Yoga’s Eightfold Path from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:
Yamas – Restraints (Written as Affirmations)
Yamas are about our actions toward people and things:
Niyamas – Observances (Written as Affirmations)
Niyamas are about nurturing yourself:
“The spinal column must be held straight and the body firm, in a comfortable position for meditation.” Patanjali doesn’t happen to mention the thousands of other asanas we have been learning in Hatha Yoga Classes. Yoga, as you have probably assumed by now, is not just the asanas and physical movements we have focused on practicing here in the West. But, steady poses help us to concentrate, become ultra aware of our physical body and move us into a meditative state.
Pranayama means breath control. In yoga practice, this is our intimate relationship with our life force (prana). The breath carries vital energy through our system and gives every cell oxygen. Breathing exercises and breath focus have a great purpose in Hatha Yoga practice: It helps us pay close attention to our body and ourselves, it brings relaxation by creating mental serenity, it builds physical heat within the body allowing us to stretch deeply without injury, and it rejuvenates through the releasing of dormant energy. Without proper breathing, yoga postures are incomplete and benefits won’t be attained.
Pratyahara means “withdrawal of the senses”. To relax deeply and have a clear head, we sometimes need to detach ourselves from the external world. This doesn’t mean that we completely lose contact with outer reality, we just don’t let ourselves be disturbed by it. It is the feeling of hearing a sound, but it being far enough from us that it doesn’t cause us to react. The practice of pratyahara can be done in relaxation poses such as Savasana (the corpse pose), in asana practice, and even in daily life situations. Pratyahara teaches us that we have the power to choose how we respond to the external world.
Dharana is the act of focusing our attention on a single thing. The goal is to become aware of nothing but the object in which you are concentrating. This is often done by fixating on a divine form (such as a picture of a spiritual master). As we hold our mind within a center of spiritual consciousness, we are connecting to the Truth within us. Other focal points are: a candle’s flame, the nose (which is also cleansing for the eyes), the “third eye” chakra, a mantra, and the breath. The practice of Dharana trains the mind to eliminate any excess thought or junk from our consciousness.
Dhyana is the state of meditation. It is the state in which uncluttered mind and heightened awareness lead to complete stillness. The focus is clear and vast – awareness resting on the All in the moment – without preferences. Meditation can be achieved through practice of Dharana and Pratyahara, Pranayama, and even Asana.
Samadhi means “to merge”. It is the ultimate goal of yoga. It is defined as a state of super consciousness where one has achieved, for any amount of time, oneness with the universe. This integration, or union of the All, is wonderfully blissful and is believed to be the true expression of our Eternal Self.