Patanjali talks about eight steps towards attaining Samadhi. These eight steps are called ashtanga yoga or eight limbs or eight parts of yoga. Ashta+anga+yoga meaning eight+part or limb+yoga. The final destination of any yoga is attaining samadhi. There are different types of samdadhis and different paths too. Let us first understand about the astanga yoga of Patanjali. First he talks about yama. Yama tells us what we should not do. Cruelty to living beings, telling lies, stealing, too much of family life and greed are prohibited under yama. The second is niyama. This tells us what we should do. We should never be under the influence of cast, place, time, circumstance and purpose. Basically if you look at niyama, it talks about discriminations. Discrimination on the basis of religion, place of domicile, discrimination on the basis of circumstances, and discrimination on the basis of purpose are to be avoided.
The first limb yama talks about our physical health and the second limb niyama talks about our attitude. We cannot progress in meditation unless we are fit physically. Our attitude affects our mind and in order to have a healthy mind niyama talks about things to be avoided. When you progress in meditation, you have to have a thoughtless mind. We have already seen that mind and thought are independent and interdependent. A clean mind with a clean body paves the way for good spiritual progress.
The third one is asana. Asana means a seat or a yogic posture. We have already discussed about seating. You should not strain your body to sit in a prescribed posture. Seating for meditation is very important. If you strain your body by sitting in a posture that is not comfortable, you cannot concentrate. Your mind will drift towards the areas of pain in your body. Any posture that is comfortable to you is fine. Whether you sit on a chair or on the floor does not matter. Patanjali says sthiram sukam asanam. Sthiram means for a longer duration. Sukam means comfort. In advanced stage of kundalini meditation, you require at least an hour to raise your kundalini energy from the base of the spine to sahasrara and back to base of the spine. During this entire process there should be no movement in your body. That is why Patanjali included asana as one of the eight limbs of yoga. Next to asana is pranayama.
Pranayama means taming the breath by controlling inhalation and exhalation process. Prana is the vital force for our very existence. A properly guided pranayama controls our thought process. By taming your breathing you can control your mind as well. Kundalini energy can be raised by certain breathing exercises. Next to pranayama is pratyahara. Pratyahara is withdrawing or retracting the functions of our sense organs. Our eyes help us in seeing objects. The other four sensory organs like ears, nose, mouth and skin act in co-ordination with eyes to realise and understand an object. This unified action of the sensory organs is called pratyahara. All these five sensory organs represent five elements like akash, air, fire, water and earth. The sensory organs influence the mind. The more we use our sense organs, more we lose control over our mind. Krishna says that mind is difficult to control, but to those who could control their mind, self realization is not difficult. Patanjali yoga sutra consists of four parts.
They are Samadhi padha, sadhana padha, vibuthi padha, and kaivalya padha. He has chosen to discuss the first five of the eight yogas in sadhana padha. Sadhana means practice. Padha means part. He has dealt in detail about the rest three dharana, dhyana and samadhi in the third padha or part called vibuthi padha. He has segregated the three from the rest as he considers the last three as interrelated. These three are to be practiced in a unified manner. By persistent practice by unifying these three gives you super human powers or ashtama siddhi. For this, practice of samyam is very helpful. We have already discussed samyam in our earlier posting. We will continue our discussions on the rest in the next posting.