Most people nowadays think asana is all that yoga means. But this is merely a stepping stone to our understanding of a wonderful lifestyle to imbibe.
Kamlesh D. Patel aka Daaji
Yoga is beyond the perfect, symmetrical, intricate body poses posted on Instagram. The three fundamental elements of yogic practice are Karma, Jnana, and Bhakti Yoga. We usually associate Karma, Jnana, and Bhakti Yoga with Lord Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. These three yogas of action, knowledge, and devotion are different facets of the journey.
Karma is action, the practical manifestation of existence. Karma is the ‘movement’ part or the ath of the atman or soul. In Karma Yoga, we learn to express life through action according to the natural law, without harming anyone or anything. The ideal Karma Yogi is like a newborn, without a need for ‘right or wrong’ consciousness.
Jnana is knowledge. Knowledge is the way we perceive and understand the reality of our life. The Sanskrit word manas means mind. The real knowledge of existence is learned through observation and experience. Jnana Yoga is the process of enlightening the way on the journey back to our true Source. Our awareness of the destination is Jnana Yoga, which is purposeful knowledge.
Bhakti is beyond devotion, the love for the universal principle, God. We cherish Bhakti so deeply inside our hearts, the Ultimate becomes everything to us. Karma, jnana, and bhakti have been fundamental elements of life. They represent the body, mind, and soul of all existence.
Sage Patanjali defines yoga as chittavrittinirodhah – to still the mind of its fluctuations, reduce the mental chatter, and cultivate a natural oneness within ourselves. Patanjali summarised the philosophy and practices of yoga into 196 sutras. He gave a framework of eight aspects, limbs, or parts of the practice called ashta-anga-yoga. All eight steps dovetail seamlessly and synergistically strengthen each other.
Yama and Niyama
Yama and Niyama are the dos’ and don’ts of lifestyle. Yama is to attain a state of purity. Remove violence and cultivate nonviolence or Ahimsa with love.
Niyama includes noble qualities to be cultivated. Saucha or purity of body and mind. It includes inner consciousness and external behaviour, character, good ethics, and morality in all aspects of life. Santosha is a sense of contentment and happiness, away from desires. Tapasya is the inner fire of meditation with a focus on the real goal of human life. Swadyaya is the study and analysis of one’s self, character, behaviour, and attitudes. Ishwar Pranidhan or surrender to God or the Divine principle, with faith and a sense of acceptance, brings humility, removes diffidence, and strengthens optimism.
The third limb of the eight parts is called Asana. Most modern youth (and even elders) think this is all that yoga means. But this is merely a stepping stone to our understanding of a wonderful lifestyle to imbibe. Asana means the pose of sitting in a stable, comfortable manner for meditation, which results in mind regulation. It mainly means contracting the expanded limbs to go within, to ascend to the goal of life. Of course, in the study, understanding, and experiencing this aspect of Ashtanga Yoga, we learn healthy poses that improve our health and general well-being. When we perform them with a heartful spirit and feeling, our body and mind are integrated. Miraculous cures and improved longevity are the results of performing Asanas heartfully.
Pranayama is the fourth aspect of Ashtanga Yoga. Prana means life energy and Yama means expansion and restraint or regulation of that energy with the help of breathing exercises. The regulation of the mind and purification of the heart takes place. Prana enables us to breathe and improves blood circulation; nerve and muscle function improves; mind, intelligence, and consciousness also function properly; and the ego gets refined and purified. Out of the five coverings on the soul (the Annamaya Kosha, the Pranamaya Kosha, the Manomaya Kosha, the Vijnanamaya Kosha, and the Anandamaya Kosha), the vital sheath or the Pranamaya Kosha is where diseases are often perceived. Energetic healing methods like polarity, acupuncture, and organic healing techniques operate on this sheath. Prana-ahuti or yogic transmission, the most unique element of the Heartfulness system of meditation, which is imparted by the spiritual guide, involves a passing of the highest form of prana, or life force or life principle to the meditator. It is the essence of the Ultimate Reality of the Source. This energy of Pranahuti makes the next four steps of Ashtanga yoga easier to practice in Heartfulness Yoga.
The first two steps of Ashtanga Yoga (Yama and Niyama) give us direction on thoughts, actions, behaviour, and character. The next two (Asana and Pranayama) cover postures, energy, and breathing. The last four aspects cover subtler parts of existence directly. These are Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Pratyahara means turning our attention, senses, and mind inwards towards a higher inner field of consciousness. Taking the help of external aids like chanting, hypnosis, and suppressive practices is not so good in the long run. The help of Prana-ahuti, or yogic spiritual transmission, and a heart-based meditation are more natural and helpful on the path throughout. The Heartfulness meditation practices enable easy success in Pratyahara.
Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi
Dharana is where the mind holds an object, inside or outside, and keeps it steadily there. Dhyana is when the mental energy or knowledge flows into that. Samadhi is when there is deep absorption, the essence of the object shines forth and the object drops off on its own. When these three final processes merge into the essence, it is Samyama, from which revelation comes. These three are more internal than the earlier five aspects (Yama and Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara). The stage higher to this is when the one-pointedness of consciousness arises and subsides, past, present, and future are merged, and the mind is concentrated.
Sahaj Samadhi, Turiya
Sahaj Samadhi happens when our inner core is deeply absorbed, and our awareness in the outer world is with a full consciousness, but without attachment. This is the Turiya condition – beyond sleep, wakefulness, or dream states.
Heartfulness Practices to Master Ashtanga Yoga
The journey to higher accomplishments is begun easily in the Heartfulness practices of morning meditation, creating a meditative state for the rest of the day, evening rejuvenation to give a state of purity, and the bedtime practice of connection to the Source by prayer or a deep inner connect, giving us a prayerful state for the night’s sleep as well as for the next day. Here we start easily with the seventh step of Dhyana. We receive the required energy, clarity, and purity from it, and we use it to practice the other seven limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Some feel that Dhyana alone is enough. But that is not so. The integrated practices of all eight limbs give a balanced success. After all, when we meditate well and develop clarity and focus, we automatically and consciously drop bad qualities and pick up essential beneficial qualities and behaviours. Isn’t this Yama and Niyama?
Doing Asana and Pranayama is not complete yoga. There are great synergies in yoga practice, and Pranahuti brings new dimensions into it. The new dimensions created Buddha, Mahavira, Lord Krishna, Jesus Christ, and Nanak Dev.
Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga
Hatha and Raja Yoga are like two dear sisters. They are both good but serve different purposes. My Heartfulness teacher, Shri Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur assures us that Hatha Yoga, which is involved with the physical aspects of the eight limbs, leads us to the Ajna Chakra, or the third eye. There are very many higher, purer, and nobler states beyond, and those can be reached through the practice of Raja Yoga. When we start our yogic practice of Raja yoga from the seventh limb of Dhyana and slowly work our way to mastering all eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, all eight limbs become easier. Heartfulness is a form of Raja Yoga, where one proceeds with the subtlest means for silencing the ever-active tendencies of the mind. According to Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga can successfully lead one up to the highest level, as the guide with his internal will powers along with the energy of Pranahuti can speed up our yogic progress.
(Kamlesh D. Patel, affectionately known as Daaji, is a teacher of Heartfulness meditation. He brings forth the essence of yogic spiritual practices in a scientific way to help in emotional self-regulation and elevate one’s consciousness to the highest possible level).