms, and consequences. Dhyana is uninterrupted train of thought, current of cognition, flow of awareness.

Dhyana is integrally related to Dharana, one leads to other. Dharana is a state of mind, Dhyana the process of mind. Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes actively engaged with its focus. Patanjali defines contemplation (Dhyana) as the mind process, where the mind is fixed on something, and then there is “a course of uniform modification of knowledge”

Dhyana and Dharana, though sounding similar, can be differentiated as, Dhyana being the yoga state when there is only the “stream of continuous thought about the object, uninterrupted by other thoughts of a different kind for the same object”; Dharana, is focussed on one object, but aware of its many aspects and ideas about the same object.

Sri Shankaracharya, brilliantly gives the example of a yogi in a state of dharana on morning sun may be aware of its brilliance, color and orbit; the yogin in dhyana state “contemplates on sun’s orbit alone for example, without being interrupted by its color, brilliance or other related ideas”.

8. Samādhi

Samadhi is oneness with the subject of meditation. There is no distinction, during the eighth limb of yoga, between the actor of meditation, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation. Samadhi is that spiritual state when one’s mind is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind loses the sense of its own identity. The thinker, the thought process, and the thought fuse with the subject of thought. There is only oneness, samadhi.

Samadhi can be of two types, with or without the support of the underlying object. further, Samadhi with the support of a object can be classified as Deliberative and Reflective Samadhi. The Samadhi without the support of any object, known as Nirvikalpa Samadhi, is considered to be highest form of “Oneness” and the fulfilment of the entire journey of Yogasana.

In as sense, Stage four(Pranayama) Stage five (Pratyahara) Stage Six(Dharana) and Stage Seven(Dhyanya) culminate in achieving Samadhi state

As you can see, the Astanga Yoga is quite unique and different in a way that it is more of a life-style rather than just a physical exercise.

On this Yoga Day, I wish more and more of us understand the true intent of the Yogis who provided us with such an incredible source of knowledge, and, enrich and enlighten ourselves by adapting Yogasutras in its purest form.

Wish you a Happy Yoga Day!!

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