By B.K.S. Iyengar November 1998 The eight-fold path of yoga could well be humanity’s path to perfection When man has complete control over his physical, mental and intellectual energies, he can lead a positive life. Yoga is a science that helps man communicate with his body, mind and soul. By practicing yoga regularly, man attains mastery over himself. Consequently, he is the master, and not victim, of circumstances. There is a popular misconception that yoga is only for those who have the power of concentration. A study of the literature of yoga shows it can be practiced by anyone, be he kshipta (wandering mind), mudha (forgetful mind), vikshipta(oscillating mind), ekagratha (one pointed mind) or niruddha (restrained mind), because yoga is based on physical, mental, intellectual, moral and spiritual disciplines. Two-and-a-half millennia ago, sage Patanjali in his immortal treatise, the Yoga Sutra, codified yoga for posterity. The Yoga Sutra is an all-encompassing study of the subject, comprising 196 sutras. On the strength of this treatise and his two works on ayurveda and grammar, Patanjali came to be regarded as the foremost thinker of his time. The average man may find it difficult to grasp the intricacies of stilling the mind and merging the individual soul (jeevatma) with the universal soul (paramatma). He can understand what yoga is by exploring the body. Communion and a proper understanding exist between body and nerves, nerves and mind, mind and intellect, will and consciousness. When these vehicles of the jeevatma operate at the highest level, only pure awareness remains. Yoga is knowledge of the self. It encompasses knowledge relating to the gross and subtle sheaths of the self that have to be purified and perfected by uninterrupted practice and devotion. Man is a product of intellect, emotions, action and determined will. While the seat of intellect is the head, the seat of emotions is the mind. The hand and feet are limbs for action. Yoga lays the foundation for purity in actions, emotions or intellect. Patanjali has enumerated eight steps of yoga. The first of these is yama (social discipline)—commandments transcending creed, country, time, that include ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truth), brahmacharya (continence), asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-coveting). The second step is niyama (individual discipline) encompassing saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (ardor or austerity), swadhyaya (study of the self) and ishwara pranidhana (dedication to the Lord). The third step is asana (posture), which brings physical as well as mental health. The fourth step is pranayama (the control of breathing), which makes the body, and the mind fit instruments for concentration. The fifth step is pratyahara where the senses are brought under control. The sixth step is dharana—complete absorption of the mind on a single point or task. When the objective flow of uninterrupted concentration reaches the subjective state, the union of object and subject takes place to transcend to the seventh step, dhyana (meditation), at the peak of which is samadhi. To reach samadhi, peace in body and poise in the mind are absolute prerequisites. Peace in body is acquired by practicing asana and pranayama. When yoga is practiced with intelligence, penetrating each and every corner of this empire (the body), the emperor, the soul, is discovered. Yoga is based on principles of morality (yama and niyama), physical discipline (asana and pranayama), mental alertness (pratyahara and dharana) and spiritual awakening (dhyana and samadhi). We have been endowed with a body through which the soul can express itself and it is our duty to treat the body with respect.
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