What is Yoga?
For the West, Yoga has more physical value, a set of more or less articulated postures (asanas) that serve to make the body elastic and beautiful to look at while taking the position during practice. Or it refers to pranayama, the breathing technique or meditation. This is a minimal view of Yoga. Let’s see what is the aim of the yoga sutras.
Yoga is a path of spiritual growth that provides the practitioner with the techniques and knowledge necessary to get in touch first of all with yourself and then reunite with the Absolute, the Universe, the Great Wisdom. It is a scientific discipline that has lasted for thousands of years and has evolved with man to give physical, but also and above all, moral, mental and spiritual well-being. Its practice helps to develop the human being in its entirety.
The term yoga derives from the sanction “guy,” which means “to bind together,” “to unite.” This is why it is wrong to consider it merely as an exercise.
Yoga is the realization of the state whereby the subject (the one who seeks), the object (the objective of the research) and the act of study (the practice) are no longer separate entities but are one. In this state, the true nature of existence is revealed.
Who is Patanjali, and what are the Yoga Sutras
One of the most important texts of classical Yoga is the Yoga Sutra (from the Sanskrit “aphorisms on yoga”) by Patanjali, an Indian philosopher who brought to light the true meaning of Yoga and transformed it from mystical tradition to a “philosophical system.” Patanjali is considered to be the most significant scientific mind applied to spirituality ever.
The Yoga Sutra is made up of 195 aphorisms that describe the practice and the “means” by which it is possible to achieve Oneness with the inner Divinity and the Universe.
There are no precise dates, but it is thought that the text was written between year 0 and 400 AD. It was the most translated work among the books of ancient India, during the medieval era and, despite the critical diffusion of the time, traces have been lost for about 700 years (between the 12th and 19th centuries). Swami Vivekananda, an Indian mystic who lived up to the early 1900s, brought to light Patanjali’s texts. Thanks to him, the Yoga Sutra returned to be known and studied in the twentieth century.
In his aphorisms, Patanjali lists the ashtangas (from the Sanskrit as “eight” and angas, “limbs,” “branches”) of Yoga. A possible interpretation of these branches (which often translate into stages) is to consider them as the steps of a ladder that the practitioner must climb to reach kaivalya, the supreme freedom. We will soon see what these eight stages refer to.
Yoga as Unity
Before understanding the unitary and non-dual nature of Yoga and reality, it is necessary (at least for me it was) to believe that the Ego (or the mind) is an element detached from the body and soul. This understanding, let’s call it “provisional,” led me to a deeper awareness of my being and to finally understand that we are, first of all, one with ourselves. Accepting our Ego, and not eliminating it, is an act of deep understanding that avoids years and years of inner conflict. This subject should be taught from middle school.
In other words, Yoga is the understanding of the substantial non-duality of reality. Enlightenment occurs when the subject, the object and the act of seeking are understood as essentially unitary. Yoga (Unity) occurs when the mind, body and soul no longer exist as separate elements from us and when there is no separation from the other, your neighbor. There is only a higher consciousness that is aware of the Whole.
According to Patanjali, the rational mind cannot understand this fundamental Unity. He also defines Yoga as “citta vritti nirodha,” i.e. the cessation of the mind’s fluctuations. When thought is absent, he who sees accepts its natural state.
The energy centers
The energy of our body is one with the mind. According to Patanjali, there is no energy balance if there is no first purification of one’s behaviors and attitudes towards others and oneself. The body must be kept healthy, and the mind must be trained so that both are ready to concentrate and meditate. These are means of arriving at the Samadhi state, the temporary (non-rational) awareness of Union.
Before reviewing the eight stages of Yoga, it is advisable to introduce and understand the existence of the seven energy centers present in each of us, also called chakras. Each chakra is located in a specific area of our body and has a particular function. The practise of Yoga allows you to cleanse these energy centers and recharge them. Some practices work on the single-center, or that makes them work together. Working on the seventh chakra is very difficult for us Westerners; it requires constant and daily Yoga and probably an alienation from society with deprivation of everything related to material goods and relationships with others involving the senses or sexual instincts. The primordial energy, for example, in these cases, must not be dispersed but conveyed upwards and transmuted into spirituality.
I’m not ready for this stage yet and maybe never will! ; D
The Eight Stages of Yoga
The path marked by Patanjali, as mentioned above, includes eight steps. The first two stages refer to conduct and moral discipline. Only from the third stage do we start talking about physical exercise and energy control.
On a theoretical and practical level, these stages can be traced to the seven energy centers. The first two chakras can ideally be considered units and can be traced back to Yoga’s early two stages. Ethics and discipline arise from the relationship between person and body and the regulation of desire and primordial functions.
1. Yama (ethical and moral principles)
2. Niyama (disciplines)
3. Asanas (physical postures)
4. Pranayama (control of breathing and energies)
5. Pratyahara (reabsorption of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (state of grace, direct experience of the Union between the subject and the object)
I recommend that you also read the article “How our biological machine works” to understand better why you should approach Yoga.
The Eight Stages of Yoga
Like everything that is the result of a millenary history and has known a vast spread, even Yoga has changed over time and space, sometimes taking on different forms despite the basic principles’ cohesion.
Some great yoga masters have developed particular aspects of the discipline, without them taking over the others, in the name of moderation, which is one of the values most shared by all the different Yoga schools.
The so-called traditional Yoga, based on mind control, had Patanjali among its masters. He conceived Yoga’s practice as a gradual asceticism resulting from the overcoming of eight steps or branches (Ashtanga Yoga).
Although representing a scale that goes from low to high – so that in the first stage, the initial moments that imply the most straightforward objectives to be achieved are identifiable – the eight steps do not necessarily have to be completed in the order that Ashtanga Yoga uses to describe them.
The individual with his particular mind is, in fact, the only one who can govern the process of the ascent of the eight stages to the very end, and it is up to him alone to decree their succession.
The Eight Stages of Patanjali
The first book to be considered a systematic treatment of Yoga is the collection of 195 sutras (concise sentences, aphorisms) written by Patanjali, probably around 300 BC.
Patanjali describes the suitable means of which Sri Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gita, the eight paths, or the eight stages of Yoga, through which one can attain control of one’s mind and come into contact with one’s Self.
YAMA: This part closely resembles the five precepts of Buddhism or the ten commandments of Judaism and serves as the ethical and moral foundation of behaviour towards oneself and others. Patanjali believes that the yogi can only come to purify and control his mind by learning to live in society as a happy, functional and useful individual to others. In detail, the Yamas are as follows.
Ahimsa, or non-violence: This Yama has a much deeper meaning than not using physical violence or not eating meat. Non-violence also means putting down any destructive attitude towards ourselves and others. It means entering into an attitude of positivity and exaltation of one’s abilities at others’ service, renouncing the mortification of ourselves and others,reactiveness and construction.
Satya, or Truth: Living in truth helps us build a cleaner and more linear mind. Lying takes with it a lot of energy, which has been given to us to be useful in our reality. The reason is busy remembering and keeping the lies already told. In extreme cases, the mind can no longer distinguish its constructions from reality. Telling the truth means telling the truth to ourselves, recognizing our true essence despite the expectations of families and society and living ourselves with courage. Facing reality, living it consistently, is part of our action in the visible world; it means speaking with intention and clarity according to our possibilities.
Asteya, Do Not Steal: As with Satya, Asteya goes beyond the commandment not to steal that we know. It does not only mean avoiding harming the other by stealing what is his, but also not stealing from the world, something that is superfluous for us. Having more than necessary, for example, means taking some of the earth’s energy away for something we don’t need. Being attached to things and wanting more and more of them, as the capitalist system currently pushes us to do, means stealing energy from our planet and others.
We are all now aware of how much our wealth passes through the poverty of entire populations, we are also mindful of how far our governments are from our desire for peace and change and how powerless we are concerning this system, but it is essential to do or not to do what little we are allowed in our small but critical lives. A first step to take, for example, could be to live in gratitude for what we have; thanking our planet daily for what it has given us throughout the day is an excellent way to start experiencing more peace and harmony with what is around us.
Brahmacharya, or Abstinence: For many yogis, sexual abstinence was and continues to be a way to conserve and raise their body’s energy. This makes it easier, through various meditation techniques, to reach higher states of mind and increase general vitality. In modern times, however, great yogis like Lahiri Mahasaya have incarnated on earth to show how even in a couple’s life, it is possible to walk the path of Yoga.
Aparigraha, absence of desires: Having both social, material and physical desires creates attachment, brings the mind’s attention to how to achieve them, diverting the yogi from the path of his inner search. Each of us is distracted from their desires from living in the here and now, in the only reality that exists, the present. Our minds are restless and often live in the past through memories or the future through dreams and projections. The past is no more; the end is not there yet; the only real thing we can experience is the present, with all our attention and awareness of the moment we live. This means increasing concentration and one’s presence is doing, acting, building, speaking, and taking every action.
NIYAMA: When the yogi has learned to control his impulses, to neglect the inclinations of his Ego and to live in a useful way to others, he can undertake, according to Patanjali, the path of Niyama, a series of rules and disciplines that promote meaning. Of personal freedom and a sense of connection with the outside world. In detail, the Niyama are as follows.
Saucha, or cleansing: it’s about something more than keeping your body clean and having good hygiene. It’s about honoring your body with the utmost care. Therefore, the yogi exercises breathe properly, is careful to eat healthy food, and have a balanced appetite and are attentive to sleep neither too little nor too long.
In this sense, the body is understood as the vehicle through which one’s Self can act within this dimension. The body is a means of action and perception in this earthly life and is, therefore, something to be cured to reach and maintain its most significant faculties. The first obstacle on the inner journey is an illness. Cleaning then involves the way of dealing with others, with kindness, altruism and compassion. It is a way to act not subject to attachments (laziness, gluttony, libido, interest, jealousy, envy …) but only to care and love for oneself, others, and creation.
Santosa, or detachment: In living in the here and now, the yogi goes through every possible experience of the world with the conscience and heartfully present and sensitive to the pain or joy that the experience entails. Detachment means consciously experiencing pain and pleasure without identifying with them, remaining in a state of inner calm and independent of external events.
Tapas, or austerity: Austerity in one’s daily life leads to concentration on the path of Yoga, to avoid excesses, to practice discipline every day with complete and joyful devotion.
Svadhyaya, self-study: For Patanjali, studying one’s body, one’s mind, one’s heart, one’s Ego. Deepening the knowledge every day of one’s acquired habits, of one’s reactions to external events, of one’s automatisms, helps us to mature conscious behaviors towards the outside, to avoid that due automatisms direct our life and our relationships with others to education, to society, even to the culture in which we live. Studying oneself means responding to situations with the intelligence of the heart. The mind is automatic and associative. It catalogues everything in good and evil (concepts that depend a lot on culture and one’s training), the heart distinguishes through emotion. The more the mind is silent, the more we can listen to the feelings of the heart.
Isvara pranidhana, or devotion to the creator principle: Yoga is not a religion, Yoga is a secular philosophy. It is proposed as a series of techniques to achieve Union with the divine, whereby divine means that spark that undeniably makes us beings halfway between heaven and earth. Whether the divine is identified with the Judeo-Christian or Islamic God, or with the image of Jesus, or Buddha, this is not important. , imagining, experiencing divinity. What is most important is to remain in deep contact with this part of ours and be aware of being a small drop in the Whole ocean and of being a part of it entirely, of having a decisive role and power in creation.
Each of us matters a lot and is inextricably linked to everything else even when he does not act, does not speak, does not think. Our very existence and generating a field around us and the quality of the area we develop depends on who we are. The cleaner and closer we are to divinity, the more love and light we can transmit to the rest of the world. To understand the effect and power that each of us can have, try to think of great men and women who have managed to change seemingly impossible situations alone and against all expectations. Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa of Calcutta are very recent examples of the most vital individuals who can release themselves.
ĀSANA: Patanjali does not dwell much on the detailed description of the individualasana, instead specifies that in each asana, the yogi must be able to feel the tension and yet stay in the asana comfortably, without losing the calmness of his breath and his balance. He specifies that as one becomes more and more advanced in postures, one becomes freer and freer from the body’s worries. Consequently, in the meditative asana, free from muscular and nervous tension, the ability to remain in meditation for many hours will develop without the mind having to worry about the body’s needs.
PRANAYAMA: The fourth path indicated by Patanjali is the art of breathing. Pranayama means “control of the vital energy.” It must be emphasized that breathing and brain activity are closely linked. Whenever we are agitated, nervous or angry, our breath becomes short; whenever we are relaxed and joyful, the kingthe breath relaxes, becoming long and able to inhale a lot of air. Our breath affects our emotional state, so focusing on making the breath calmer brings the mind to a state of greater calm and tranquility. In recent times, measurable physiological effects related to breathing modes have been recorded, products reflected in the different types of brain waves triggered during meditation. Pranayama includes many breathing techniques useful for controlling a considerable number of physiological processes, such as body temperature, digestive capacity, concentration, rest, heartbeats, and many others.
PRATYAHARA: Having achieved calm and control of the body and mind, the yogi can continue towards pratyahara, which is towards the withdrawal of the senses from the external world. This means reaching a sleep-like state. Likewise, during meditation, the focus is brought within oneself, rather than outside. In this way, you remain with your attention on yourself.
DHARANA: The term means intense concentration. Patanjali indicates Dharana as the concentration of the mind in one point or towards something. It can be the point between the two eyebrows, the image of one’s Guru, and a mantra’s sound. Concentration, on one end, clears the mind and prepares it for the next step.
DHYANA: At this point, the yogi is ready for meditation. Upon entering meditation, the yogi experiences a profound sense of connection with the Universal Consciousness for an extended period. The experience of Dhyana is one of release, expansion and tranquility.
SAMADHI: It represents the final step. Samadhi means liberation, the perfect knowledge of the supreme truth, in which there are no longer distinctions, oppositions, but being is experienced as part of the Whole. It is a state of total absorption, of exquisite balance, in which the yogi becomes one with his point of concentration, in which he surpasses himself
We have seen together how vital this collection of texts is. Reading these texts will be of great help to you to fully understand the yogic philosophy.
Reading this book will allow you to have a broader and more in-depth idea of the world of Yoga. Only in this way will you fully enjoy your daily meditation practice and your new lifestyle because Yoga is just that, a form of living everyday life and not merely a series of exercises. You don’t need to spend a great deal of time reading; it just takes 10-20 minutes a day. Page by page and you will never be able to tear yourself away, I guarantee it! So what are you waiting for? Start reading the Yoga Sutra right away or give it to someone special.
How to Profit Yoga?
Respect the five Yamas, i.e., the observances of ethical behavior regardless of the execution of a physical exercise but as moral conduct.
Put into practice the five niyamas or concrete actions regulated by the Yamas. Niyamas and Yamas, also called constraints, are none other than the ten commandments of Yoga.
Reaching the asana or guiding the body to be in harmony with its parts and teaching it to balance, the result of opposing forces. With the third stage, one passes from the moral to the physical plane.
Learning pranayama or exercising control over vital energy – prana – mainly through the breath.
To achieve pratyahara, which is freedom from the external world and all its conditionings. It is possible to perceive the essence of one’s interiority, stripped of everything that surrounds it and disturbs it.
We are reaching the arena or the ability of individual concentration, a necessary but not sufficient condition for meditation.
It was getting to the dyana or meditation fruit of the obtained darsana. The data is the main objective of all the stadiums and summarizes them all as they were.
The last and definitive step is samadi. Having dominated the exterior and harmonized the body with the mind, the fruit of meditation is what guarantees the ultimate and maximum bliss. The individual is now fused with the Universe and its energy, freed from any disturbance.
The Non-Violence Preached by Yoga
Even without the goal of reaching the bliss of samadhi, or the last stage of Ashtanga Yoga, those who decide to become an adept of this sui generis sport will have to start from a disposition of mind, even before a physical preparation.
The basis of Yoga is its ethical foundation that indicates the way to achieve exemplary conduct in harmony with the rest of things.
The Yamas and niyamas, the commandments of Yoga, direct the preliminary behavior to each subsequent exercise.
The heart of Yoga morality is the principle of non-violence
It must not be directed either to oneself, for example, by subjecting oneself to both physical and physiological excesses of stress, and others.
Not even concerning the animate or inanimate things surrounding us must we adopt a violent and destructive behavior, replacing it with a peaceful tension aimed at the recomposition of every conflict to restore the harmony of the Universe.
Learning to fight violence helps to solve many problems and to prepare the mind to weave a dialogue based on the same principles with the body.
Buddha and Non Violence
Buddha, a reference figure for all the fakirs, the saints of Yoga, declared that hatred would only drag other hatred with it and that the only way out of man’s pain was love in its form of abandonment of all violence.
It is clear how much an ancestral truth, just as traditional is the violence of man against man (summed up in the well-known adage of homo homini lupus), can be used and understood in very distant times and places.
Yoga and Inmates
Yoga is a discipline that dispenses its moral benefits to those called to heal a deep fracture with themselves and society, such as those serving a prison sentence.
A pilot project launched in the late 1970s in the United States of America involved thousands of inmates, often from family backgrounds marked by individual and social violence, introducing them to Yoga, with success.
The relationship between Yoga and breathing is very close.
Hatha Yoga plays the role of breathing mainly in conjunction with achieving the correct positions; in truth, for Yoga, breathing is at the center of the ability to concentrate necessary to unite the body with the mind in harmony.
Physiology teaches us that the respiratory system is the only one in the human body that depends on a nervous system that is both voluntary and involuntary, commanded by conscious choices or automatically guided without the body being aware of it.
Usually, only in exceptional cases do we act on the breathing control potential; while swimming, when we wish to blow up a balloon and on other rare occasions. Mostly, breathing depends on the mood and the emotions that govern us.
The adaptation of inhalation and exhalation to what we feel is surprising.
If we fear an impending danger, we stop breathing; if the fear surrounding us is more widespread, we gasp, accelerating our heartbeat; when we are comfortable, we relax our breathing and slow down its pace.
Yoga teaches to increase the occasions of life in which we are given to act directly and consciously on the breath’s rhythm, finalizing it to the objectives to be achieved.
Posture and Breathing
Breathing (pranayama) plays a central role in poses and, mainly, in achieving the correct posture.
In fact, according to the dictates of Hatha Yoga, it is not possible to achieve the right posture without going through strict control of breathing, which, also involving the movement of internal organs, allows the correct execution of the phases.
The Yoga discipline provides that every gesture that involves effort corresponds to the moment of inspiration and every move with which the necessary exhalation accompanies our body releases tension.
Controlling the breath in the execution of asanas teaches our body to extend the same control to all its positions gradually assumed in respect of the Yoga balance.
In any case, those who practice Yoga are always advised to dedicate even just a few minutes of the day to practice the correct Yoga breathing regardless of the lesson’s scheduled times.
Breathing and its control can take place in many moments of our day as long as in environments where the air is healthy and fresh.
For the ancient Yoga masters, breathing could also be controlled throughout the day, and this did not interfere with the quality of the air they breathed.
However, beware; life in modern cities often exposes us to polluted air harmful to breathing and health.
Yoga and Concentration
The fifth stage of Hatha Yoga (pratyahara) is the eternal struggle against human passions: controlling everything that surrounds our Ego, involving our senses and imposing reactions on our behavior mostly dictated by habit.
Yoga teaches a non-violent strategy of contrasting action/reaction mechanisms dictated by often-unconsciousbehaviors.
In Sanskrit, the effect achieved by those who have now learned to control their senses is called Santosh a, which in Italian, we can translate with the term contentment.
In satisfaction, we seek that harmonious fusion between body and psyche that only a strict discipline of self-control can help achieve.
Yoga is one of the few disciplines able to train what we are made of body and soulfully.
The training of the mind is based primarily on the ability to concentrate.
It is how absolute attention is achieved towards what is incorporeal and intangible within our body.
Immaterial thoughts, sensations, and emotions find Yoga a direct and harmonic reverberation on the more profound matter of which we are made up. That is the single cell of our body.
Much modern science has shown that Yoga’s assumptions have their strong scientific evidence: expert biologists have been able to prove that cellular metabolism is connected to the sensations, actions, and reactions of individuals.
The exercise of finding in everyday life the Union of matter and spirit of which we are composed knows no dead moments.
If it is true that even while we rest, our body continues to exercise some vital actions that involve movement – even if only of internal organs, even when the mind is inactive, it proceeds with its thoughts.
Some Yoga masters have recently demonstrated that even in some moments of the day when the mind does not perform any function, in truth, it watches and is operative, ready to be guided by those who know its language.
The first step in giving meaning to one’s life could be recognized in sharing the commandments of Yoga starting
Once the intention to attend a Yoga course has matured, there are not many preliminary steps to one of the experiences that will prove to be among the best of your existence if successful.
The first fundamental step is to identify the most appropriate place to turn to.
In recent times, many gyms offer a Yoga course alongside traditional aerobic classes and weight rooms.
Browsing through the internet pages; however, you will find numerous resources that guide the aspirant to associations and even to individual teachers who very often carry out their activities far from traditional sports facilities.
Do not choose a location too far from the places you usually visit, from home or work; time lost travelling is the useless waste of a precious resource.
This is why Yoga’s practice at home has been very successful, which can be implemented in at least two forms.
Although more expensive, the first, more straightforward, is requesting lessons at home so that the teacher will go to your home, holding classes for one or a few students.
The second use guides in the form of volumes, new multimedia technologies to simulate a full-blown yoga class at home.
Having defined the location and the time to devote to the activity (the latter is very variable; suffice it to say that there is no minimum or maximum quantity), there are few other indications for clothing and other accessories.
Get light clothing that does not impede free extension in movements and does not restrict blood circulation.
The fundamental rule is to use clothes in which we feel free and without constraints.
Yoga is practiced barefoot, and it is not even necessary to use socks because skin contact with the floor or with the body must be felt as natural as possible.
It is a good practice during a lesson to abandon any ornament that constitutes a barrier between the body and the outside world.
Earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, watches, piercings, and any other useless accessories must be eliminated.
The Yoga Mat
In addition to clothing, only one other requirement is required: since Yoga and its positions take place mainly in contact with the ground, it is good that it is soft and soft, especially so as not to sore elbows and knees. The ideal solution is the use of a thin mattress.
Those who have carpets at home can also ignore this accessory; having to practice on a more rigid and colder floor (for example, concrete or covered with tiles), it is essential to use a rubber mat.
What is The Aim of The Yoga Sutras?
Yoga Sutras is a text that contains 196 sutras, which are concise and philosophically rich, and has been translated into 24 languages. It’s written to promote the understanding that life is full of suffering and the only thing that can relieve this suffering, that is true freedom. This is why it is important to understand the text, and we would like to share some insight into it with you – the reader.
In this sutra, Patanjali recommends Yoga to us. Yoga is a generic term for a way of life that aims to attain ultimate freedom. There is a reason why Yoga is called the path to liberation. Yoga means “union” – that is, when you learn the right way to live, you can achieve a more complete union with your true self – the Self. This more complete union is called samadhi. The main thing that Patanjali mentions in this sutra is that this union cannot be achieved through some rituals or actions. It cannot be achieved through rituals or actions performed in the past or rituals performed in the future. The only way to achieve that union is through the power of your own mind. That is why Patanjali recommends meditation.
Because through meditation, our mind gets trained through the practice of self-discipline and self-control. When our mind gets trained, then there is a certain amount of focus that is automatically achieved. Our mind becomes more stable. This stable mind is the prerequisite for achieving the union. We cannot achieve it unless our mind gets stabilized.
We can see this in the practice of yoga. It starts with our physical bodies. We start with a series of poses that are meant to train our mind, our body, and our consciousness. Then, after reaching a certain level of awareness, we add to that the practice of concentration. We practice breath control, the steadiness of the mind, and focus.
The training does not stop here. The moment we achieve the goal of steadiness, we have to move on to the next level. This next level is the union. This is the union of the mind and the body. It is achieved through the union of the mind and the body. We achieve union through the practice of meditation. The practice of meditation can be explained in many ways. It can be explained as concentration. Concentration is achieved through meditation. The method of meditation is to keep the mind or body still.
In conclusion, the aim of the Yoga Sutras is to teach us how to live a healthy and spiritual life with contentment. In order to do this, one must practice asanas, pranayama, and meditation.
To gain happiness in one’s life through spirituality, one must have an active spiritual practice. This includes asana, pranayama, and mindfulness meditation. I hope you got your answer on what is the aim of the yoga sutras.