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What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Posted In: Meditation And Spirituality  4/21/15

This system of Yoga, which translates into the Yoga of eight limbs, was propounded by Patanjali in around 400 CE. Modern gurus include K. Pattabhi Jois who trained celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Gwyneth Paltrow in the system.

Ashtanga yoga practitioners focus on living life based on the eight limbs. The first four of these limbs relate to external cleaning and control, whereas the latter four teach about internal cleaning, i.e. more towards meditation.

These limbs are –

  • Yama – Yamas are restraints that we, as humans are supposed to practice. Yamas are further broken down into five segments. These include non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy, and renunciation of avarice.
  • Niyama – These complement Yamas and translate to duties that we are supposed to follow as a routine. The five niyamas include shaucha or external and internal cleanliness, santosh or the state of being content and not hankering after material goodies, tapa or meditation which should be a part of our daily schedule, svadhyaya or reflecting upon oneself by turning our thoughts inward, and isavarpranidhana or thinking about God and contemplating about him in the form of our chosen Istha or deity.
  • Asan – The skill to sit so that the flow of energy and thoughts can be regulated. Yoga postures are actually given suffix asan. For example, padmasan or the Lotus Pose. The practice of asans promotes flexibility, strength, balance, etc. The practice of asans detoxifies us and helps in the alignment of the subtle nerve system responsible for the flow of energy.
  • Pranayam – Vital to any yogic practice, pranayam teaches one to extend the scope of breathing and if desired, live forever. Pranayam in Ashtanga yoga helps us unlock pranic energy with the practice of various bandhs and locks.
  • Pratyahara – This practice allows the yogi to withdraw senses from external distractions and focus inward. It acts as a link between the four practices of external cleaning and control and the three that follow which focus on internal cleaning. Pratyahara leads to a calm and collected mind that finds it easy to focus and meditate.
  • Dharana – The collection of the mind along with control of the breath in order to prepare it for meditation. Dharana or steadfastness follows the above-mentioned Pratyahara. It is an initiation into dhyan and them Samadhi.
  • Dhyana – The penultimate step, dhyana or concentration can be achieved when one has acquired sufficient practice of dharana. In dhyana, the meditator loses consciousness of the act of meditation, but can still distinguish between the object of meditation, God and one’s own self.
  • Samadhi – In the state of Samadhi or deep meditation, the practitioner attains oneness with the object of meditation. You become one with God.

Practice of the eight-limbed Ashtanga yoga enables one to overcome the vikaras or the cardinal faults or weaknesses of humans – kaam (lust), kroadh (anger), mad (envy), lobh (greed), moh (delusion), and matsar (sloth).


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