The Yamas/Niyamas represent the basic ethical commencement of Yoga – where we begin our symbolic climb from the lowest levels to the summit of human excellence.
From here, we begin to follow the further 6 classical steps of the eight-fold method established by Patanjali.
Asanas – body posture 84 classic ones to teach mastery of both strength and flexibility, balance and will. The system of the physical asanas represented the evolutionary build up of musculature from elementary life forms to man . The psychological aspect acknowledges the link between mind and body. The basic mastery required is a comfortable seated pose in which to practise pranayama and meditation. Asanas are based upon attitude, both physical and mental.
Pranayama – control of energy and the life force through development, direction and control of the breathing. The yogic system, specializing as it does in this particular area, has knowledge which is unique regarding the awareness, the direction and the controls of the various energies which flow in human body and in human personality.
Pratyahara – sensory control through development and withdrawal. The senses must be able to be trained before concentration can be accomplished. This stage is the sensitising of oneself and each of the senses before learning to control each and that one’s perceptions function well but under direction of the mind rather than being enslaved by the senses. Proper use of each of the five senses sense means not under use, over use, or abuse of any of them. Natural enjoyment through the harmoniously developed senses ensures contentment and non –deviant expressions and this was also related of course to sexuality. There was a clear moral stance here. Those yogis who were householders were married and a pure and faithful sexual life was incorporated in their disciplines. Those who elected to become celibate were to have no sexual life at all. Those who deviated into perversions and homosexuality became outcasts from spiritual schools.
Dharana – Concentration – focusing the power of the mind. This is one -pointedness of thought . We are free to choose anything which our minds can conceive with absolute freedom to develop the mind according to our own programming. The need to control the mind through simple image making and symbols, simple ideas and consciously directed, formulated concepts are included in Dharana. Thought is the Power and our will is its generator. It is concentration which enable us to succeed in any undertaking. This is cultivated through defined, progressive exercises.
Dhyana – Meditation – linking with the intuitive or higher mind and incorporating its energies with the lower rational mind in order to achieve integration of mind and intellect. To still the mind in contemplation and learn to subdue its constant activity is the necessary in preparation for meditation Then begins the process of ‘tuning in’ by initial conscious thought, or even an emotional attunement, and then to listen to that which comes into our consciousness through our own ‘mental radio’. Through training in exercises to quieten and to still the mind, we not only find peace but we are able to hear ‘the still small voice’ of our intuition . We are capable at such times, of greater insights, extended perception, expansive emotions, increased confidence, and self knowledge or life understanding.
Samadhi – The previous 7 stages of disciplines require effort from the individual. The eighth stage of Ashtanga Yoga is known as Samadhi and is the result of spiritual grace. It is the unknown factor which stimulates Enlightenment of the soul and brings with it the ineffable state of bliss. Samadhi is the state of at-one-ment with all. It is the accomplishment of the yogi who wishes to know what life is beyond his little self.
It is most likely to come to us after our own efforts to calm and elevate our minds and being or when we have been emotionally and deeply moved . However, when the Atma or our highest part of our nature assumes command, it makes its presence felt through a wonderful power beyond our usual range of consciousness and we no longer have to make effort but we are totally receptive.
Samadhi is the state of illumination -the state of consciousness where the ego dissolves into the greater life and we both Feel and Know in our experiencing, that all life is really One Ocean and that we are all interlinked in consciousness.
From samadhi the yogi emerges as the drop of consciousness that he knows so well, but with his consciousness extended and enriched by his experience. It brings us to balance, encourages our humility and reverence for all life and gives birth to wonderment about life which never ceases. In many cases such experiences transform the life of the individual who is confident that he has touched Truth itself.
It is a measure of success of the meditator – the pinnacle of his experience and can be known again many times throughout in his life before the final experience at the end of his life with Maha samadhi, or great Bliss of death itself when one’s being again merges with the Universal Spirit – his soul’s spiritual home.
Patanjali’s teaching aims at understanding and controlling the states of mind – in developing sensitivity of consciousness and stillness of one’s thoughts so that the mind is clear and capable of reflecting pure thought and the light of Truth.