Ashtanga Yoga

Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras

Patanjali was born in Gonarda (now known as Gonda) in northern India. Unfortunately, not many facts are known about his life, although mythology abounds. In India there is a legend that says that Lord Vishnu was seated on Ananta (also known as Adishesha), the infinite serpent, beholding Lord Shiva’s dance. Vishnu was so captivated by the dance that he began to absorb Shiva’s vibrations, and thereby became heavier and heavier, causing Ananta to feel uncomfortable. The moment Shiva’s dance ended, Vishnu’s body became light again, and Ananta asked Vishnu what had happened, and Vishnu explained that it was Shiva’s dance that had made his body heavier. Ananta then expressed a desire to learn how to dance, so as to similarly entertain the Lord, and Vishnu then predicted that Ananta would soon incarnate on earth and not only write a great commentary on yoga but also perfect the art of dance. Ananta was thrilled, and began meditating to see who his earthly mother would be, and soon had the vision of a yogini named Gonika who was praying for a noble son, despite the fact that she was past the age of child-bearing. In that moment Ananta realized that this wise woman would be his mother

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Gonika was praying to Surya, the Sun God, to fulfill her desire, and while cupping some water in her hands as an offering, and meditating on the sun’s reflection in the water, suddenly she saw a tiny snake moving in the water in her hand, and then realized that the snake was actually half human! The baby snake prostrated to Gonika and asked her to accept him as her son. Realizing that her desire had been divinely fulfilled, Gonika named her new son Patanjali, signifying that he had fallen (pat) from the heavens, and that her hands had been in the anjali position (used in making offerings to God).

One known fact is that Patanjali studied Yoga with the great yogi, Nandhi Deva, and practiced with other famous disciples such as Muni, Vyaghrapada and Thirumoolar.

There is another legend that tells us how Patanjali and his fellow practitioner Vyaghrapada received a powerful vision of Lord Shiva (the Supreme Consciousness) together with Kali (a form of Aditi, the universal Goddess). Before their eyes, Shiva and Kali danced the 108 karanas (dance moves) – surely fulfilling the desire of Ananta, latent within Patanjali, to learn the art of dance. These karanas were later adopted by the yogis of the Natya Yoga sect, who believe that if performed with right concentration and devotion, they can enlighten both the spectator and the dancer.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are widely considered to be the definitive ancient text covering the philosophy and substance of Yoga.  Patanjali divided the Yoga Sutras into 4 sections, or Padas. The first section, Samadhi Pada, contains 51 sutras, or verses, and is focused on the state of Samadhi.  Samadhi is the blissful state of infinite expansion beyond the mind. When Samadhi becomes permanent and effortless it is considered the quintessential goal of meditation. Patanjali gives specific details about how to achieve Samadhi and to recognize the various types and levels of Samadhi. This section is dedicated to advanced spiritual aspirants, and has the sole purpose of triggering Enlightenment.

The second section, known as Sadhana Pada, is the practice section, which contains 55 sutras. Here Patanjali prescribes two types of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (the Yoga of Action) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold Yoga), also known as Raja Yoga.
“TAPAH-SVADHYAYESVARA-PRANIDHANANI KRIYA-YOGAH”
~ Sadhana Pada, Verse1
Translation – Austerity, Self-study and dedication to the Highest comprise the preface of  Kriya yoga.

Patanjali did not go in to much detail when describing Kriya Yoga and this may leave us in the dark with infinite possibilities of varied interpretations. In my opinion he is pointing in the direction of austerities such as fasting, cleansing of the three bodies, preparing the system with shat karmas and so on. When he refers to self-study, I believe he is simply talking about knowing and studying our own Self, he is directing the practitioner to understand integrally who he/she really is in the midst of action (practices) by observing his/her interior.

Ashtanga Yoga is an elaborate eight-branched system of interlinking practices, including asanas, pranayama and meditation, each of which supports and deepens the others. Yoga Adityam has a unique perspective on these practices, quite different than what is usually taught elsewhere, and gives them an interpretation you have probably never seen before. The focus of Yoga Adityam is on liberation from the oppressive mind and ego, and uses the methods of Ashtanga Yoga to free the spirit, without adding more repressive concepts.

The eight limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga begin with Yamas, a system of ethical regulations, which could be called ‘How we should live.

The first of the Yamas is:

  • Ahimsa – non-violence. We must live in a non-violent way. But how is this to be accomplished? In Yoga Adityam, through the practice of yoga nidra (yogic sleep), the practitioners, instead of repressing their instinctual reactions, slowly learn to connect with their innermost nature, which is unconditional love. Through this practice they are gradually enabled to open their hearts, and this will awaken in them an all-encompassing compassion for all beings. The result is that ahimsa will flourish naturally.

The next Yamas are:

  • Sathya – truthfulness and honesty;
  • Asteya – non-stealing; and
  • Aparigraha – non-possessiveness.

Regarding these, rather than addressing them in a rule-oriented way, Yoga Adityam endeavors to first uncover the chains that keep the spirit tied down to the ego. Before insisting that practitioners never steal or lie, our practice exposes the greatest mistake of all, which is to believe that we are separate entities, confined to individual bodies.  The teaching of Yoga Adityam reveals the numerous ways that the mind perpetuates the false sense of individuality, and protects its mind-created holographic identity, the sense of ‘I.’ It is only in defense of this false identity that anyone would ever lie, or steal, or become overly attached to their possessions. By uncovering the deepest source of falsehood within, we are able to cut wrong behaviors off at the root, rather than just ineffectively trimming the weeds of wrong actions with morality teachings.

As our practice deepens, we will gradually come to understand that if we lie, or steal, or if we are possessive, greedy, aggressive, or chronically angry or sad, and we continue to generate those patterns with unwise thinking, we are only strengthening the darkness within us – darkness which has the power to destroy every drop of sanity we have, if we allow it to.  As our practice deepens, we begin to comprehend that wherever we do, we do to ourselves, for there is nothing but the one omnipresent Self.  In reality there is no multiplicity; multiplicity is a mirage. The truth is that there is only one: the all-pervading, infinitely expansive, immortal Self. Once this vision is gained, and we know ourselves to be that Supreme Self, how can we ever fear again? And when there is no fear, and no sense of lack, where can behavior such as lying or stealing stem from? When we see that Supreme Self in everyone, how can we fail to live with infinite compassion for all?

The list of Yamas concludes with:

  • Brahmacharya – celibacy.

Brahmacharya is usually defined as refraining from sexual activity, and this is often interpreted as an instruction to repress sexual energies. In Yoga Adityam we have a very different interpretation of Brahmacharya. The true meaning of Brahmacharya is ‘abiding in Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness.’ The truth is that abiding in Brahman has nothing to do with sexual repression. In Yoga Adityam we do not repress any energy; on the contrary, we set all energies free. As we see it, the sexual force is already repressed by the mind and maintained in the lower two chakras (Muladhara and Swadishtana). The ego feeds on and extracts much vital power from this area, and we spend a lot of energy defining and investing in our sexual identity. This misidentification of our true nature with a sexual identity produces “egoic” labels (“I am straight,” “I am gay,” “I am good looking,” “I am unattractive,” etc.), which strengthen the false identity, therefore enabling the mind’s central axis of fear and desire to anchor ever deeper in our hearts, and obscure our true identity, which is limitless Spirit.

By understanding the central point that what we are is the Atman, the limitless Divine Self, and not separate bodies with a particular sexual orientation, we can begin to gradually redirect this precious and powerful energy to the higher spiritual centers. This is not by any means repression of sexual energy, but rather, divinization of that energy, so that it becomes fuel for the full revelation of our supremely blissful true nature.

As this new understanding grows through meditation, gradually the practitioners begin to enjoy the new level of pleasure derived from this method of internal alchemy, and to cherish the bliss of divinization more highly than the physical pleasure of sex. Even if they are in a relationship with a sexual partner, they will now know the sacred value of their sexual energy, and will naturally choose to make best use of it for their highest good.

Although they may choose to discontinue sexual activity, if they wish they may also continue to enjoy sexual relationships, the difference now being that the male’s precious sexual energy, instead of being wasted in a moment of pleasure, will ascend through the spine (aided by the tantric exercises of Yoga Adityam), and be circulated throughout the nervous system, thereby providing potent preparation for the ascent of the Kundalini. The only exception will be if he and his partner decide to procreate.

Female practitioners, too, will learn to raise their sexual energies through the spine, and will be empowered to receive substantially more sexual pleasure than before – and let all of it be divinized into fuel for Enlightenment. Yoga Adityam’s version of Brahmacharya offers a way to freedom from guilt and fear. It is a path to the discovery of our inherent “sinlessness”. If an egoistic sensation of sadness, unworthiness, powerlessness, incapacity or guilt should occur while practicing the Yoga Adityam exercises, practitioners will learn to see the face of the ego in those reactions, which is trying to use sexual guilt and traditional ideas of fear-based spirituality and sin to perpetuate its existence.

We should not under any circumstances let Brahmacharya, or any other percepts, be used by the ego to enhance pride or cause guilt.  Nor should we turn precepts into strict rules that if broken would denote a sinful act for which we deserve punishment. Yoga Adityam offers a path to healing from all such damaging concepts. Brahmacharya is simply a way to reestablish the direction of our sexual energy to its original course. Brahmacharya is a way back to the innocence of childhood and the full discovery of our inherent divinity.

The Niyamas

After the Yamas, Patanjali details the Niyamas, or personal disciplines. The first is:

  • Saucha – Transparency of mind.

Saucha means honesty and openness. It means we are not hiding anything.  This way of living frees the mind into the expansive Self who we truly are.

Next on the list comes:

  • Santosh – Contentment, or satisfaction.

Contentment means the practice of being happy with what we have in the present moment, rather than constantly seeking more, bigger or better in the future. This means we are no longer postponing happiness, but learning to discover the peace and joy that are here and now. This will gradually relax the practitioners, and the desires that enchain them will slowly fall away. Instead of ‘I want peace,’ the practitioner learns to drop the “I”, drop the want, and discover the peace that is already here and now.

  • Tapas – Austerities; spiritual practices which generate heat.

According to Yoga Adityam, spiritual practices and austerities should be done by enticing the mind into cooperation, rather than by forcing it to obey. We have found that making spiritual practices genuinely fun for yourself is much wiser than trying to beat your mind into submission!

The mind hates routine, and that is why we emphasize that the practitioner should be centered in the present moment, and allow spontaneous inspiration to occur. When we learn to abide in the present moment, everything is new, and each movement is fresh, original and innovative.

  • Swadhyaya – Self-study.

In Yoga Adityam, we use this Swadhyaya niyama as a springboard to introspection. Practitioners are guided to go within and review their lives, and by using right thinking and positive thought forms, free themselves from any negative emotional patterns that they may be carrying.

While lying down or sitting comfortably, practitioners are guided to move their eyes in the sign of infinity (the Pythagoras sign, also known as the ‘sideways 8’), and begin to remember their life in all its aspects. We encourage them to try to recollect every single memory, happy or sad, and to become aware of any emotional patterns that may stem from those memories. Those who are ready will be guided through a recapitulation of traumas, fears, and moments of deep sadness. When necessary, expression of repressed emotional material is allowed and encouraged. As more and more awareness is brought to these areas of our lives, and new insight is gained into the source of our emotional knots and the harmful thought patterns that have created them, eventually we learn to untie those knots and find wiser ways of thinking and being, and the intense charge around the traumatic events in our lives will disappear completely.

  • Ishwari Pranidhana – surrender to God.

Surrendering to God – in whatever way you conceive of God – is the most highly beneficial step you can take on the spiritual path. When we surrender fully to the Supreme Being, or the Universe, if you prefer, the oppressive ego dies, and we realize that we have always been the infinitely expansive Divine Self that we had been surrendering to. Total surrender usually does not come all at once, so our surrender to God should be reaffirmed and deepened daily.

  • Asanas– (yogic positions)

“Sthira sukham asanam. (Asanas are steady and comfortable postures.)”

~Patañjali

Asanas are the numerous body positions which yogis use to assist in the achievement of mental symmetry and spiritual expansion. As Patañjali points out, these postures should be pleasant, unwavering and relaxed. While doing asanas we are not trying to control the body, but free it completely. Through our complete relaxation, we will be destroying physical, mental, emotional and astral blockages, and opening ourselves fully to the discovery of what truly is.

  • Pranayama– Breathing techniques.

Pranayama means expansion and freedom of breath. In some translations we see this translated as “control of breath”; however if we closely observe, we find that our breath is already controlled and restrained by the ego and our emotions.  With Yoga Adityam’s pranayama exercises we can learn how to set our breath free, like a bird soaring through the air.

  • Pratyahara– Withdrawal from the senses.

Genuine pratyahara is not a forceful withdrawal from the senses, but rather an abandonment of them, which naturally comes after the understanding has dawned that pleasure and pain are inseparable sides of the same sensory coin. The senses, while promising us pleasure, lead us inexorably to pain. When we realize the lack of practical wisdom in pursuing happiness through the senses, we happily abandon that pursuit, and recognize the senses as the deceptive cheats that they are. Once we have mastered our senses, however, they can become trusted servants that help us live in the present moment, and can therefore serve as a doorway to Enlightenment. Our mistake lies in being attached to a particular sensation we once experienced, such as a flavor or sensory pleasure of some kind.  The craving to renew that experience, and the idea that repeating it will bring us real happiness, creates a deceptive mental pattern which equates lasting happiness with temporary sensory satisfaction. This fallacy only succeeds in postponing joy into an imagined future, while chaining us to the past, and in the meantime snatching from us the precious present moment. Such patterns of desire seduce the mind into trying to repeat the previous sensations, and this is impossible; going down this route leads only to frustration, addiction and precious time wasted in pursuit of one mirage after another. Once this vicious cycle is understood, pratyahara becomes a joy. We learn to effortlessly drop the senses, and discover the great bliss and peace that lie at the very root of the mind, prior to the ‘I’ that perceives and processes sensory data.

The third Pada in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is called Vibhuti Pada, which contains 56 sutras. Vibhuti means ‘power’ or ‘materialization.’ This Pada begins with descriptions of the final three limbs: Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

  • Dharana– Concentration on a specific point or object.

Dharana means concentration, or one-pointed focus of the mind on a single point or object. This does not imply a form of forceful mental control, but rather a gentle coaxing of the mind to focus on its highest goal.  It is best if the object of concentration itself intrigues us; some people are naturally attracted to the flame of a candle, for instance, or the form of a deity. What helps most with dharana is the understanding that whatever the object may be, it is truly a form of the omnipresent Supreme Being. Whatever it may be, it embodies our Divine Beloved.  When this understanding becomes strong, we will have no difficulty at all in keeping our concentration on the chosen object.

Dhyana – Meditation.

Dhyana, or meditation, can be defined as the act of isolating the psyche from all objects, or of effortlessly focusing on only one object. In contrast, in dharana, the preliminary stage of concentration, some effort is involved, whereas in dhyana, the meditation is effortless. Sacred texts describe the difference between dharana and dhyana as the difference between pouring water, which has small bubbles in it and breaks in the flow, and pouring oil, where the concentration is totally smooth with no interruptions.  In dharana the mind flows towards an object in an interrupted fashion, with other thoughts coming up that briefly impede the concentration, whereas in dhyana the mind flows towards its chosen object without distraction, with each new thought being of the same object.

For some practitioners, dhyana becomes a mental vacation where no objects at all are considered, and nothing but pure subjectivity remains. There is no external focal point at all, just pure being. As we relax more and more into this kind of dhyana, all thoughts subside naturally.  When this becomes natural and effortless, it will connect the practitioners with their all-embracing essence.

  • Samadhi– Becoming one with the object of meditation.

In the state of samadhi you fuse with the object of concentration. Individualized consciousness ends, and the yogi’s consciousness is discovered to be literally universal and collective. The small self falls away, and the true Self is permanently revealed.

The consciousness of the practitioner should only be directed towards the Self (the pure awareness of the Atman) and not to the external objects, powers, or to anything which could increase the ego.

The fourth section, Kaivalya Pada, is comprised of 34 sutras.

Kaivalya is sometimes translated as seclusion or isolation, but such a translation is insufficient to give the term’s full meaning. From an occidental viewpoint, kaivalya is what psychologists call ‘individuation,’ a term describing a completely balanced mind, a state of complete detachment and wellbeing, in which the individual no longer depends on external factors to be happy and feel worthy. At this stage of evolution, practitioners will feel happy and secure no matter what situation they may find themselves in.  The Kaivalya Pada describes total freedom from all mental concepts, including the sense of ‘I’ or ego. It also depicts the state of one who abides effortlessly in the transcendental Self. According to Patanjali, to be fully and permanently established in that Self is the goal of

Choosing a yoga teacher In this era, Yoga has become somehow a narcissistic practice that could inflate the ego out of proportion and isolate the individual even more, from this living eternal vastness. You can check your own self, or your teacher and compare him or your self, with the stunning and mesmerizing personalities of enlightened people, who are humble in nature, unpretentious, indifferent to fame and reputation, and childlike (yes childlike). So be careful who you choose and God bless you.

Sri Tirumali Krishnamacharya.

There are not too many things known about Krishnamacharya, since he was a humble man that only concerned with the present moment. After Desikachar insisted, he told and wrote some of the histories of his life.

All we can say is that he was compelled to go to the Himalayas around 1916 to gain knowledge of Yoga.  There he met his guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and spent seven and a half years in his company understanding The Yoga Sutras, which is the sacred and philosophical groundwork of Ashtanga Yoga. At that time, he learned among some other scriptures, the “Yoga Karunta” by heart, this primordial document that supposedly was writen on banana leaves, it’s the source from which the Asana, Vinyasa  and Bhanda – System of the “Mysore stile Ashtanga Yoga” we know was established. Subsequently and after Krishnamacharya left his guru, more or less round 1926, he embarked on a search for the Yoga Karunta. After looking incessantly he lastly found it at the Calcutta University library. Immediately following the finding of this treasure, he realized that the book was badly injured by ants and the passing of time; unfortunately Krishnamarchaya wasn’t capable of safeguarding it. “Karunta” means “cluster” and it is believed that this manuscript, enclosed these sequences of Asana. The “Yoga Karunta” is credited to the sage Vamana Rishi, who came to earth when Ashtanga Yoga was drifting into darkness. Vamana Rishi incarnated with this mission and the entire Ashtanga Yoga system was passed down to him directly from lord Vishnu, while in the womb of his mother. After 9th months of pregnancy were over, Vamana was not over and done with his education. The legend says that he refused to come out of the womb, until he had completed his lessons on Ashtanga Yoga.

Practice To execute asanas properly, one should integrate vinyasa, breathing and coordination. The purpose of vinyasa is inner purification. Harmonizing breathing combined with movement while performing asanas heats up the body, cleans and thins the blood, so that it can flow freely and with strength. Therefore vinyasa in coordination with breath and bandhas, enhances blood distribution, mitigates pain and eradicates pollutants and ailments. The sweat produced from the high temperature of this practice, delivers the toxic waste out of the physical body and transmutes the body into a vigorous and radiant instrument for the evolution of consciousness. Another crucial point to be remembered is the use of bandhas, which are locks, to be used to redirect the flowing of prana, from the lower chakras in to the more sophisticated and refined chakras upper chakras.  Conversely it is said that Mula Bandha (Perineum lock) Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal lock) and Jalandhara Bandha (Chin lock) done in conjunction with correct breathing, can awaken the kundalini power, which is coiled and dormant in the second chakra. Kundalini is in most cases responsible for the enlightenment and evolving process in human beings. The bandhas seals lhe leaks of power, provide lightness, potency and well being to the physical body. Mula bandha functions at the core-root of the body, to close in prana within. Uddiyana bandha redirects prana upwards throughout the nadis, and Jalandhara bandha, the “throat lock”, stops pranic forces from over building in the head.  In this way the force in the spine is stored and will eventually reach the brain in a more gentle and moderate manner without ill sideeffects.

Drishti (gaze) While practicing asana, we can’t overlook and neglect the use of Drishtis (gaze), towards specific points in the physical body, this drishtis will keep the mind in the present moment and while it is a tool for concentration, it will also keep the eyes healthy and strong. There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumbs, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. If the mind centers its attention solely on inhalation, exhalation, and drishtis, this concentration will lead the way to dhyana (meditation).

In psychology, there is a school  that believes that by moving your eyes in certain directions, you are able to unleash repressed emotions and memories from the brain. This is due to the connection of the optical nerve, to the center of the brain. On the other hand the “Breath” we use while practicing Asana, is “ujay breath”, which is done by closing the glottis, so the breath can somehow caress softly the throat, producing a supple whispering sound.  Both the inhalation and exhalation should be balanced and smooth, and the span of the inhalation must be equal in length to the exhalation.  As months go by, the time-span and passion of the inhalation and exhalation should gradually be amplify.

Furthermore extended, smooth and constant breathing augments the inner fire and builds up the nervous system.

The Vedas. There are four Vedas: The Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvanaveda. The first to be written was the Rigveda, which is believed to date back to 8500 years BC.  The Yajurveda follows some time later.

A remarkable thing, is that the Vedas contain details relevant information of Yoga movements and breathing. As a matter of fact suryanamaskar A and B are described step by step, following the vinyasa method we use now days in ashtanga yoga, at the same time the physical and spiritual benefits are meticulously portrayed. The Aruna Mantra in the Yajurveda stipulates that the number of the Vinyasas for Suryanamaskara “A” is nine, conversely in the Rigveda Maha Suryanamskara “B”, is described and prescribed to be done conjunctly with the Saura Mantra.  This shows that the number of the vinyasas is 17, just as in present day practice.  What is not clear, in the present, is that in downward facing dog, these two Vedas do not explaine in detail what to do while holding this pose.  That is why in some styles of yoga, we can observe that they hold the breath in, as in antara kumbaka and in some others styles, a number of breaths are incorporated, while performing downward facing dog.

 

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