A Prelude to Ashtanga

Ashtanga yoga helps us lead a purposeful life

Silhouette of a woman doing yoga outdoors at dawn

After having captured the imagination of the West, yoga is making a big comeback to its country of origin, its respect redoubled, and interest considerably consolidated and intensified.

Knowing how one’s body reacts helps us devise a better strategy towards one’s diet and regimen. Similarly, knowing what yoga does for the mind and body will only enhance our experience of life.

Contrary to popular notion, yoga is an all-encompassing exercise in expanding our mind, body and soul to a level of self-realisation as well as self-actualisation.

Yoga has emerged from ancient science and wisdom. Its pristine and extensive knowledge suggests that there was a preamble devised for the right way of living much before the emergence of hectic and fast-paced lives that we lead today. Knowledge of the philosophy behind yoga is not only enlightening, but it also gives us true insight into leading a peaceful life without complexity.

The practice of yoga may be best described by way of what is called the eight-fold path of yoga or simply Asthanga.


Ashtanga literally translates to eight [ashta] limbs [anga]. Ashtanga yoga represents a basic doctrine – a set of guidelines that helps us lead purposeful lives. In doing so, it upholds the tenets of spirituality and morality, along with the encapsulation of our attention to the development of our body as well as our soul. It also depicts the route that the student of yoga takes in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Understood at its basic level, the eight-fold yoga path provides insights in comprehending one’s role in the larger scheme of things, showing how every tenet is intertwined with the other – where each is a microcosm within a macrocosm of knowledge.

Various literatures amounting to mounds of thesis on the subject generally derive their source from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as elucidated by Patanjali, aeons ago. It describes the eight-fold path of yoga that the pupil goes through, inculcating the canons of life in the process of achieving one’s highest goal.

Put in proper perspective, yoga presents a gamut of benefits that accrue to the follower. Many people who have pursued the physical aspect of yoga have only touched the tip of the iceberg. Knowledge and understanding of yoga’s eight-fold path will put them on the road to achieving a comprehensive programme and, as a result, take their life to a new level of sublime experience.

The eight-fold yoga path enshrines the following to map your road to the highest level of enlightenment:

  1. Yama [moral principle]
  2. Niyama [discipline]
  3. Asana [posture]
  4. Pranayama [breathing]
  5. Pratyahara [sense withdrawal]
  6. Dharana [concentration on object]
  7. Dhyana [meditation]
  8. Samadhi [salvation]

These stepping stones depict the route that individuals undertake as they go about achieving the highest of life’s ideals. Some of the words are more familiar than others.

But, where knowledge of yoga has previously been imparted, few have touched upon the depth that it necessitates in order to know just how deep an inclination and how vast its benefits are in pursuing a particular step that “centres-in” on the self, and one’s inner core.

Prelude to Asthanga

Yoga involves controlling the thought processes of our mind. In so doing, it helps us to determine our journey towards higher goals in life. Like all holistic disciplines, yoga determines the whole concentration of mind, body and soul, towards reaching that goal.

Those who have practiced yoga briefly may have given up half-way through on the journey to wellbeing and abandoned it midway through the process. This is not confined to yoga, but to every aspect of life where what we started we did not complete.

In addition, Yoga Sutras mentions probable disturbances that affect our thought consciousness and disturb thought waves and rhythms from time and time, throwing us off our endeavours. Before describing the eight branches of Ashtanga Yoga, it is a worthwhile to understand the hindrances and guard ourselves against these distortions in thoughts and in sticking to our chosen path.

Nine obstacles

Samshaya [Doubt]

When doubts assail even before the commencement of a project, it belies self-confidence and mental strength to undertake it with assurance.

Vyadhi [Disease]

Imbalance within the body results in an unnatural state of the body. This affects the practice and concentration of yoga, which, unless remedied, hinders your progress.

Alasya [Laziness]

Without action, there can be no habit. Yoga requires the inculcation of habits and unless guarded against the tendency to remain idle, the process can come to a standstill.

Styan [Langour]

Mental inability resulting from drowsiness and weariness of mind hinders the body from getting into the action mode.

Avirathi [Materialism]

Hankering after instant gratification of sense objects in the short-run affects the momentum of achieving higher goals.

Pramad [Inattentiveness]

Carelessness, because of mistakes being repeated, severely hinders progress.

Anavasthitattva [Instability]

Even when higher states of meditation are reached, the inability to maintain that stage for a good period of time results in failure and mental annoyance.

Branthi [Hallucination]

During the course of meditation, many thoughts and images beset us. Without verifying, it may be inconsequential day-dreaming.

Alabdhabhoomikatva [Non achievement]

Not getting results within expected time period may discourage further efforts.

It is important to understand these obstacles and try to guard ourselves against them. This will help us to work towards our goals, including advanced attainment of yoga practices.

Continued in Ashtanga Explained.

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Sreelata Yellamrazu
Sreelata S Yellamrazu, a management graduate, is a sports columnist. She hopes her writing proves liberating for her, and also provides a voice for important life issues - especially young minds.


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