Who is Patanjali?
Maharshi Patanjali is known as the father of Yoga. He assimilated the ancient Vedas and other scriptures and simplified and systematized them designing a practical method of spirituality: The Yoga Sutras. These sutras are 196 simple statements to understand Yoga and reach Samadhi, the absolute state of realization. On those well-made sutras, he included eight magnificent steps disclosed in order, and in such a way that every individual could understand and follow progressively.
He discovered a way to share the 8 limbs of yoga that were discovered through deep practice. He wanted to indicate that every and each limb it is equally important, as we don't prioritize our hands for legs and vice versa, in the Ashtanga Yoga (in Sanskrit: ashta-eight, anga-limbs, yoga-union), he described beautifully a way of living in peaceful harmony and symbiosis with the rest of the existence and with oneself, to progressively attain union with the cosmic consciousness or purusha.
Here we’re dividing these 8 parts into three groups to make it easier for you to understand the order and progress.
The first four allude to ethics, moral disciplines, and practices for every soul:
These are universal ethics but not only for the yoga practitioner but for every human being.They make reference to social moral discipline, or in other words, the way we interact with others.
AHIMSA- Non-violence. The practice of not harming any creature neither through thought, speech or action. That includes the way we think of others, the manner we communicate with them and also the way we treat them physically. Thus, the way we eat, we talk, and every action should be mindfully performed to ensure no damage is done from our side.
SATYA-The magic of being always truthful. Truth is always alive, always present, and always prevails. A yogi should always honor truth above everything else.
ASTEYA- No theft. To know what is for you and your uniqueness. Non-stealing means directly or indirectly, so contributing in some way in the process will make us accomplice even if not performed with our own hands, with the result of breaking up this vow.
BRAHMACHARYA- Continence, chastity. There is a lot of controversy and misunderstanding of this Yama. The act of reproduction is a sacred act and should not be taken carelessly. What Patanjali try to say here is to don’t do sex with the mind, so the IDEA of sex is what should be avoided. If one has the desire for sex this person should not practice it, as sex should come beautifully and naturally in an environment of true and unconditional love.
APARIGRAHA- Non-possessiveness, the practice to stay detached, and do not store what we don't need. Simplicity and minimalism are an important part for a humble way of living, as accumulated things and gifts will distract our minds and lead us to a greedy attached attitude. In this Yama we will find the opportunity to be more every moment, absorbing ultimately everything we experience, encountering the realization that we cannot possess anything in this transient life, but only things pass through us.
This is a mindset of self-restraint. In this moral practices, he made reference to the relationship with oneself only.
The exact definition for it is cleanliness, but the connotation is purity, Implying to internal and external: a well daily maintenance of the hygiene of our body as well as our environment is important, and will help us attain a peaceful mind, that surely is the essence and main teaching of this Yama.
Contentment. This is a beautiful quality to have. The ability to be satisfied and recognize the gifts we already have. Love what you have, and you will have what you love!
Austerity. The practice of burning impurities, sometimes meaning challenging ourselves to increase the intensity of our existence. Here we don't want to create new problems, understanding the limitations of our minds and bodies as human beings in this lifetime, and trying to resolve the issues when they appear in our daily lives.
Study of the self, and also self-study. Bringing awareness to every thought and action will help you understand and transcend the desires of the Ego. Additionally, trying to be in contact with things which are conducive to your practice. “One becomes that which one worships”
Worshipping God, becoming a true devotee. And here no meaning God as a religious icon but to a humble self-surrendering to the específic plan divinely designed for you, and fall in love with the existence, believing in that everything exactly as it has to be, and even if there is no palpable reason, there is absolute perfection in it.
To experience Samadhi there is a long way to go, and for that, we need to maintain the body in good health. Nature provides everything to extend our lifetime, showing us how effortlessly she does attain perfection in every creature on the Planet. Most asanas are inspired by nature itself, like animals, mountains, and other simple elements that you can easily find everywhere.
Asana means sitting position, and in the sutras, Patanjali express briefly but efficiently: “Sthiram-sukham-asanam” which means steady and joyful sitting position.
We need to understand Asana as a dynamic meditation, with it’s four important parts:
-Shvasa- Prashvasa (inhalation and exhalation)
-Vinyasa-Steps done gracefully to get into the final position
-Dristi- Look or focus point that can be internal (infinity, 3d eye) or external (body part)
Techniques to extend your life force. In this limb, Patanjali gives importance to the control of the breath, as a representation of Prana, even if is not the definition of it, but the oxygen we breathe is one of many ways to get prana. The mastery of our breaths is a must to begin a balance of the energies flowing through us.
The next group explains a three-part process to go on an internal journey. The interesting thing about these limbs of yoga is that they just… happen. With consistent practice, you are bound to have these experiences:
Withdrawal of the senses.
It's a practice where we witness our temptations and develop patience. Yoga, we can say, it is an eternal waiting, a wait for meditation. Once withdrawn the attention from the external world, one is capable to reduce the number of thoughts from 1000 to just 1; we call this experience of fixing the mind in one point.
This focus point can be an internal or external objective, as could be the breath, a specific thought, any creation of nature...
The capability of holding into that point for a long period of time is meditation. With the extended practice of meditation one will be capable to experience what is our last concept here, something difficult to express through words:
Enlightenment, Self-realization, ecstasy, Nirvana, Moksha; the ultimate state of being. This can't be really accurately defined in the verbal language. It's an immense feeling of union with everything, an absolute focused mind where there is no space for duality. Attained a union with the universal consciousness, where the “I” sense doesn't take part anymore and becomes totally dissolved, is not possible for two things to happen. This experience will lead us to spontaneous equanimity and blissful understanding of all the existence, becoming the whole existence in itself.