Yoga is a path towards spirituality and the achievement of inner peace and happiness. More than 2000 years ago a man called Pantajali wrote the first yoga text called Yoga Sutra and told about the practices and philosophy of these body movements. He divided this discipline into 8 progressive stages that purify the body and mind and lead to the enlightenment (shamadi). These stages are called the 8 paths, they must be understood and integrated into everyday life.
The 8 Stages of Yoga
Patanjali describes the suitable means of which Sri Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gita, the eight paths, or the eight stages of yoga, through which one can attain control of mind and come into a deep contact with your inner personality.
The first stage is Yama, which deals with teachings that concern the personal sphere, the way to approach ourselves. Patanjali believes that a person can come to purify and control his own mind only by learning to live in society as a happy, functional, and useful individual to others.
Then there is Niyama: Teachings that govern our relationship with others. According to Patanjali, the way of Niyama is a series of rules and disciplines that promote a sense of personal freedom and a sense of connection with the outside world.
The third stage is the asana, Patanjali specifies that in every asana a person must be able to perceive the tension and yet to stay in the asana comfortably, without losing the calm of his breath and his balance. In meditative asanas, free from muscular and nervous tension, the ability to remain in meditation for many hours will develop without the mind having to worry about the needs of the body.
The fourth path indicated by Patanjali is the art of breathing, Pranayama, literally meaning “control of the vital energy”. It must be emphasized that breathing and brain activity are closely linked.
Pranayama includes many breathing techniques useful for controlling a considerable number of physiological processes, such as body temperature, digestive capacity, concentration, rest, the number of heartbeats and many others.
Having achieved calm and control of the body and mind, a person can continue towards pratyahara, that is towards the withdrawal of the senses from the external world. This means achieving a sleep-like state. During meditation, the focus is brought within oneself, rather than outside.
The term Dharana, on the other hand, means intense concentration. Patanjali refers to Dharana as the concentration of the mind in one point or towards something. Concentration on one point clears the mind and prepares it for the next step.
At this point, at Dhyana, a person is ready for meditation. Upon entering meditation, a person experiences for an extended period a very deep sense of connection with the Universal Consciousness. The experience of Dhyana is that of release, expansion, and tranquility.
Samadhi represents the final step, liberation, the perfect knowledge of the supreme truth, in which there are no longer distinctions, oppositions, but being is experienced as part of the Whole. Samadhi is a state of total absorption and balance when a person becomes one with his own point of concentration, in which he surpasses himself and the distinction between the observer and the object of observation.