Patanjali, the father of Yoga was a great physician too. Supposed to have lived during 200 B.C to 200 A.D, his book Yoga Sutra is a guide book for simple and healthy living. Yoga Sutra has 195 aphorisms or sutras which actually do not describe the yogic postures or asanas. Yoga as described by him is not only about asanas or postures and well being. Yoga according to Patanjali is a way of life. His book is basically an ethical outline for living a principled life and includes the science of yoga into your daily life.
The basis of the teachings of Patanjali is entwined in the eightfold path of yoga or the ashtanga yoga. These teachings are suggestions for a better life. The eight fold path is as follows
Yama means social behaviour. It tells you the way to treat others and the world around you. These are the right values. Also called the do’s and don’ts. There are five yamas: Nonviolence (ahimsa), Truth and honesty (satya), Nonstealing (asteya), Nonlust (brahmacharya), Nonpossessiveness (aparigraha),
Niyama means personal discipline and responsibility. This tells us how to treat ourselves. Also called observances. There are five niyamas: Purity (shauca), Contentment (santosha), Austerity (tapas), Study of the sacred text (svadhyaya), and Living with an awareness of the Divine (ishvara-pranidhana).
Asana. Yoga is commonly understood as performing the various asanas. According to Patanjali, “The posture of yoga is steady and easy.” The ancient sages used yoga to prepare themselves for meditation. In order to meditate a person requires to sit in one posture for a long time, the body should be flexible and agile and at the same time cooperative to achieve this. One should be able to concentrate without getting disturbed by the environment during meditation.
Pranayama. Prana or the life force or energy is everywhere. It is present in every living being. It flows into us through our breath. Pranayama actually refers to controlling this life force. The key actions of pranayama are inhaling the breath, retention of breath, and finally exhaling it out. As Iyengar has explained the basic behind the controlling of breadth, “A yogi’s life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths. Therefore, he follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow, deep breathing.” Pranayama cleanses the system and eliminates mental distractions such as anxiety, tension, agitation, desperation etc. facilitating easier concentration.
Pranayama is generally practised after the asanas.
Pratyahara. Pratyahara denotes withdrawal of the senses. It happens at the time of meditation, breathing exercises, or the practice of yoga postures. It occurs when a person concentrates or focuses his attention inwards, within himsel or herself. Controlling your senses is very tough, once mastered, distractions like itching, sounds, smell etc. will not be felt at the time of meditation.
Dharana. “Concentration is binding thought in one place,” - Patanjali
Concentration or dharana is training the mind to be focussed on a single, place, image, subject even things like, a candle, a flower or even a mantra. There should be no effort for concentration, it should be very gentle. The mind is in the concentration mode, once the person loses any sense of passing time.
Dhyana. Dharana leads to dhyana (state of meditation). It is the state of uninterrupted meditation. Unlike what is understood, the aim of dhyana is not losing consciousness, the aim is to heighten awareness and unification with the universe. If you are concerned about distraction you are not meditating just concentrating. The peace achieved by meditation is visible in every aspect of the person, be it working, enjoying or shopping.
Samadhi. This is the final aim of yoga as described by Patanjali. Samadhi according to Vyasa is complete control of functions of consciousness or “samadhan”. Samadhi also means the complete union with the divine or to merge with the divine. This is state of extremely heightened consciousness or enlightenment.
Besides being a guide for practising yoga, the sutras of Ashtanga yoga of Patanjali also suggests a moral and right way of living.