Click here to load whole tree
NITAAI-Veda.nyf > All Scriptures By Acharyas > Suhotra Dasa Tapovanachari > Six Systems of Philosophy > Yoga or Self Discipline

5. Yoga: Self-Discipline for Self-Realization

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means "to unite." The yoga system provides a methodology for linking up individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. There are various schools of yoga, among which bhakti-yoga, jnana-yoga, karma-yoga, and kundalini-yoga are especially well known. The yoga system that is counted as one of the six systems of Vedic philosophy is the patanjala-yoga system, which will be reviewed here. This school of yoga, also known as astanga-yoga (the yoga of eight parts), is closely allied to sankhya philosophy. Indeed, astanga-yoga is the practical application of sankhya philosophy for the attainment of liberation. It is called patanjala-yoga because it was systematized by the sage Patanjali. His work is known as Patanjala-yoga-sutra. There are various commentaries on this text, Vyasa's being the most ancient and profound. This yoga system attempts to explain the nature of mind, its modifications, impediments to growth, afflictions, and the method for attaining what is described as the highest goal of life: kaivalya (absoluteness).

The Yogic View of Mind

According to Patanjali, yoga is the control of the modifications of the subtle mental body. He proposes that the mental body leads a person to bondage or to liberation, that most human problems are mental, and that the only remedy to solve them is mental discipline. Among all human instruments that serves one in attaining one's goals, the mental body is the finest. The mental body is also the link between consciousness and the gross physical body. For these reasons, Patanjali places great emphasis on the study of the mental body. His yoga system attempts to provide all possible means to control the mental body's modifications and unfold its great power for higher attainment.

Theoretically, the yoga system is based on the same tenets as sankhya philosophy, and it also incorporates some of the teachings of Vedanta. In sankhya philosophy, the mental body is defined in terms of three functions or parts (mind, intelligence and false ego), but in vedanta philosophy the mental body is divided into four parts (mind, intelligence, false ego and citta or conditioned consciousness, the storehouse of memories). In yoga, however, the mental body is equated with the mind, and the intelligence and false ego are considered to be aspects of that mind. Citta denotes all the fluctuating and changing phenomena of the mind. According to yoga, the mind is like a vast lake, on the surface of which arise many different kinds of waves. Deep within, the mind is always calm and tranquil. But one's thought patterns stir it into activity and prevent it from realizing its own true nature. These thought patterns are the waves appearing and disappearing on the surface of the lake of the mind. Depending on the size, strength, and speed of the waves, the inner state of the lake is obscured to a greater or lesser degree. The more one is able to calm one's thought patterns, the more the inner state of the mind is unveiled. It is not very difficult to calm down the waves of thought patterns on the surface of the lake of mind, but it is very difficult to calm down those unrhythmic and destructive waves of thought patterns that arise from the bottom. Memories are like time bombs buried in the lake bed of mind that explode at certain times and disturb the entire lake.

There are two main sources for the arising waves of thoughts: sense perceptions and memories. When the waves of a lake are stilled and the water is clear, one can look deep down and see the bottom of the lake. Likewise when one's thought patterns are quieted, one can see one's innermost potentials hidden deep within the mind. Because the mind is an evolute of prakrti (see the previous chapter on sankhya philosophy), it is composed of the elements of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The relative proportions of these three qualities determine the different states of citta, conditioned consciousness. The turmoil caused by the interaction of the gunas is responsible for the arising thought patterns in the mind.

Five Stages of Mind

The mind is described in five stages, depending on the degree of its transparency: disturbed (ksipta); stupefied (mudha); restless (viksipta); one-pointed (ekagra); and well-controlled (niruddha). The predominance of rajas and tamas causes the mind to be disturbed (ksipta). Because of the predominance of rajas, the mind becomes hyperactive; because of the predominance of tamas, it loses its quality of discrimination. Thus it flits from one object to another without resting on any. It is constantly disturbed by external stimuli, but it does not know how to discriminate what is beneficial from that which is useless. In the second stage (mudha), the mind is dominated by tamas, which is characterized by inertia, vice, ignorance, lethargy, and sleep. In this state, mind is so sluggish that it loses its capability to think proper]y and becomes negative and dull. In the restless stage (viksipta), there is a predominance of rajas. In this state, the mind runs from one object to another but never stays anywhere consistently. This is an advanced stage of the disturbed mind.

These first three stages of mind are negative and act as impediments in the path of growth and exploration. At this level, one experiences pain and misery and all kinds of unpleasant emotions, but the next two stages are more calm and peaceful. All the modifications are found in the earlier three stages. In the one pointed and well-controlled states there are no modifications at all. In the one-pointed state of mind (ekagra), there is a predominance of sattva, the light aspect of prakrti. This is a tranquil state near to complete stillness in which the real nature of things is revealed. This fourth state is conducive to concentration, and the aim of the yoga system is to develop or to maintain this state of mind for as long and as consistently as possible. In the well-controlled state of mind (niruddha), there is no disturbance at all but a pure manifestation of sattvic energy. In this state, consciousness reflects its purity and entirety in the mirror of mind, and one becomes capable of exploring one's true nature. Only the last two states of mind are positive and helpful for meditation, and many yogic practices are designed to help one attain these states. When all the modifications cease and the state of stillness is acquired, then purusa (pure consciousness) sees its real nature reflecting from the screen of the mind.

The Modifications of the Mind

The yoga system categorizes the modifications of mind into five classes: valid cognition, invalid cognition, verbal cognition, sleep, and memory. All thoughts, emotions, and mental behaviors fall into one of these five categories, which are further divided into two major types: those that cause afflictions (klista) and those that do not cause afflictions (aklista). False cognition, verbal cognition and sleep always cause afflictions and are in themselves afflictions: they are harmful modifications. Valid cognition and memories (depending on their nature) are not considered to be causes of affliction and are not harmful for meditation.

The sources of valid cognition are perception, inference, and authoritative testimony, which have already been described in detail in the sankhya chapter. False cognition is ignorance (avidya). Ignorance is mistaking the non-eternal for the eternal, the impure for the pure, misery for happiness, and the non self for the Self. It is the modification of mind that is the mother of the klesas, or afflictions. Ignorance has four offshoots: asmita, which is generally defined as I-am-ness; raga, attachment or addiction, which is the desire to prolong or repeat pleasurable experiences; dvesa, hatred or aversion, which is the desire to avoid unpleasurable experiences; and abhinivesa, fear of death, which is the urge of self-preservation.

Verbal cognition is the attempt to grasp something that actually does not exist but is one's own projection. An example of such a projection is the fantasy of marrying a gossamer-winged fairy and together flying through the empyrean to the most wondrous paradise. All such fantasies are mere verbal cognition that do not correspond to facts and only cause the mind to fluctuate. Sleep is a modification of mind in which one's relationship with the external world is cut off. One might ask: If sleep is a modification of mind, aren't the dreaming and waking states also accepted as modifications? The answer would be no; the dreaming state is occupied with verbal cognition, and the waking state is occupied mainly with valid cognition and invalid cognition. Memory, the fifth and final mental modification, is the recall of impressions stored in the mind.

Overcoming the Modifications

The modifications of the mind are caused by nine conditions or impediments, namely sickness, incompetence, doubt, delusion, sloth, nonabstention, confusion, nonattainment of the desired state, and instability in an attained state. These impediments disturb the mind and produce sorrow, dejection, restlessness, and an unrhythmic breathing pattern. Yoga provides a method for overcoming these problems and controlling the modifications of the mind. Patanjali states that the mind and its modifications can be controlled through practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya). The mind is said to be like a river that flows between two banks. One bank is positive and is the basis for liberation, while the other bank is negative and is the basis for indiscrimination and infatuations with sense objects. When the current of the river is controlled by practice and detachment, it tends to flow toward the side of liberation. Abhyasa, practice, means a particular type of effort or technique through which the mind maintains stillness. Practice does not mean engaging in mental gymnastics; it is, rather, sincere effort for maintaining steadiness of the mind. Perfection in practice is attained through sincerity and persistence. Methods of practice will be discussed in conjunction with the discussion of the eight limbs of yoga. Vairagya, detachment or dispassion, does not mean to renounce the world or to withdraw oneself from one's environment; rather it means to have no expectations from external objects. Detachment means to eliminate identification with the evolutes of nature and to understand oneself as pure self, as a self-illuminating conscious being. Patanjali also describes another method, called kriya-yoga, to help students attain a higher state of consciousness while dealing with a restless mind. Kriya-yoga, which means the yoga of purification, is a threefold discipline composed of the practice of austerity, study of the scriptures, and surrender to God. By practicing the path of kriya-yoga, students learn to perform their duties skillfully and selflessly while dedicating the fruits of their actions to the Supreme.

The Eightfold Path of Yoga

The eight components (asta-anga) of this yoga system (see chart below) are: restraints (yamas); observances (niyamas); posture (asana); breath control (pranayama); sense withdrawal (pratyahara); concentration (dharana); meditation (dhyana); and spiritual absorption (samadhi).

The Eight Limbs of Patanjala Yoga

Yamas (five restraints)

o nonhurting (ahimsa)

o nonlying (satya)

o nonstealing (asteya)

o sensory control (brahmacarya)

o nonpossessiveness (aparigraha)

Niyamas (five observances)
[austerity, study, surrender = kriya-yoga]

o purity (sauca)

o contentment (santosa)

o austerity (tapas)

o study (svadhyaya)

o surrender (isvara pranidhana)

Asana (yoga postures)

Pranayama (control of vital force: prana, apana, samana, udana, vyana)
[From yamas to pranayama = hatha-yoga]

Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)

Dharana (concentration)

Dhyana (meditation)
[dharana, dhyana, samadhi = samyama]

Samadhi (spiritual absorption)

Success in yoga requires a one-pointed and well-controlled mind free from all worldly desires. Attachment to worldly objects is the main cause of and is the direct evolute of ignorance, which produces all the modifications of the mind. According to patanjala-yoga, attachment to world objects is the archenemy of the individual who wants to understand his inner self. The necessary qualities and conditions for reaching the subtler levels of consciousness include will power, discrimination, full control of the mind, conscious direction of one's potentials toward the desired end, a firm resolution to turn away from all worldly attachments, determination to obliterate the ego, control over all inharmonious processes, and constant awareness of the ultimate goal.

Yama -- Restraints

To fulfill the above conditions, patanjala-yoga begins by prescribing an ethical code designed to calm one's relationship with oneself and others. The first two limbs of patanjala-yoga -- the yamas and niyamas -- consist of ten commitments that constitute this code. The five yamas (restraints) are nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), nonstealing (asteya), celibacy (brahmacarya), and nonpossessiveness (aparigraha). They replace animalistic urges with saintly virtues and thus break the four legs of adharma (sinful life), which stands on meat-eating (counteracted by ahimsa), illicit sex (counteracted by celibacy outside of procreation within marriage), gambling (counteracted by truthfulness) and intoxication (counteracted by self-restraint).

Ahimsa. Ahimsa literally means "non injury" or "non-violence." Generally, one thinks of nonviolence as merely restraining from the physical act of violence, but in yoga scriptures nonviolence is to be practiced in thought, speech, and action.

Satya. According to patanjala-yoga, one should be truthful to oneself and to others in thought, speech, and action. The yoga student is taught to speak what he thinks and to do what he says. Sometimes one lies without awareness or sometimes just for fun or for the sake of creating gossip. These simple lies are like seeds that create habits that will one day become one's nature. Thus one cannot even trust in himself because of his untruthful nature. The day a person becomes totally truthful, his whole life becomes successful and whatever he says or thinks comes true. He gains inner strength through which he overcomes all fear in his life.

Asteya. Asteya, nonstealing provides a great opportunity for the practice of nonattachment and nonpossessiveness. Actually, nonstealing is a negative explanation of contentment, because when one is self-satisfied he is not tempted to desire others' things. Such a person considers whatever he has as sufficient and he does not allow himself to be enslaved by lust and greediness in order to attain desired objects by illegitimate means. The yoga system advises that nonstealing be practiced mentally, verbally, and physically. An honest author writes original thoughts, and if some material is borrowed from others, the author honestly and respectfully gives references. That is an example of nonstealing at the thought level. In the same way, nonstealing practiced at every level of the personality helps maintain purity of life, and purity of life allows one to shine and grow in all dimensions.

Brahmacarya. Brahmacarya literally means "to act in brahman." One whose life's actions are always executed in the consciousness of "I am not the body" is called a brahmacari. The word brahmacarya is commonly translated as "sexual abstinence," but celibacy is only a partial explanation of this word. Sexual continence in itself is not the goal; the goal is to control the senses in order to achieve deeper levels of inner awareness. Patanjala-yoga takes brahmacarya in a wider sense to mean selectively performing only those activities that are helpful in achieving the highest goal of life. Brahmacarya is possible only when the mind is free from all sensuous desires, especially the sexual urge, which is the most powerful and which can be most destructive if not directed and channeled properly. Illicit sexual activity dissipates vital energy that is to be utilized for the attainment of higher consciousness. For achieving this goal, the yoga system advises one to organize all his sensory forces and to utilize them in a proper and beneficial way. It teaches control of sensual cravings in order to attain that inner peace and happiness that is greater than all transient bodily pleasures. Uncontrolled senses weaken the mind, and a weakened mind has no capacity to concentrate in one direction or on one object. A person with a mind weakened by lust fails to think properly, to speak properly, or to act properly. For higher attainment, one therefore has to withdraw his energies from the petty charms and temptations of sensory objects and convert the flow of the life force toward higher consciousness.

Aparigraha. Aparigraha, nonpossessiveness, is generally misunderstood to mean denying oneself all material possessions, but the word actually indicates an inward attitude rather than an outward behavior. The feeling of possessiveness is an expression of dissatisfaction, insecurity, attachment, and greed. One who strives his whole life to gain more and more worldly objects is never satisfied because that desire can never be quenched. One who is constantly greedy for more forgets that it is impossible to eat more than the stomach can holds to sleep on more ground than the body covers, or to wear more clothes than the body requires. Whatever one possesses that exceeds the essential requirements becomes a burden, and instead of enjoying it one suffers in watching and taking care of it. A person who desires more than that which is required is like a thief who covets that which belongs to others. Nonpossessiveness does not mean that one should not plan for the future or that one should give away all one's money; it simply means that one should not be attached to what he has. An attitude of possessiveness excludes one from all that one does not have, but the practice of non possessiveness expands one's personality, and one acquires more than he has mentally renounced.

Niyamas -- Observances

The five niyamas regulate one's habits and organize the personality. They consist of purity (sauca), contentment (santosa), austerity (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and surrender to the Supreme Being (isvara pranidhana). These observances allow a person to be strong physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Sauca. In the context of yoga science, sauca refers to both physical and mental purity. Physical purity protects the body from diseases. and mental purity presents mental energy from being dissipated. Physical purity can be achieved easily, but one has to pay close attention to purity of mind, which depends on spiritual thinking, mindfulness, and discrimination. The yoga system places great emphasis on developing purity of the mind because concentration and inward exploration are impossible without it and because psychosomatic disease and emotional disturbance result from its absence.

Santosa. Santosa, contentment, is a mental state in which even a beggar can live like a king. It is one's own desires that make one a mental beggar and keep one from being tranquil within. Contentment does not mean one should be passive or inactive, for practice of contentment must be coordinated with selfless action.

Tapas. The word tapas literally means the generation of heat. A yogi who burns with the zeal for austerity is able to generate heat from within his body that keeps him warm and fit even in the icy wastes of the Himalayas. Therefore tapas is not to be understood as self-torture. The Bhagavad-gita clearly states that yoga is not for one who indulges the flesh nor for one who tortures it. One who is a real yogi enthusiastically takes up a life of healthy asceticism. He may thus gradually unlock mystical powers within himself. By these powers, the yogi is able to easily withstand intense cold or to go for long periods of time without eating, drinking or even breathing. But until such powers are unlocked, it is useless to try to imitate the accomplishments of tapas. Actually, supernatural powers are not the goal of tapas. The real goal is the development of a sincere enthusiasm for a life of austerity.

Svadhyaya. Svadyaya includes studying the scriptures, hearing from saints and sages, and observing the lessons of experience through the eyes of spiritual revelation. Proper svadyaya requires discrimination, which means neither blind acceptance nor critical analysis of the sources of knowledge. One should glean the essence of the transcendental teachings and utilize this essence for practical advancement. Without discrimination, one may become confused by the apparent contradictions among different teachings from various scriptures and authorities. Therefore proper study is a skill that must be learned from one who has mastered the scriptures.

Isvara pranidhana. Isvara pranidhana, surrender to the Supreme Being, is the best method for protecting oneself from the dangers of attachment, false identification, and the idea of "I am the doer". Surrender is possible through cultivation of faith and devotion to the Lord within the heart.

Asana -- Posture

Asanas, physical postures, ensure physical health and mental harmony. They are used in conjunction with the yamas and niyamas and the other limbs of patanjala-yoga, for without the other elements of the system, mere physical exercise cannot provide the desired benefits. Nowadays, because many so-called students of yoga do not understand the importance of mastering the yamas and niyamas before attempting the asanas, the yogic postures have largely degenerated into mere physical culture. The yoga asanas are not means of improving physical beauty but are important prerequisites for the attainment of the higher goals of this yoga system. The highest aim of yoga is to attain samadhi. The meditative postures enable one to sit comfortably and steadily for a long time with the head, neck, and trunk properly aligned so that breathing may be regulated, the mind may be withdrawn from the senses, the mind may be concentrated within, and samadhi (unbroken trance) may at last be attained.

The postures are broadly divided into two major categories: postures for physical well-being and postures for meditation. The commentators on Patanjali's sutras mention only a few postures that are helpful in meditation, but later yoga scriptures describe a complete science of postures for physical and mental well-being. There are eighty-four classical postures, but only four of these are suggested for the practice of meditation. These are sukhasana (the easy pose), svastikasana (the auspicious pose), padmasana (the lotus pose), and siddhasana (the accomplished pose). In all meditative postures, the emphasis is on keeping the head, neck, and trunk straight. The spine being thus aligned provides steadiness and comfort in the posture and minimizes the consumption of oxygen.

Pranayama -- Control of the Vital Force

After practicing physical exercises, the student becomes aware of a deeper level of personality -- prana, the life force -- functioning in the body. The word prana is derived from the Sanskrit root ana and the prefix pra. Ana means "to animate or vibrate," and pra means "first unit." Thus the word prana means "the first unit of energy." Whatever animates or moves is an expression of prana -- the life force. All the forces in the world, including individual beings. are different manifestations or expressions of this life force.

This vital force animates all the energies involved in the physical and mental processes, and thus it is prana that sustains and activates the body and mind. Prana is the basic principle underlying all biophysical functions. Later writings of yoga explain a highly advanced science of prana, which yogis claim establishes the link between body and mind and vitalizes both. Because the breath is the grossest manifestation of this vital function, the science of prana is also called the science of breath. Continuous regulation of the breath strengthens the nervous system and harmonizes all mental activities.

Yoga texts say that prana is the creator of all substances and the basis of all functions. The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad says that the thread of prana (vayu) runs through and holds together the whole universe. This thread is the cause of the creation, sustenance, and destruction of all substances in the world. The same life force on which humankind depends also sustains the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Prana sustains bodily functions as the subtle airs, which are energies of the subtle body that are controlled by the devas (demigods). Thus prana is the link between human beings and the controllers of the universe. The breath is the thread through which prana travels from the cosmos to the individual and from the individual to the cosmos.

Depending on its function in different organs, prana is divided into ten types of subtle airs. The ten pranas are prana, upana, samana, udana, vyana, naga, kurma, krkala, devadatta, and dhananjaya. Of these ten, the first five are of most importance to the practice of patanjala-yoga.

Prana. Prana here is used to designate a specific type of prana, the vital force of inspiration. In this context the word prana (pra + ana) means "that which draws in or takes in." The life force that receives the fresh cosmic vitality from the atmosphere activating the diaphragm, lungs, and nostrils, is called prana. The head, mouth, nostrils, chest (heart and lungs), navel, and big toes are said to be the main centers of prana. This important vital force resides in the brain and governs the functions of the senses and the process of thinking. Certain physical activities -- such as the ability of the cerebrum to receive the sensations of smell, sound, taste, touch, and vision, the function of the cranial nerves, and the power that governs all mental activities -- are the functions of prana. Primitive instincts, emotions, intelligence, self-control, memory, concentration, and the power of judgment or discrimination are manifestations of prana. As long as prana is in its normal state, all the organs function properly. Bodily toxins, intoxicants, malnutrition, the aging process, frustration, fatigue, restlessness, and physical and mental shocks disturb the vital force. When the vitality of the mind starts to decay due to such conditions, then higher abilities such as intelligence, memory, concentration, discrimination, and patience start to diminish, and the lower instincts or emotions become predominant.

In the cosmos and in the body there is a continuous flow of solar and lunar energy, also referred to in yoga texts as positive and negative energy, as pitta and kappa, bile and phlegm, fire and water, light and darkness, male and female, and so on. When prana is predominated by solar energy, it is active and the right nostril is open. But when lunar energy predominates, it is passive and the left nostril is open. The flow of prana through the right or the left nostril provides specific conditions and changes in mood and behavior.

Apana. Apana is the excretory vital force. Expulsive movements occurring in the bowels, bladder, uterus, seminal glands, and pores during defecation, urination, menstruation, ejaculation, perspiration, and all other kinds of excretions are due to the function of apana. The reproductive organs, anus, thighs, ribs, root of the navel, and the abdomen are said to be the abode of apana. When the excretory vital force, which functions through the thoracic and abdominal muscles, is disturbed, then symptoms such as sneezing, asthma, croup, or hiccups are observed.

Samana. Samana is the digestive and assimilating force that makes food suitable for absorption and then assimilates it. This vital force is seen in the entire body, not just in the digestive system. Because of samana's presence in the skin, vitamin D can be absorbed from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The region between the heart and the navel center is predominantly involved in the absorption and digestion of food, and this part of the body is therefore considered to be the main center of this vital force. This vital force is responsible for growth and nourishment. Abnormalities of the assimilating vital force result in nervous diarrhea, dyspepsia (impaired digestion), intestinal colic, spasmodic or nervous retention of urine, constipation, and the like.

Udana. Udana means "energy that uplifts." It is the force that causes contraction in the thoracic muscles, thereby pushing air out through the vocal cords. It is, therefore, the main cause of the production of sound. All physical activities that require effort and strength depend on this vital force. It is said to be situated in the larynx, the upper part of the pelvis, all the joints, and the feet and hands.

Vyana. Vyana is the contractile vital force. All rhythmic or nonrhythmic contractions take place because of this vital force. It pervades the whole body and governs the process of relaxing and contracting the voluntary and involuntary muscles. This force also governs movements of the ligaments and sends sensory and motor impulses through the nervous tissues. It is involved in the opening and closing of the eyes as well as the opening and closing of the glottis. The ears, eyes, neck, ankles, nose, and throat are said to be the main centers of this vital force in the body. Fibrosis, sclerosis, atrophy, and pain in muscular and nervous tissues are the result of abnormalities in the contractile vital force.

Food and breath are the main vehicles through which prana enters the body. Food contains a grosser quality of prana than does the breath; one can live for a few days without food, but without breath one cannot function normally for even a minute. This is the reason that the yoga system places so much importance on the science of breath. The regulation of the movement of the lungs is the most effective process for cleansing and vitalizing the human system. It purifies and strengthens the nervous system, which coordinates all the other systems in the body. Yogis have developed a most intricate and deep science related to the nervous and circulatory systems, but this science goes beyond the mere study of nerves, veins, and arteries. The science of breath is related to subtle energy channels called nadis. According to yogis, the body is essentially a field of energy, but only a very small part of that energy is utilized, and so a great part of it remains dormant. With the help of pranayama (the science of prana), however, a student of yoga can unveil that energy field, expand it, and channel it to explore higher states of consciousness. Yogi texts say, "One who knows prana knows the Veda's highest knowledge," and one of the Upanisads proclaims that prana is brahman. The science of prana and the science of breath are thus of central importance in the yoga system.

According to Patanjali, pranayama means to refine and regulate the flow of inhalation and exhalation. When one can breathe deeply and noiselessly without jerks or pauses, one can allow one's prana to expand and to be awakened for higher attainments. Patanjali does not advise the practice of pranayama until one has achieved a still and comfortable posture. Postures that remove physical tension and provide stillness are therefore the prerequisites to pranayama. Patanjali lists four kinds of pranayama: external (bahya vrtti), in which the flow of prank is controlled during the exhalation; internal (abhyantara vrtti), in which the flow of prana is controlled during inhalation; and intermediate (bahya-bhyantara-visayaksepi) in which the other two pranayamas are refined, and the fourth (caturtha), in which pranayama is transcended. The first three pranayamas must be regulated within space and time, but the fourth pranayama is highly advanced and transcends these limitations. When the external and internal pranayamas become very subtle, then, because of intense concentration in a perfect, relayed state, one loses awareness of time and space, and thus the fourth pranayama happens automatically. In this pranayama, the breath becomes so fine and subtle that an ordinary breathing movement cannot be observed. Without practical instruction from a competent teacher, it is not possible to understand and apply this method of pranayama successfully. The practice of pranayama prepares fertile ground for concentration. The first four stages of yoga discussed thus far -- that is, yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama -- are sometimes collectively known as hatha-yoga.

Pratyahara -- Withdrawal of the Senses

The fifth limb of yoga is pratyahara, the withdrawal or control of the senses. In outward activities the mind contacts external objects through the five senses of sight, hearing touch, taste, and smell. The interaction of the senses with their objects is like the blowing wind that disturbs the surface of the lake of mind and causes waves to arise. Withdrawal of the senses is a technique through which a student acquires the ability to voluntarily draw his attention inward and keep his mind from distractions.

Patanjali defines pratyahara as the withdrawal of the senses from their objects and their establishment in the mind. The senses are constant]y wandering from one object to another, and the mind also wanders with them, although the mind is more subtle than the senses. The senses are the vehicles of the mind as it travels on its journey, but the mind is master of the senses because without it, the senses could not contact or experience any objects. Wherever there is contact of the senses with their objects, the mind is necessarily involved, so withdrawal of the senses actually means withdrawal of the mind. Vyasa, the Yoga-sutras' commentator, therefore says that when the senses are disconnected from their objects, they dwell in or dissolve into the mind. Once the modifications of the mind are controlled, it is not necessary to make any extra effort to control the senses. When the queen bee (mind) flies, all the bees (senses) fly, and when she sits, all the bees sit around her.

Relaxation is actually the practice of pratyahara. When one wants to relax a limb of his body, he simply disconnects the communication of the mind and the senses to that particular limb. This is called releasing tension, and when one has mastered voluntary relaxation in this way, he attains perfect control over the senses and mind and enters a state of concentration. The process of withdrawing the senses and the mind is actually the process of recollecting the scattered forces of the senses and mind. When these forces are no longer dissipated, concentration naturally takes place.

Dharana -- Concentration

Having withdrawn the senses and the mind from external objects, the mind must then carry a single thought pattern in a desired direction. Concentration, the sixth limb of yoga, is a process through which one withdraws the mind from all directions and focuses its powers for further journey inward. To facilitate this process, one selects a suitable object for concentration such as a mantra, a form, or a center in the body, to name a few. In a relaxed state, past impressions accumulated in the mind rise to the surface, disturbing the mind's ability to stay on one thought pattern. In daily life, one unconsciously and involuntarily concentrates in many ways. In extreme happiness or sorrow, for example, the mind becomes concentrated on one single thought pattern. But such external concentration is motivated by emotion, instinct, or impulse and is therefore not considered to be yogi concentration. According to Patanjali, concentration is an internal process that takes place in the mind and is volition ally directed by the will.

There are five factors that are helpful in bringing the mind to a state of concentration. One cannot focus the mind unless one has interest in the object on which one wants to concentrate, so developing interest is the first step. With interest, attention can then be developed. Voluntary focusing based on interest and directed by will power and strengthened by determination results in paying full attention to an object. Practice is the next requisite. Regular repetition of techniques that help the mind to flow spontaneously without a break helps form the habit of concentration. For example, setting a specific practice time, choosing a favorable environment, keeping a proper diet, and regulating sleep make it easier to concentrate the mind. Next, using the same straight, steady, and comfortable seated posture every time one practices and using a smooth, deep, and regular diaphragmatic breathing pattern help one keep the mind and body calm, yet alert. Finally, a calm mind is necessary because an emotionally disturbed mind cannot concentrate. An attitude of detachment from external objects and of witnessing one's own physical and mental activity calms the mind and develops emotional maturity. When the student practices concentration, he is advised not to exert undue effort because effort leads to tension, and tension dissipates or disturbs the nervous system and senses as well as the mind.

There are various kinds of concentration: gross and subtle, outer and inner, subjective and objective, and so on. According to Vyasa's commentary on the Yoga-sutras, one can concentrate internally on some point within the body, such as the cardiac center, the base of the bridge between the nostrils, or the tip of the tongue; or one can concentrate externally on any selected object. If the object of concentration is pleasant, beautiful, and interesting, then it is easy for the mind to focus on it for a long time. Using a mantra or the breath for the object of concentration is considered to be the best method for learning to focus the mind one- pointedly in preparation for attaining a meditative state.

Dhyana -- Mediation

The seventh step in the practice of yoga is meditation. Meditation is an advanced state of concentration in which one single object of concentration flows without interruption. In this state, the mind becomes fully one- pointed, and by one-pointedness the yogi can approach the Supersoul. The process of withdrawal of the senses, concentration, and meditation can be compared to a river that originates when many small streams gather and merge into one large flow of water. The river then flows through hills and valleys without being stopped by bushes and rocks, and it then finds the plains, where it flows smoothly and harmoniously, passing through forests and villages until it reaches its final destination and merges with the sea. So it is with the process of meditation. At the initial stage, the senses and mind are withdrawn and made one-pointed. Then that one-pointed mind flows constantly toward one object without being distracted by petty emotions, thoughts, memories, and anxieties. Then it enters into the smooth, uninterrupted flow of the meditative state in which, siddhis (supernatural powers) are experienced. These are analogous to the villages through which the river flows undistractedly. At last the mind ultimately enters samadhi and connects with the consciousness of the Supreme Soul.

Samadhi -- Spiritual Absorption

The word samadhi is closely related to the word samahitam, which means "the state in which all questions are answered," or "the state in which one is established in one's true nature." Out of curiosity regarding the basic questions that the mind wants to solve, the mind flits from one thought to another and becomes restless. But the moment the mind resolves its curiosity, it has no reason to wander here and there, and thus it naturally establishes itself in its true nature. Then the mind is in a state beyond the concept of language in which it is accustomed to think or produce modifications. Samadhi is a state beyond thinking and feeling in which the individual soul is linked with the Supreme Soul. In samadhi one casts away all limitations and causations and enjoys eternal bliss and happiness. It is not a state of the dissolution of individuality. Yogis know samadhi as a mystical fulfillment of individuality.

In different yoga traditions this state is called soundless sound, the state of silence, or the highest state of peace and happiness. There are two stages of samadhi: sabija and nirbija. Sabija samadhi means samadhi "with seeds." In this state, the sense of individual interest separate from the Supersoul is retained and the seeds of desire and attachment still remain in latent form. In the state of nirbija or seedless samadhi, however, the individual consciousness is completely united with the Supreme Soul. This may understood in two ways. If the yogi surrenders all separate interests and serves only the interests of the paramatma, he becomes a pure devotee of God and by the Lord's mercy gains entry into the eternal spiritual realm (Vaikuntha). But if the yogi identifies with the paramatma as his own self, he is absorbed into the body of the Lord. This is called isvara-sayuja (merging into the Supreme Lord Vishnu). The first is a devotional union with God, the second is nondevotional. Generally the followers of the patanjala-yoga system aspire for the second kind of union.


Patanjali uses the term samyama to describe the combined state of concentration, meditation, and samadhi. According to Patanjali, one can achieve whatever one wants to through the practice of samyama because it expands human potentials and allows one to explore higher and higher states of consciousness. Through the practice of samyama it is said that one can develop supernatural powers or perfections, called siddhis, which are described in the third chapter of the Yoga-sutras. Because the body is a miniature presentation of the cosmos, whatever exists in the cosmos is present in the body. Microcosm and macrocosm being one, an individual can thus have access to the powers of the universe. The practice of samyama upon any object brings perfection regarding that object. By practicing samyama on latent mental impressions (samskaras), for example, one can realize their content and achieve knowledge of previous births. By the practice of samyama on the navel center, one can understand one's entire physiology. By the practice of samyama on the throat center one can eliminate hunger and thirst. By the practice of samyama on the distinction between purusa and prakrti, one can attain knowledge of purusa, the Supreme Consciousness. Many other kinds of supernatural powers, such as enhanced powers of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and the powers of minuteness, lightness, greatness, and lordship also mentioned. One who attains these partial perfections still has to go beyond their charms and temptations to establish himself in the state of perfect samadhi.

The Concept of God

Patanjali accepts the existence of God (isvara). According to him God is the perfect supreme being who is eternal, all-pervading, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. God is that particular purusa who is unaffected by the afflictions of ignorance, egoism, desire, aversion, and fear of death. He is also free from all karma actions), from the results of action, and from all latent impressions. Patanjali says that the individual has the same essence as God, but because of the limitations produced by afflictions and karma, one separates oneself from God-consciousness and becomes a victim of the material world. There is only one God. It is ignorance that creates duality from the one single reality called God. When ignorance is dissolved into the light of knowledge, all dualities are dissolved and full union is achieved. When one overcomes ignorance, duality dissolves and he merges with the perfect single Being. That perfect single Being always remains perfect and one. There is no change in the ocean no matter how many rivers flow into it, and unchangeability is the basic condition of perfection.