◌ Philosophy ◌
The eight limbs of ashtanga yoga are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The first five limbs are considered external support while the last three are considered internal support.
The first two limbs, yama and niyama, are rules for right living and the foundation for the practice of the other limbs. The five yamas consist of lessons in moral and social conduct in our environment. They are the universal principle that improves our inner worlds, community and the collective.
The yamas are ahimsa, satya, asteya, bramhacharya and aparigraha, and can be translated as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, appropriate use of vital essence and non-greed.
The niyamas are discipllinary and spiritual observances that focus on attitudes towards ourselves. They are listed as schoucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana and can be translated as cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study, and devotion to God. External or bodily purity, but even more so, internal or mental purity, along with contentment, austerity, self-study, and devotion to God are practices that will help to remove impurities from the mind and body and develop a deeper connection with the self.
Asana is the posture in which one practices the internal limbs of yoga with steadiness and a pleasant mind. There are two means to achieve skill in asana; to release the effort and to focus the mind on infinity. The fruit promised from skill in asana is the cessation of duality.
Pranayama is the method of changing the breathing pattern and is to be practiced only when one has achieved steadiness in asana. The main benefit of pranayama is control of the mind, it helps with concentration, energizing, and balancing the mind and body. This is essential to the next limb, pratyahara, explained as withdrawing the sense organs from their external objects, causing the senses to merge in the mind.
Dharana, or concentration, is the ability to direct the mind toward a chosen object and focus on it alone, bringing us into awareness of the present moment. Dhyana, or meditation, is the ability to develop focused interactions with what we seek to understand.
Samadhi, ultimate contentment, and surrender. Patanjali describes the eighth and final stage of Ashtanga yoga, samadhi, as a state of ecstasy.
In samadhi the mind merges with the object. Samadhi is of two kinds, sabija and nirbija samadhi. Sabija samadhi is further divided into savitarka, savichara, sananda and sasmita samadhi. In these stages of sabija samadhi, there is a gradual differentiation between the known (the object), the knower and the process of knowing, until they merge in nirbija samadhi, and the mind takes the form of the object without interpretations, conceptions or awareness of the process. All fluctuations of the mind are restrained and the Seer rests in his own nature (“Tada drashtuhsvarupevastanam”). The nirbija stage of samadhi is liberation.
Although in the Yoga philosophy the ashtanga system is presented as the main method, liberation can also be achieved by Ishvarapranidhana; devotion to Ishvara. Ishvara is described as the supreme soul, omniscient, untouched by afflictions, karma and the effects of karma. Ishvara’s name and form can only be expressed by the sound OM, and the sound should, therefore, be repeated and contemplated upon. This will give knowledge of the real nature of purusha and prakrti, facilitating the practice of samadhi. Ishvarapranidhana as means to achieve liberation is the cause for characterising Yoga as the path of Bhakti – devotion.