The Path of Mental Discipline
Ashtanga Yoga- The path of mental discipline.
The mind is pouring in a lot of thoughts continuously. When you are sleeping you have dreams, when you are awake some thought or the other goes on in your mind. Some thought you like and some you don’t. The more you resist some thoughts, the more you will bombard your mind. When all these thoughts are hovering around in the mind which such speed and with such intensity, and in such quantities there cannot be any harmony. There cannot be yoga. Yoga is the restraint of thought waves. The process of subsiding thought waves that arising in the mind is yoga.
When your inner faculties are strong, powerful, you will let go of stupid thoughts, and you will not act on them. You will act only on this which you find beneficial. Thoughts arrive anyway. But you choose to act or not to act. This is what awareness brings in you. If you are not aware, you simply act on the strongest impulse, or strongest thought. But if you are alert, then you choose to act or not to act. If we are not aware we simply act on the strongest impulse. If we are aware and acting that is the right actions.
Similarly mind is constantly engrossed in all sorts of mental activity, mostly without awareness. Mind is very jumpy in nature, as it is constantly bombarded by inputs from 5 senses. The more activeness there is without awareness, the more clouded the mind becomes. With increased awareness the mind becomes calmer. The calmer mind perceives more clearly and remains free from fears and worries.
‘Ashtanga Yoga’ is beautiful path of yoga peculiarly towards mental discipline and self realization. Pathanjali, an ancient sage, defined Yoga as the ‘restraining of thought waves’. He compiled ‘Pathanjali yoga sutras’ the aphorisms of Yoga in which he provides an eight limbed approach for the well-being and purification of the body, mind and soul. This eight limbed approach, a combination of all the steps paths of yoga known as Ashtanga Yoga, is not a step by step approach but a multidimensional approach in which all 8 limbs are practiced simultaneously. According to Him the eight limbs of Yoga are;
Yamas- Universal morality. Yamas are the moral virtues which attended to purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society. These are motivation based on ideas of right and wrong told as the Five social ethics:
a) Ahimsa- Non-violence in action, speech and thoughts. The word Ahimsa literally means not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. It means kindness, friendliness and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. In every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.
b) Satyam- “To speak the truth” Truthfulness in intention, remaining established in higher truth. Yet it is always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa.
c) Asteya- Non-stealing. Steya means “to steal”, Asteya is the opposite- To take nothing that does not belong to us. It also means that when we are in a situation when someone entrusts something to us, we do not take advantage of him or her. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner.
d) Brahamacharaya- Has two meaning: abiding in the knowledge of divine consciousness; and celibacy (Moderation of all pleasures). Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of practice of refraining from indulging, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Practicing brahmacharya means we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use that energy in any way that might harm others.
e) Aparigraha- Not accumulating things unnecessarily and not desiring things that belong to others. Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy; we should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we exploiting someone else. It also means letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.
Niyamas- These are the rules prescribed for Personal observance. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully. These are called as the Five personal ethics:
a) Saucha- Cleanliness of the Body & mind. Saucha has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleansing simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. More important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions.
b) Santosha- Contentment, remaining happy. Modestly and the feeling of being content with what we have. It means happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have. To be at peace within even while experiencing life’s difficulties and make life a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances.
c) Tapas- Austerity and Self- discipline. Disciplined use of energy enthusiastically to engage life and achieve union with the divine. Tapas help us to burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal. Tapas also include attention to physical exercise, eating habits and breathing patterns.
d) Swadhyaya- Study of the self, Abiding in the self. ‘Swa’ means self. ‘Adhyaya’ means enquiry or examination. Swadyaya means to intentionally find self- awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. Swadyaya helps us to burn out self destructive tendencies.
e) Ishwarapranidhana- Surrendering to God, honoring the Divine. To lay all our actions at the feet of god. Recognition of the fact that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives.
Asanas- Postures: Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the effective way of doing exercise and the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with other 7 limbs of Ashtanga yoga. The practice of moving the body into different postures has lot of benefits like improved strength flexibility balance and good health. Asana means staying or abiding in Sanskrit used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being.
Pranayamas- Proper Regulation of life force (Prana) through certain breathing techniques. Pranayama is the measuring, controlling and directing of the breath. Pranayama controls the energy within the organism in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution. Pranayama and asana are considered to be the highest form of purification and self discipline for the mind and body respectively.
Pratayahara- Taking the senses inwards- Control of the senses. Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ‘ahara’ means “nourishment”. Pratyahara translates as to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses. Pratyahara implies withdrawal of senses from attachments to external objects.
Dharana- one pointed focus- Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness, immovable concentration of mind. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and the when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara the practitioner reaches the 6th stage Dharana. Individual is concentrated wholly on a single point or on a task in which he is engrossed.
Dhyana- Meditation- Devotion. Meditation is the delicate art of doing nothing. Letting go of everything and being who you are. It provides the mind with a much needed deep rest. Meditation is an important element in the overall practice of yoga. It is a way to relax the mind and get-rid of day to day stresses. Meditation is about being quiet and heightening the awareness of what is going on inside the body and mind. And at the same time being aware about what is happening around us. In meditation we connect with ourselves and surroundings. We are simply being in the present living in the moment, accepting the present moment as it is. Meditation becomes the tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that clouds our mind. During meditation of all the four memory is awake, the mind is acute, the intellect is awake and the ego is annihilated. The ‘I’ is expanded or dissolved.
Samadhi- Merging with the Self, A super-conscious state beyond words. Union with the divine. It is the final step in the eight–fold path of yoga. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” In the state of Samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. Samadhi refers to union of true Yoga. Yoga principles suggest the practice of asana, pranayama, pratyahara as preparation for dharana and once dharana has occurred dhyana and Samadhi can follow.