The Path to Liberation: Understanding the Eight Limbs of Yoga

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All spiritual disciplined are done with a view to still the mind. The perfectly still mind is universal spirit. – Swami Ramdas

Think of a situation, where you do have the knowledge about the truth but implementing and syncing with your way of life is challenging. For example, a diabetes patient knows how harmful consuming sugar can be yet he is not able to control the urge to have sweets. We understand the worth of exercising yet we get lazy and become a procrastinator. The mind is fickle and fluctuating in nature. The situation is no different when the mind clings to negative emotions like jealousy, vengeance etc. We do have knowledge about the consequences of dwelling in these emotions but yet the mind choses to ignore it.
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Yoga Vartika (a commentary on the Yoga Bhāṣya Volume 1553) includes a concept of Yogangas, which are eight steps towards disciplining the mind in yoga.

Yogangas, in Ashtanga yoga, is also known as Eight limbs of Yoga. While practicing any form of Yoga and meditation, knowledge of Yogangas is extremely useful. These Yogangas not only removes the impurities of the mind, but also removes the obstacles to help attain higher level of consciousness.

The first step is Yama (self-discipline) that includes cultivating a spirit of friendliness and de-cluttering the mind that is filled with hatred, selfishness, jealously of detrimental nature. It emphasizes on being a good-willed person and understanding the beauty of selflessness. Yama includes letting go of arrogance (ahimsa) and ego (asmita).

Next is Niyama (observances) that strives to clean the body and mind from stoppages and sabotages. It includes cleanliness (internal and external), contentment, refining actions, self-study and respecting the law of universe. All these are catalyst to a balanced state of mind and being imprudent can lead to an unwanted friction in the mind.

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Asana (body postures) increase the flow of vital energy in the body as it keeps the body healthy and prevents our body from producing disturbances.

While Pranayama (oxygenating the body through accurate breathing) is the process in which the breath is controlled to keep the mind focused and practice concentration.

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Defragmenting the mind to seek stillness.

Pratyahara (awareness of the breath) is the withdrawal of senses from all external objects. Life is not just about thinking but feeling too. One is trained to believe in rationality because of which the intuition and senses are blatantly ignored. The truth of the matter is intuition is the only truth. Pratyahara is a process of dissolving into each and every breath and disconnecting with the senses perceived by the mind.

Once the mind has traversed these steps, it becomes easy to concentrate Dharana. A balanced mind focuses on one thing at a time uninterrupted by external or internal distractions. Concentration instigates embracing the true nature of knowledge whole-heartedly. Learning to let go of the excuses and seeking joy in the single-mindedness. From here onwards, one commences the journey to spirituality. Mind that can aptly concentrate reaches the stage of Dhyana.

Dhyana is a stage of meditation where the mind ceases to have any inappropriate function that goes against the nature of peace. Once the mind has learned the nature of reality, it leads to Samadhi (the super conscious state) or bliss. This is the ultimate spiritual plane to be in. It is the merging of the self with the universe. It is that moment when everything else disappears and only the elements of the present moment exist, and the liberated soul can connect to everything.

“Man’s conscious state is an awareness of body and breath. His subconscious state, active in sleep, is associated with his mental, and temporary, separation from body and breath. His super conscious state is a freedom from the delusion that “existence” depends on body and breath. God lives without breath; the soul made in his image becomes conscious of itself, for the first time, only during the breathless state.” ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

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