Yoga is one of the most embraced practices in the world right now. Not only does it offer physical exercise and bodily benefits, but it also leads you to internal regulation and spiritual practice. With the rising number of teachers, centers and studios providing classes and knowledge about yoga, they rarely go into the theory behind it. Yoga has been around for thousands of years, and has created many yogis that have found peace within them. One of the most influential books ever written about this subject is The Yoga Sutra by Patanjali. In this book, Patanjali gives an 8-step blueprint to control a restless mind through the sutras. The yoga sutras are described briefly below:
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Yama deals with ethical standards and integrity, our behavior, and how we conduct ourselves in our life. It looks at our interaction of the world around us and the moral values that dictate how we live.
The 5 yamas are:
i) Ahimsa (nonviolence)
ii) Satya (truthfulness)
iii) Asteya (nonstealing)
iv) Brahmacharya (right use of energy)
v) Aparigraha (non-greed)
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The “ni” in the word refers to the “inward” or “within”. It is for building character, and refers to the duties directed toward ourselves. Things like taking a contemplative walk, regularly visiting places of worship and praying before meals are some examples of this sutra.
There are 5 different niyamas:
i) Saucha (cleanliness)
ii) Santosha (contentment); tapas (burning of desire)
iv) Svadhyaya (self-reflection and study of spiritual texts)
v) Isvara pranidhana (surrender to God)
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The actual translation of asana is “seat”, which refers to the seat from which you will practice the art of yoga. The physical postures are used to prepare yourself to sit still as you go further into what yoga can offer to you. As you go into advanced positions, your body becomes more used to being still and disciplined even in the most difficult postures.
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The respiratory process is recognized as the connection between the breath, the mind and the emotions. Yogis believe that pranayama is a “life force extension” which not only rejuvenates the body, but can also prolong life itself. It can either be done in isolation, or can be incorporated as part of a hatha yoga routine.
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In this stage, a person makes a conscious effort to move away from the external world and focus in on himself. It can be described as being “keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from our senses”, and through this, we can direct our attention internally. It gives us a chance to step back and observe ourselves for who we are and how we can improve ourselves.
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Once we are able to get rid of external distractions, we concentrate on removing the distractions of the mind. This is where dharana becomes important, as all the stages before this will have helped you to gain the concentration you need to control your mind. The aim is to develop extended periods of concentration that naturally lead to meditation.
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Meditation is referred to as the uninterrupted flow of concentration. It can be referred to as being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive.
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Samadhi can be described as a state of ecstasy. The meditation comes to a point of profound realization of a connection to the Divine and the interconnectedness with all living things. The final goal of yoga comes with this stage: a feeling of divine peace.