The text of the Yoga Sutras itself is quite short. It is basically a collection of Sanskrit aphorisms that are packed full of insight and knowledge” and generally requires much reflection and explication on the part of the student. As it goes however the text itself proceeds to present the path to spiritual liberation through eight stages both successive and at the same time intertwined.
This leads us to Ashtanga Yoga (literally eight-limbed or eight-membered yoga) also referred to as Raja Yoga or Royal Yoga because it draws on all the other yogic systems. The practical effect of this drawing on and gathering together from all practicably related systems is a discipline that is not only systematic but comprehensive for any student of whatever inclination.
The path of Ashtanga Yoga operates on both the external and internal levels. It begins with the external limbs and proceeds to the internal limbs. These eight limbs are often symbolized as eight rungs of a ladder leading the aspirant higher up through successive stages until one reaches samadhi or the blissful ecstatic self-realization and union with the Divine.
As an overview the following is an enumeration of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga:
Yamas (behavioral restraints) and Niyamas (behavioral observances)
The yamas and niyamas are ethical preparations and deal with a person’s way of relating to other people and to society and also to how he conducts himself or herself both in the social world and in his own life. Thus the yamas teach restraint in one’s way of dealing with other people emphasizing non-injury or non-harming truthfulness and non-possessiveness among others. The niyamas on the other hand are behavioral observances and provides for matters such as personal or bodily cleanliness or purity contentment self-discipline and self-study among others.
Asanas and Pranayama
Asanas and Pranayama deal with physical preparations or physical exercises performed regularly in order to condition a person’s body making it healthy strong flexible and supple. The asanas are physical postures held for long periods of time though there are some sequences which emphasize and promote movement by moving from one asana to another. Pranayama practices on the other hand are breathing exercises centered around respiratory regularity and eventually conscious control of the breath. Technically however ” “”prana”” is also considered as invisible energy” ” or “”life force” ” and for many is the beginning of the more subtle realm of yogic practice.
Pratyahara involves the withdrawal of the senses from the outward