Yoga Philosophy on and off the mat

Four states of Being

Patanjali writes about Ashtanga, the eight limbs of Yoga, in the Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs are a path to purify body, mind, and ultimately lead a life of enlightenment. The first two steps on the path are ethical guidelines, Yamas and Niyamas. The third and forth steps are Pranayama and Asana. Steps 1 to 4 are external, steps 4 to 8 are internal. Steps 4 to 8 are states of being. The steps are not linear, you do not have to complete the previous step to get the next. But once you study the 8 limbs of Yoga you can see how each leads on to the next, and how the first 4 steps are a foundation to the later 4.

The fifth limb, means withdrawal from the senses or sensory transcendence. During this stage we make a conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli, to cultivate an inner awareness of our internal world. We experience our world through our senses. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to take a step back from what and how we perceive, to connect with our deeper Self. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings, habits and desires. To see things as they are, without judgement.

Throughout the limbs we are gently fine tuning our concentration and focus, starting more outwardly in relation to how we interact with the world around us, and then more inwardly with our awareness to body and breath. The practice of pratyahara then helps us to develop our efforts of concentration further. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. Dharana is the practice of one pointed concentration, this could be the breath, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.

Dhyana is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be the same, there is a clear distinction between the two. Dharana practices one-pointed focus, and dhyana is a state of being keenly aware without focus. During Dhyana, the mind has been quietened, and produces few or no thoughts at all. This stage takes much strength and stamina. While this may seem a difficult task, remember that yoga is a practice. No matter where you are in your asana and meditation practice, you benefit at every stage of your progress. We choose to practice yoga. We choose to work towards understanding of Self and the universe daily with this magical practice.

Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, samadhi, as a state of bliss. At this stage, the yogi practitioner merges with their point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The yogi comes to realise a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all that is. With this realisation comes ultimate peace and understanding. Samadhi, enlightenment, is an experiential state of being that a yogi aspires to.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” – Rumi

“Attachment to the world makes it seem real, while detachment makes it a wondrous play” – Ammachi

Love & Light, Gem x