Yoga is beyond asanas. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path leading to liberation, known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’.
The path Hatha and Raja yoga is the path of systematic analysis and control of the mind and body. The path is divided into 8 limbs, stages by Patanjali Makarishi in his Yoga Sutras. The 8 limbs are also called Ashtanga (Ashta is eight in Sanskrit and anga is division). I was just realizing the importance of the 8 limbs while writing this article and how closely they are connected to each other, they lead in to one another, there are no shortcuts!
The first limb, the Yama is instinctive based and sets out the action from which yogis should restrain like e.g. living a life of non violence (Ahinsi), truthfulness (Satya), sublimation of sexual energy ( Brahmacharya), non stealing (Asteya) and not accepting gifts or bribes (Aparigraha).
The Niyama, the 2nd limb, is a heartbased limb that details the actions you should do as a yogi. It advocates internal and external cleaniness (Saucha), contentment (Santosha), austerity (Tapas), selfstudy and study of religious scripts (Swadhyaya) and devotion to God and egosurrendering (Ishwara-pranidha). These first two limbs form a highly moral and ethical code of conduct. After completing these limbs the yogis mind will be better prepared for meditation.
The 3rd limb is the Asanas, relating to posture and steady pose that is required to be able to reach the one pointedness of mind to forget about the body. The 4th limb is the Pranayama, that concerns the control of Prana, the life energy. This limb is attained through breathing and retention exercises. After achieving the Asanas and the Pranayama stages you go to the 5th limb, the Pratyahara. Pratyahara helps you calm your senses and focuse on the inside. In the 6th limb, the Dharana, you fix your mind on an imaginary or real object, to exclude all other thoughts. The Pratyahara and Dharana leads into the 7th limb, the Dhyana (Dhyan means meditate in Sanskrit). The distractions of the world around you disappear and the parasympathetic nervous system gently brings you to a sense of relaxation and balance, to a withdrawal of the mind state. The ultimate goal in meditation and in the 8 limbs is to reach the Samadhi, the superconscious state or the cosmic consciousness state. Where “one-ness” is experienced, mind and body have been transcended and you are one with the Self or God.
“Meditation is the cessation of mental activities. When your thoughts reduce by just 20 percent, you will experience relief and a sense of self control.” Swami Sivananda.