The Yoga Sutras are 195 sutras or aphorisms which contain the theory of Yoga which is developed thousands of years ago by Lord Shiv and later systemised by different sages amongst them Patanjali who is considered the author of the Yoga Sutras. These 195 Sutras are divided into four chapters or books: Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada.
The 8 limbs of yoga
The eight limbs of yoga are described in the second part of the Yoga Sutras and are seen as the building blocks of Yoga: 1. Yama or social ethics; Ahimsa (Non violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non stealing), Brahmacharya (Chastity) and Aparigraha (Non possession), 2. Niyama or self discipline: Saucha (Cleanliness), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Austerity), Svadhyaya (Selfstudy) and Isvara Pranidhana (Devotion to the lord), 3. Asana (postures), 4. Pranayama (control of breath), 5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), 6. Dharana (concentration), 7. Dhyana (meditation) and 8. Samadhi (state of bliss, enlightenment).
The eight steps (asht-anga) will lead to moksha or liberation of samsara (the circle of life and death). One cannot reach a perfect state of samadhi or eternal bliss only by doing asanas with their tight bodies and expensive yoga pants. Yoga is hard work. And it is a way of living.
My own path of yoga
I see this on my own path of yoga; living according to the philosophy of the eight limbs of yoga for 10 years now (including brahmacharya, sattvic vegetarian food, no alcohol and smoking, non violence, selfstudy, surrender to God, etc) I can honestly say that it is a dynamic and interactive process; some days you have more concentration than others. Some days you have your senses more in control than others. This has to do with surroundings, actions, thoughts, energy, the moon, etc. And life seams to give me harder tasks every time.
It get’s more complicated
For example, I had a very stressful ending of the college year in University and I had to coach a lot of students with their final thesis, I never had so much stress in my life and I worked like 70 hours a week for 6 months in a row. Being on the path of yoga is like a videogame: levels get more complicated. So here I was tested again to see if I could keep my restful and mindful self (which I’m continuously praised for in my surroundings).
Life is testing you
Of course I failed and stress got into me, my mind became restless and my body ached. Even my actions became stressful, which normally never happens. Actually, I wrote that I’ve failed, but this is not ‘failing’. The higher energy or ‘life itself’ is testing me to see how I react: here comes the process of jnana, karma and bhakti yoga into the ‘game’. With self reflection and self knowledge (jnana yoga) I discovered my stressful behaviour which even continued when I was in summer recess: it was very difficult for me to relax and connect during meditation. I thought that with ‘doing nothing’ and spend more time in sadhana this would all be balanced again. This was not the case. But when I did a seva or volunteer activity (karma yoga) with an art class for children in a hotel with 70 Ukrainian refugees in my village, my mind became restful again.
Replace the focus from ‘I’ to them
After that day, my mind was completely at rest, and I could meditate for hours, even in my garden where there is noise of birds, crickets, ducks and neighbours. The focus was not on ‘I’ anymore, but on others. This is how my restless mind which was constantly thinking without a pause: ‘I have to get relaxed again, is there something I did wrong, how can I have this relapse, what should I do with this job, is this my dharma, like this I cannot work on my books, should I change jobs…..etc.’ became still again. Just by taking the focus away from the ‘I’ or ego. This was an important lesson that life gave me: focus on others, then the mind will get still again. If you focus on yourself, worries start coming by. As if God is happy when I help others: they are God too, they are the body of Brahma, helping them is helping God. And then God is helping you. My guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba has helped me enormously to understand this and I knew it, but in this new stage of my life in which I experienced new levels of stress, I had to be reminded again of the importance of karma yoga. All lessons are learned over and over again, until ego is completely killed and we are no longer thinking that we are this physical body (prakriti) but part of something higher (purusha). The body is only an instrument to get to this higher truth.
Life is bootcamp
And this is a constant practice in which I learn every single day. Life is like bootcamp, it’s never still like the mind never is still, I always have to learn these lessons and I know that this is meant to, because only this way one can reach moksha and come into a state of perfect samadhi: by getting trained constantly by something higher in life. The art is to be open minded towards this proces and have the courage to listen to your soul through intuition.
Obstacles come only from the mind
Going back to the eight limbs of yoga with this example: I live my life according to the yamas and niyamas, I practice asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhyara and deep meditation every day of my life, but it is not every day the same. It’s not a lineair process in which you can say: I have reached one limb let’s move on to the other. You learn to use the techniques of yoga to overcome certain obstacles in life, which are mostly present in the mind. You learn to feel intuitively what is needed on that single moment of the day (that is self reflection, having wisdom of Self or jnana yoga). When it is full moon or new moon for example, I keep my rest, when I have my menstruation I keep my rest and clean my energy only with some soft breathing exercises and jyoti dhyana. I feel this intuitively, even my food is well adjusted by that: I only feel like eating light on those days. This is a way of being in balance with body, mind, soul and nature.
Moksha should be the only goal
Yoga for me is a way of living. I always say: yoga starts on your plate and not the mat. Then it turns to the mind. Then you change your lifestyle (yama and niyama), then you start working on the mat. Some people do asanas every day and are very strong and flexible, but they drink alcohol, eat meat and smoke, so what’s the use to do asana? One could never reach moksha like that. Even expensive yoga schools in Amsterdam are promoting ‘yoga off the mat’ and invites people to ‘drink a glass of wine in their bar’ and ‘invite’ you to buy expensive yoga pants: this is not yoga off the mat, this is not austere and this is a complete shame for everything yoga stands for. Moksha should be the ultimate goal of every yoga practice and therefor are these eight limbs described by Patanjali: the pilars on which yoga is built to reach a deep inner truth that we’ve forgotten by drinking alcohol and a materialistic consumers attitude (even promoted by yoga schools).
Become love to merge with love
The goal of yoga is to still the mind to be able to unite body, mind and soul, that is only possible when you life an austere and sattvic life. Yoga is also about living well, do actions for others, be loving. Why is that? Only particles of the same attract. You have to become love, in order to merge with love. God is love. The higher energy is love. Therefor one needs to get rid of all impurities and obstacles of the mind.
My own experience with my seva activity is the living proof of that. And life will test me over and over again to see if I have become an all loving person. Of course this can take lifetimes. But for now svadadhyaya or self study is what is taking my life to a higher level of living. Self reflection is often seen as a weakness but it is not, it is pure strength: it brings you to moksha. And I am also happy to teach self awareness to my students in University (not even knowing that they are practicing yoga with that). This whole process has a goal: to take away impurities of the mind, but also of our actions. Karma yoga with selfless help to others, is the simplest but also the strongest form of yoga.
Purify the mind
When body, mind and soul become pure we can reach moksha, this is what the Yoga Sutras are meant for: to purify. The body is purified with the healthy lifestyle and asanas, the mind with pranayama and meditation and our soul with karma yoga and doing seva and devotion to God (bhakti yoga). When we become pure as an innocent blooming flower, we unite with pureness or God. We need our bodies and the physical world (prakriti) and our life as a journey to eventually merge with the higher which is purusha in a perfect state of samadhi. The Yoga Sutras are the guidelines to reach this with the art of yoga.