Although not the creator of Yoga, Patanjuli is seen as the father of yoga. In ancient times the transferring of knowledge (Yoga in particular) from guru to student was done orally and hardly anything was written down. Patanjali was the first to put the teachings of the Yoga Philosophy in writing. His Sutras (literally “thread” or “line”, but basically translated as meaning formula or verse in the West) are highly regarded as the best method to reach the goal of liberation (freeing the human incarnation from sorrow and unhappiness, and the constant ups and downs that claim our emotions and minds). Just as various kinds of flowers with different colours are nicely arranged in a string to make a garland, just as rows of pearls are beautifully arranged to form a necklace, so also Yogic ideas are well-arranged in Sutras.
Patanjali's Raja (Royal) Yoga is generally termed the Ashtanga Yoga or the Yoga of Eight Limbs, through the practice of which freedom is achieved. These 8 steps have been scientifically arranged and dealt with. They are the natural steps in the ladder, leading the individual to the cultivation of the experience of equanimity and to unravel the casues of negativity. Patanjali tells us that, in effect, yoga will help us figure out and eradicate the reasons why we suffer, even as it leads us to feel the deepest of human experiences.
The Sutras start with the goal (Samadhi), but the last Sutra (which is the first step) is Yama, which entails the individual’s actions and reactions towards the physical world, including the environment, the body and other people: the principals of ethical behaviour that one should follow in everyday life, in our relationships with others and with ourselves. The literal definition of yamas is "to contain" or "to control". There are 5 Yamas and they are:
1. Ahimsa (non-violence)
2. Satya (truthfulness)
3. Asteya (honesty)
4. Brahmacharya (moderation)
5. Asparigraha (non posessiveness)
The second step in Patanjali’s Sutras, is the niyamas, which refer to the individual’s relationship with him/herself. What struck me was that Patanjali put this one second and not first. In my personal opinion, I think that people should first find that relationship with themselves, know who they are, and then yama will be a natural outflow from that. But that is just my opinion, and not the way he wrote the Sutras, so let's just follow his flow. The 5 Niyamas are
1. Saucha (cleanliness)
2. Santosha (contentedness)
3. Tapas (literally translated as fire, but meaning, more or less, discipline)
4. Swadhyaya (self study)
5. Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to God)
These are the 1st 2 steps, each with their 5 limbs. The next 6 are all just individual steps, sans limbs, and the biggest difference between these and the 1s 2 (besides the 5 limbs of course) is the fact that the 1st 2 are practices that can be delved into and mastered on ones own, but the following steps one needs to be at least introduced to by a qualified teacher. They are as follows:
3. Asana, which in the Western world, we take to mean the postures we do during a yoga practice. The literal translation of this word according to Patanjali, was simply to hold a position comfortably and he had only 1 position in mind: the sitting meditation posture, usually full lotus, but also a few others leading up to full lotus. According to Patanjali, once you were able to sit in a meditation posture withouth fidgeting for 45minutes plus, you were well on your way to mastering this step.
4. Pranayama, which is the various forms of breathing practices that we do in yoga. It is made up of 2 words: Prana refering to the energy that resides in all things, or divinity if you will; and ayama which means to lengthen or widen with control. With this, a beautiful quote spring to mind:
Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God. - Krishnamacharya
5. Pratyahara which is the withdrawal of the senses and which an be done several ways, of which meditation is one, and others can be fully taught by your yoga or meditation teacher.
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation) and Dhyana is a natural outflow of Dharana. When someone teacher you meditation, they are in fact teaching you concentration, from which meditation will flow naturally.
8. Samadhi (heaven or enlightenment or nirvana, etc). Again, once meditative states are reached comfortably and naturally, and the longer you can retain said meditation, you will eventually find yourself in Samadhi. This feeling of bliss, full awareness of life, is a state that you might go in and out of as your meditation evolves. Eventually though, the aim is to live fully and completely in this state of blissful awareness every moment of your life. We know from those that have come before us or are currently with us, that this state is indeed quite possible to achieve.
As you can see, these steps follow a rather natural order in things, except for me, the 1st 2. And this is the reason I don't agree with their order: Although all the rest of the steps seem to follow a very natural flow of evolution, the 1st 2 are swapped around; In life, it usually happens that someone will start to tend to themselves first, before they start to tend to those around them;once they start to tend to those around them, even this flows naturally, starting with family, friends, then colleagues, then the community, the nation and eventually, if one reaches this step in this lifetime, feeling connected to all. But far be it for me to correct a master, and the great thing about yoga is that it is always about what feels right for you. You are never forced into anything, and since this is your soul and your life and your path, you may start, end and take steps in whichever form YOUR spirit speaks to you. That is the greatest teaching of Yoga, after all.