The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body and mind. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. It is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.

This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-limbed path for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoying lasting peace.

The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual, a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.

In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:

The first two limbs that Patanjali describes are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. These can also be looked at as universal morality and personal observances. Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given on how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves.

The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.

Yamas (Universal Morality)

The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics.”, they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.”

Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things

The word ahimsa literally mean not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.

Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness

Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations and mistruths harm others.

Asteya – Non-stealing

Steya means “to steal”. Asteya is a Sanskrit word that means “non-stealing”. On a surface level, practicing Asteya can mean literally not stealing money out of someone’s pocket. It can also mean not hoarding materials you don’t need, mindlessly consuming natural resources, coveting other people’s possessions, or appropriating other people’s ideas. But one of the most interesting interpretations of Asteya is the notion of not stealing the most precious and non-renewable resource of all–TIME.

  • Write short, concise, elegant emails.
  • Show up on time. Model punctuality and inspire others to do the same.
  • Don’t commit to projects that you have no desire to complete.
  • Make it easy for people to help you. If you’re reaching out to someone to request a favor, tell them exactly what you need, and when, and why.
  • Make it easy for people to understand you. Nothing steals away time like struggling to understand what someone is trying to say.

Brahmacharya – Sense control

Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.

Aparigraha – Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth

Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. Patanjali feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in Nature and in himself to provide for his future. Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.

When these five yamas become part of a person’s daily life, the Yoga Sutra describes that human nature is purified and it contributes to health and happiness of society.

Niyama (Observances or Disciplines or Devotion)

‘Niyama’, a Sanskrit, word mean rules or laws. These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the five yamas, the niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.

Saucha

The first niyama is saucha, cleanliness. Saucha has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner saucha.

Santosha

Another niyama is Santosha, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle. Literally the word means happiness. There are occasions we work hard to get something. We get very disappointed when we don’t get it. Some people will get into extreme depression as a result. We do these things because we do not have the discipline of being content with what we have. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma. The real meaning of santosha is ‘to accept what happens’. Accept what has been given by nature with humility and happiness. Be happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.

Instead of complaining about things that go wrong, we can accept what has happened and learn from them. Santosha encompasses our mental activities such as study, our physical efforts, and even how we earn our living. It is about ourselves-what we have and how we feel about what Nature has given us. It is about our whole outlook on life. Do we look at a cup as half empty or as half full?

Tapas

Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by doing so, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea that we can get rid of the rubbish in our body. Asanas and pranayama are tools we can use to keep ourselves healthy.

Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Eating when we are not hungry is the opposite of tapas. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns-these are all tapas that help to prevent the buildup of rubbish in the body, including excess weight and shortness of breath. Tapas makes the whole body fit and well-functioning. It gives us the discipline of developing healthy eating habits and prevent us from getting high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart diseases.

Svadhyaya

The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ or “belonging to me.” Adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. The word svadhyaya literally means, “To get close to something”. It means to get close to yourself, that is, to study yourself. It could also mean meditation or contemplation. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and destructive tendencies.

All learning, all reflection, all contact that helps you to learn more about yourself is svadhyaya. In the context of the niyama the term is often translated as “the study of ancient texts.” Yes, yoga does instruct us to read the ancient texts because we cannot always just sit down and contemplate things. The world is changing fast around us. We need reference points like the Gita, the Bible or a book on spiritual healing or one that is of personal significance or the Yoga Sutra. According to the Yoga Sutra, as we progress in our self-examination, we will gradually find a link with the divine laws and with the prophets who revealed them. And since mantras are often recited for this purpose, we sometimes find svadhyaya translated as “the repetition of mantras.”

Isvarapranidhana

Isvarapranidhana means “Surrender” or “to lay all your actions at the feet of Higher Power.” It is the contemplation on Higher Power in order to become attuned to Nature and Nature’s will. We should accept the fact that we will not always get everything we want. Sometimes we get disappointed. Things do go wrong. This is the reason why santosha (modesty) is so important. We have done our share. We have done the best we could under the circumstances. We can leave the rest to a higher power. In the context of the niyamas we can define Isvarapranidhana as the attitude of a person who usually offers the fruits of his or her action to Higher Power in daily prayer.

Yogasanas

Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The practice of moving the body into postures has widespread benefits some of which includes improved health, strength, balance and flexibility. On a deeper level the practice of asana, which means “staying” or “abiding” in Sanskrit, is used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner quietness of being.

The Yogasanas offer the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of emotions, concentration, purpose, faith and unity between the physical and the ethereal body. Using asanas to challenge and open the physical body acts as a binding agent to bring one in harmony with all the unknown elements of their being. Asana then becomes a way of exploring our mental attitudes and strengthening our will as we learn to release and move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience.

As one practices asana it fosters a quieting of the mind, thus it becomes both a preparation for meditation. While doing Yogasanas, the flow and inner strength that one develops brings about a profound grounding spirituality in the body. The physicality of the yoga postures becomes a vehicle to expand the consciousness that infuses our every aspect of our body.

The key to fostering this expansion of awareness and consciousness begins with the control of breath, the fourth limb – Pranayama. Patanjali suggests that the asana and the pranayama practices will bring about the desired state of health; the control of breath and bodily posture will harmonize the flow of energy in the body, thus creating a fertile field for the evolution of the spirit. “This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct ways to meet yourself.

This limb of yoga practice connects us to our body.  This makes a person take responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body. To this B.K.S. Iyengar adds: “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find Higher Self for he know that it is within.”

Pranayama

In Sanskrit ‘Pran’ means ‘Breath’ and ‘Ayama’ means ‘control’ so it is called as Pranayama. Pranayama is the complete breathing exercise which is part of the yoga. Our breath plays an important role in pranayama. Pranayama energizes the body and balances the mind if you practice regularly.

Pranayama is the fourth of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) as defined by Sage Patanjali. It provides a vital bridge between the body and the mind. By controlling the breath, one can control the mind.
When a person is angry or agitated, his breath is fast, disturbed and shallow. When a person is calm, his breath is soft and undisturbed. We often hear the phrase, “take a deep breath!” whenever we are upset over something. What yoga teaches us is that not only our emotions control the quality of our breath, but we can control the mind and our emotions by controlling the breath.

Benefits of Pranayama

  • Diaphragmatic breathing can help with hypertension, anxiety and stress
  • Improves circulation of bodily fluids within the kidneys, stomach, liver, spleen, intestines, skin etc
  • Improves the functioning of the lungs
  • Stimulate peristaltic and segmenting movements of intestines
  • Re-engineer (rewire) brain’s neural network to control emotions better
  • Helps maintain flow of pure blood
  • Sweat glands stimulated
  • Purifies the nadis (channels of subtle energy), protects organs and cells, energizes the system
  • Improves digestion, vigor, vitality, perception and memory
  • Helps achieve a state of ‘pratyahara’ (sense withdrawal), which helps in dharana (concentration) and meditation.

Pranayama when practiced with proper guidance can help prevent blood pressure, stress, anxiety, stomach disorders, depression, diabetes, heart problems and so many health issues.

Detailed below are the four pranayama techniques which are the most important for physical and mental health. These are excellent breathing exercises for our healthy life and releasing stress and depression. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete the whole process of these four pranayama.

Morning is the best time to practice pranayama and after you take a bath. Wear loose clothes and sit straight. Let’s see most recommended four pranayama as follows.

Bhastrika Pranayama and Benefits

Bhastrika pranayama consist of deep inhaling (Breathe in) and forcefully exhaling (breathe out).

Sanskrit word Bhastrika means bellows. This breathing exercise resembles the blowing of bellows. Bhastrika is the excellent breathing exercise which we can practice slowly or fast as per our convenience. A person who is suffering from Heart problems and Hypertension problems should practice slowly otherwise slowly increase the speed of breathing.

Bhastrika Pranayama should practice normally 3-5 minutes twice a day in the fresh air. In this pranayama body gets the maximum amount of oxygen due to complete inhaling and exhaling breathing.

Steps for Bhastrika Pranayama

  1. Sit comfortably on flat ground. Those who can’t sit on ground can sit on chair because this pranayama is related to the breath.
  2. Take a deep breath through both nostrils and fill the lungs with air and then exhale with hissing sound.
  3. Inhale deeply and exhale completely.
  4. Do this for 2 to 5 minutes max and see the result in a few days.

Benefits of Bhastrika Pranayama

  1. It improves blood circulation.
  2. Keep away the heart related problems.
  3. Provide relaxation to body and mind.
  4. Improves your concentration.
  5. Helps to stronger the lungs.
  6. Relive stress depression and hypertension.
  7. Cures obesity and arthritis.
  8. Calms the mind.
  9. Cures throat infection.
  10. Increases appetite.
  11. Cure asthma, headache, migraine, neurological problems, depression, gastric problems.

Caution:

This pranayama can be practiced in a slow or a medium or at a fast pace. Those suffering from lungs and heart problems and high blood pressure can perform slowly. Practice under expert guidance.

Kapalbhati Pranayama and Benefits

The word kapalbhati is made up of two words: kapal meaning ‘skull’ (here skull includes all the organs in and under the skull too) and bhati meaning ‘shining, illuminating.’  Exhale (Breathe out) with all your force so your stomach will go deep inside and let the inhalation happen automatically.

Kapalbhati pranayama is very effective in curing stomach disorder, obesity, digestive disorder and many problems related to stomach. Those trying to lose weight can practice Kapalbhati regularly and see 100% results. Let’s see its benefits and how to do kapalbhati Pranayama.

Steps for Kapalbhati Pranayama

  1. Sit on the flat floor and fold your legs. Keep the spine straight and close the eyes.
  2. Keep the right palm on right knee and left palm on left knee.
  3. Now take a deep breath and exhale with all your force so your stomach will go deep inside.
  4. When you exhale with hissing sound try to think that your disorders are coming out of your nose.
  5. Do not stress on inhaling. Inhalation should not involve any effort. Inhaling will be done automatically after each exhaling.
  6. Repeat these steps for 5 minute and take rest. You can increase the time for 15 – 30 minutes.
  7. Should not practice very fast. Speed of practice should be medium.

Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayama:

  1. It improves the function of the lungs and other respiratory system.
  2. Improves the function of reproductive system. Cures erectile dysfunction naturally.
  3. Improves the function of pancreas. Helps to produce insulin hormone naturally.
  4. It removes toxins from the body and helps to clean the internal system.
  5. Calms the mind and bring stability in mind.
  6. Very effective in weight loss.
  7. Cures breast cancer.
  8. Helpful in reducing weight (Belly fat).
  9. Keeps depression away and brings positive thoughts.
  10. Helpful in curing respiratory diseases as asthma, allergies, and sinus.
  11. Cure for constipation, acidity, diabetes, Asthma and all kinds of Respiratory troubles, sinus and even hair loss.
  12. Cures kidney problems and lower down the high creatinine level.
  13. Improve the function of kidneys.

Caution

  1. People with Hypertension and Heart problems should do this slowly while exhaling. Kapalbhati pranayama can be practiced morning or evening (or twice a day), but keep in mind that you should do this on empty stomach.
  2. Pregnant women should not do this.
  3. Practice pranayama in the supervision of an expert yoga teacher after informing about your whole health.
  4. Women can practice if they feel comfortable during periods (make sure to practice slowly or avoid).

Anulom Vilom Pranayama and Benefits

Anulom Vilom pranayama is one of the excellent breathing exercises which is also known as Nadi Shodhana. It is very effective to purify mind and body. Regular practice offers energy in the body and releases stress and anxiety. It should be practiced in the morning in the fresh air with empty stomach.

Steps for Anulom Vilom Pranayama

  1. It is very simple asana everyone can do this of any age.
  2. Sit comfortably on flat ground. Those who can’t sit, can sit on chair because this is related to the breath.
  3. Now close right nostril with right thumb and breathe from left nostril. Then close left nostril with ring finger and breathe out from right nostril (If you want to hold the breath in for a few seconds, it is optional).
  4. Now breathe in deeply with right nostril and then close right nostril and breathe out deeply with left nostril.
  5. Do this repetition for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Keep in mind that your breathing should be up to the lungs and not in the stomach.

Benefits of Pranayama Anulom Vilom

  1. It improves blood circulation.
  2. It calms your mind.
  3. Keep away the heart related problems
  4. Provide relaxation to body and mind.
  5. Regular practice of anulom vilom breathing exercise cleanses, strengthens and tones your nervous system.
  6. It improves your concentration.
  7. Excellent for glowing skin.
  8. Helps to improve function of your lungs.
  9. Helps to prevent diabetes and keeps diabetes under control.
  10. Remove blockage of arteries.
  11. Relive stress depression and hypertension.
  12. Cure Asthma, headache, migraine, Neurological problems, Heart blockage, depression, gastric problems.

Caution

  1. Practice under expert guidance. Pregnant women can practice Anulom Vilom but over-straining should be avoided.
  2. Anulom vilom pranayama should be practiced on an empty stomach.
  3. It should be done in the morning or evening or both. If you don’t have time in the morning or evening, you can do it at your convenience.
  4. Make sure that you practice anulom vilom pranayama 3-4 hours after having your food.

Bhramari Pranayama and Benefits

Bhramari pranayama is the excellent breathing exercise which plays an important role in releasing agitation, frustration and anger. It is the best breathing exercise in calming your mind. ‘Bhramari ‘is the type of ‘Indian bee’ and ‘pranayama ‘means breathing. So it is called as Bhramari Pranayama. In this type of pranayama when we exhale making a humming sound. It resembles the typical humming sound of bees. So you can understand why this breathing exercise is called as Bhramari Pranayama. Let’s see steps and benefits of pranayama as follows.

Steps for Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breath)

  1. Sit straight in the Padmasana or Sukhasana.
  2. Close your ears with both thumbs.
  3. Place your index finger on the forehead.
  4. Close your eyes with the remaining three fingers.
  5. Start inhaling through both the nostril deeply and slowly.
  6. By keeping mouth slightly open, exhale by making a humming sound bee like “hmmmm” (from the base of the throat).
  7. While making humming sound say ‘Om’ in soft humming sound.
  8. Feel your body releases impurity from your body and experiencing positive energy.

Duration: Practice daily for 5 to 9 minutes.
Benefits of Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breath)

  1. It relieve tension, anger and anxiety.
  2. Effective against hypertension.
  3. Cures sinus problem.
  4. Bhramari Pranayama control the high blood pressure and cure it.
  5. Helps to stay calm and bring stability in mind.
  6. Cures the problems related to nervous system.
  7. During pregnancy it is very helpful for pregnant women for easy and trouble free childbirth.

Caution

  1. It should be practice under expert guidance.
  2. People having heart disease should not hold their breath for long time.
  3. Pranayama should be done on empty stomach.
  4. If you feel dizzy while practicing, stop the exercise and start normal breathing.
  5. Consult a doctor if you are suffering from any ear problem or and medical ailments before doing Bhramari Pranayama.
  6. Should maintain gap of 3-4 hours between your meals.
  7. Better to practice in the morning in fresh air.

Pratyahara –Control Of Senses

Pratya means to ‘withdraw’, and the second part ahara refers to anything we ‘take in’ by ourselves, such as the various sights, sounds and smells our senses take in continuously. When sitting for a formal meditation practice, this is likely to be the first thing we do when we think we’re meditating; we focus on ‘drawing in’. The practice of drawing inward may include focusing on the way we’re breathing, so this limb relates directly to the practice of Pranayama too.

These distractions are not just limited to the outside world – sometimes the noise of our internal chatter can be just as deafening!

According to Patanjali, at a certain point these distractions (vrittis) start to become a hindrance to our practice and to attain a level of introspection necessary for deep meditation we need to learn to ignore all of the external stimuli and internal chatter.

This of course, can be quite challenging. We are so used to reacting to the continuous overwhelming stimuli and to pushing our energy (prana) outwards, that it can be difficult when we sit in meditation to go IN.

Dharana – Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness

Dharana means “stable concentration of the mind”. The essential idea is to hold the attention in one direction.  “When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sixth stage-dharana is reached. Here the mind is concentrated wholly on a single point or on a task in which it is completely engrossed. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption.

In dharana we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of going out in many different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection can create the right conditions, and the focus on this one point that we have chosen becomes more intense. We encourage one particular activity of the mind and, the more intense it becomes, the more the other activities of the mind fall away.

B.K.S. Iyengar states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect, and ego are “all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the higher power for its use. Here there is no feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

Dhyana: devotion, Meditation on the Divine

Dhyana, or meditation, is described as the “continuous flow of cognition” toward an object – the object being the one we’ve been concentrating on from the last limb, dharana. But as teachers will tell you, there are lots of ways to practice meditation, and as many different objects to focus your attention on – inward or outward mantras, the breath, a physical item, or nothing at all besides the space between your ears. Meditation is a spectrum in itself, and can fit all sorts of different definitions.

During dhyana, the consciousness is further unified by combining clear insights into distinctions between objects and between the subtle layers of perception. “We learn to differentiate between the mind of the perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects perceived, between words, their meanings, and ideas, and between all the levels of evolution of nature.”

As we fine-tune our concentration and become more aware of the nature of reality we perceive that the world is unreal. “The only reality is the universal self, which is veiled by Maya (the illusory power). As the veils are lifted, the mind becomes clearer. Unhappiness and fear – even the fear of death – vanishes. This state of freedom, or Moksha, is the goal of Yoga. It can be reached by constant enquiry into the nature of things.” Meditation becomes our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind.

Samadhi :  Union with the Divine

The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together.” In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake. One goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, a person realizes what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unawareness from which it first emerged.

Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the “I” and “mine” of our illusory perceptions of reality. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and bliss.

The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task. For this reason the Yoga Sutra suggests the practice of asanas and pranayama as preparation for dharana, because these influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana and samadhi can follow.