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Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga

 
The term “Ashtanga Yoga” refers to an eight-fold path, as organised by Sage Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, to outline the certain steps or “levels of progress” that one must follow on the yogic path in order to reach the ultimate goal of Self-Realization (or Realisation of God). Thus, Ashtanga Yoga is a comprehensive system for the attainment of ultimate spiritual unity which has been tried and proven by countless yoga masters over the ages. This system can loosely be seen to encompass three schools of yoga: Kriya Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Raja Yoga.
A great deal of confusion often resides around the term ashtanga, as many practitioners and teachers use the same this word to refer to a popular gymnastic/cardiovascular group of yoga practices being taught today. This “fitness-based system” is also synonymous with the term “Ashtanga Yoga” or “Mysore Ashtanga Yoga”. However, this system of exercise is NOT what is traditionally meant by the term “Ashtanga Yoga” and one should be aware of this to avoid confusion. For this reason, the 8-limb Yoga of Patanjali is now often referred to as “Classical Ashtanga”, or even “Classical Yoga”.
It should be known that Patanjali, even though he is often referred to as the father of Ashtanga Yoga, himself did not invent this system. He merely codified the contemporary spiritual thought of his time into as systematic, scientific form of spiritual study, summarized in the 196 aphorisms of his well-known Yoga Sutras.
These Ashtanga, or 8 limbs of yoga are:

1. Yama - The moral observances that are necessary for achieving a condition of deep harmony with other beings.

2. Niyama - The ethical observances necessary for achieving a condition of deep balance within one’s self.

3. Asana - the physical poses or postures, which affect the being on many different levels, from physical, energetic, and mental/emotional, to higher psychic connections.

4. Pranayama - the use of the breath as a primary tool for control and manipulation of the life-giving, universal energy known as Prana.

5. Pratyahara - the stage of withdrawal of the attention into oneself.

6. Dharana - the wilful act of concentration of the mind, or the efforts of the mind to remain focused upon one point.

7. Dhyana - meditation or the state of “mystic absorption”.

8. Samadhi - the state of super consciousness characterized by the complete absorption of the individual self into the absolute, universal consciousness.

Source: International Yogalayam, http://www.intl-yoga.com

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