Ashtanga Yoga has its origin traced back to Vedic philosophy. However, the concept has been objectively classified into eight-fold pathway by Maharishi Patanjali in his book ‘Yoga sutra’. They are classified as under:
- Yama i.e. principle of moral conduct. This includes ahimsa (non violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (continence/celibacy) and aparigrah (non possessiveness).
- Niyam i.e. personal discipline. This includes shoucha (purity), santosh(contentment), tapa(endurance), swadhyaya(self study) and eshwar pranidhan(dedication). Niyam emphasizes upon acquiring good dispositions for purification. This amounts to purification of body through washing and eating pure food, and purifying mind by developing virtuous habits, reading scriptures and thinking about almighty.
- Asana i.e. yogic positions or yogic postures. A stable and comfortable physical position is necessary to attain mental and physical equilibrium with the environment. These positions are known as the asana. The aim is to bring about the control of both mind and the body.
- Pranayam i.e. yogic breathing. This involves extension and control of breathing. This assists the steadiness of body and mind and increase the power of concentration. Breathing practice for voluntary control of inspiration, expiration and retention of breath is called pranayam.
- Pratyahara i.e. withdrawal of senses. The senses have to be redirected away from the phenomenal world to the self. This restrain of senses by voluntary withdrawal from external environment is called pratyahara. Once this is achieved, one can can transcend ordinary distractions of life so that, he can concentrate on what is important to contemplate. Related Article: Yoga therapy; Contemporary view
- Dharana i.e. concentration on object. This is to focus the mind on unique object without allowing it to jump on the other objects for the determined period of time. This increases mental concentration.
- Dhyan i.e. meditation. Dhyan is continuous flow of mental processes towards the object of meditation. Although, concentration and meditation appear somewhat similar, but these two are distinct phenomena. If one has good concentration, it will automatically lead to meditation.
- Samadhi i.e. salvation. Dhyan gradually leads to blissful identification. i.e. the penetration of the object of meditation with the practitioner’s own being. This is the highest state called Samadhi. In Samadhi, only the object awareness remains and the consciousness of individuality disappears. The knower (practitioner of meditation) and the known (the object of meditation) and the knowledge that arises in the mind about the object of meditation fuse and merge into one another to become a single entity. This state of Samadhi is sometimes described as shunya or void or emptiness. In Samadhi, the mind is so immersed in the object that it looses itself and identifies with the object. In Samadhi, aatma i.e. the real self and parmatma i.e. the cosmic self becomes one.