What is Ashtang Yoga? Yoga is an ancient art of realizing our highest and true potential. It is a complete system in the sense that it starts with the physical body and ends in realization of the soul. The word Yoga is a Sanskrit word. The word has many meanings. The Sanskrit language is similar to the English language when it comes to the meanings of the words. Like the English words, Sanskrit words have several meanings. The word Yoga has been derived from the Sanskrit root 'Yuj', meaning to control, to unite, to yoke, to make one. It also means to signify continuity. Yoga is a systematic science to ultimately come to the understanding that the body and soul are not two different things. Mind and matter are not two different things. Body is a beginning and Buddha-hood is the goal. Muladhar is a beginning and Sahasrar is the goal. Mind is a beginning and Moksha is the goal. Lust is a beginning and love is the goal. Greed is a beginning and God is the goal. Desire is a beginning and Divinity is the goal. Karma is a beginning and Dharma is the goal. Bhakti is a beginning and Bhagwan is the goal. It is a complete system in which the means become an end or the means transform into an end.
Just take the example of a raw gold transforming into a 24 carat gold. The raw gold is passed through various stages of burning the impurities. The raw gold passes through the fire test and acid test. In the whole all the impurities are burned and the resultant is the purest form of gold. Similar is the case with Yoga. It is an alchemy and a process of change. Yoga is also like the fire test and the acid test. The lower forms of the energy are transformed to the higher forms of the same energy. A weak body will transform into a strong body. A stiff body will transform into an agile body. A rigid mind will transform into an open mind. The desires will transform into needs. Anger will transform into compassion. Lust will transform into love. All action becomes a celebration. All doing becomes a divinity. The whole energy will become an enlightenment. Samadhi means Samadhan. It means a solution and an understanding that I am no more separate from the whole. This ultimate understanding becomes an existential experience of the Yogi. This is the path of Yoga. This is the journey of Yoga. It is similar to the understanding of the quantum physicist today that the whole universe is an interconnected oneness. This is not only a metaphysical reality but beyond that an universal reality. The metaphysical reality is that the electrons, protons, neutrons, their masses, their energies, various forces and the space within the atomic world are not different things. The whole atomic universe is one whole and an interconnected and unbroken oneness. Same was the truth realized by the Buddhas and the Zen Masters in their inner world. Our body, mind, heart, thoughts, emotions and silence are not different things of our whole being. Our whole being is an interconnected and unbroken oneness. The union of all these into a single common thread is the realization of that soul. Look at a garland. There are so many different flowers woven into a single unity by a common invisible thread passing through the centers of all the individual and different flowers. The garland is only a metaphor for this unity, oneness and order of our being. The whole world wide web is a single system designed by interconnecting millions of individual computers by a single common thread called the internet. It is a single digital nervous system of the whole world. It is our virtual world and a virtual reality. In a similar way, a spiritual reality is possible among all the human beings of the entire world when they all become true Yogis and are all inter-connected and inter-woven by one single common thread called Yoga and Meditation. The same analogy can also be extended to the inter-solar systems, inter-galaxies and inter-universes if there is any human life found there tomorrow. The Yogis may already be there. They may be far superior and far intelligent beings than the human beings on the earth. Who knows? Anything is possible. The whole creation is a great mystery. Even the string theory today talks about a similar unity of the whole creation. According to this theory the whole creation is made up of different and inter-connected vibrating strings of the same cosmic energy vibrating at different wavelengths.
The whole thinking that we are all different beings is only a perception of our finite minds. This perception of being different beings is only a Maya and an illusion. And the unity of all these into one whole is the realization of that truth. It is the ultimate truth. The whole objective of the methodology of Yoga is realizing and understanding this truth. Let us remove this illusion and delusion with the help of Yoga. The whole science of Yoga is the journey of moving from physical to metaphysical, metaphysical to metaphorical and metaphorical to spiritual. The whole journey of Yoga is to move from the outer to the inner, from the inner to the very center and from the very center to the beyond. The very goal is the soul and the very soul is the goal. The whole system of Yoga is the beginning of that inner science by sage Patanjali. He was the beginner of this science. He was the pioneer and propounder of this system of Yoga. Sage Patanjali is credited for the whole science of Ashtang Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are very famous. He was the Albert Einstein of the inner world. Let us thank him for this great gift to the mankind. And let us also re-design and re-engineer our outer and inner beings with the help of this science. Following are the eight (8) steps to the goal of Yoga: (1) Yam; (2) Niyam; (3) Asan; (4) Pranayam; (5) Pratyahar; (6) Dharana; (7) Dhyan, and (8) Samadhi. Let us begin the journey with one step at a time. The above eight (8) steps are also called the eight limbs of Yoga. It is as if they are the eight limbs of our entire being. They are inseparable and we can not override or supersede them. There is no other way but to go step by step. Just imagine the case of your visit to a temple for the prayer. Before you reach the inner shrine of the temple there may be thousands of steps reaching to the deity. Can we override them? Can we over-step them? No, we can't. We can not jump from one to ten. In the process we may get hurt. In the process of a prayer there is nothing like doing it fast or doing it in a hurry. It takes its own time. It has its own rhythm. Same is the case with Yoga also. We need to go step by step. Sage Patanjali is very scientific and methodical. He is very precise and careful. He starts everything as if the whole thing is a fresh beginning. Let us begin the beginning. Let us know and understand the very first step.
What is Yama? It is said that the very first step is the last step. The very beginning is an end, because every beginning has its own end. The means has an end. Confucius says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Yes, he is very right. Let us understand this truth from the very beginning and from the very start. This is our first step on the path of Yoga. Yama is our first step towards that ultimate goal of Yoga. It is the beginning of that end. It is the first step of that last step. The first step will culminate in that last step. Everything begins for an end. And everything ends for a new beginning. It is the beginning-less beginning of that endless end. Yoga very systematically deals with all the layers of our being: Body, Mind, Heart and the Soul. Yoga actually deals with doing, thinking, feeling and being. The whole purpose and objective of all the systematic methods of Yoga is to understand all these layers and also to go beyond all these layers and have a direct existential experience of the beyond. Different Buddhas have given different names to this beyond. We call it Nirvana, Dharma, Dhamma, God, Tao, Consciousness, etc. We can call it by whatever name we want. All names are of this beyond which is formless, nameless, and transcendental. The 8th stage of Yoga or the stage of Samadhi is the realization of that beyond.