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Ashtanga Yoga
The Eight-Limbed Yoga
Page 2

1. The Five Yamas (continued)

Brahmacharya has two main meanings. In the broad sense it means control of the senses or indriyas. More specifically it refers to celibacy or chastity. Like all traditional spiritual traditions, yoga advocates restraining from indulging in sensual gratification.
One of the many reasons is that to practice the higher limbs of ashtanga yoga - dharana, dhyana, samadhi - requires a tremendous amount of energy or prana. This energy is built up through the practices of yoga such as asanas, pranayama and japa but is dissipated during sensual enjoyment. Of all the sensual activities, sex is the one that will be the most depleting to the psychic and nervous system.
Most people don't like to hear this but, like for the other yamas, everyone should practice brahmacharya to the best of their ability. It is a fact that the more people gratify their senses, the less energy they have and ability to meditate on the absolute.

Asteya is non-stealing. This one is pretty self explanatory. However it is good to bear in mind that there are many subtle ways to appropriate what does not belong to us. As for the other yamas, much self analysis will be necessary to catch the subtle lower tendencies of our mind.

Aparigraha is non-covetousness. This involves being happy and content with what we need and not always coveting unnecessary and luxury items. To possess more than we need is a violation of this precept. Note that aparigraha includes the notion of not accepting gifts that would bind us to the giver.

2. The Five Niyamas

Saucha is purity. The deepest and most subtle aspect of Saucha is purity of thoughts and feelings. But it also means cleanliness of the body which for the hatha yogis includes the internal cleansing practices known as kriyas.
A yogi must also keep his surroundings (home, car workplace etc.) very tidy and clean. Purity is the essence of the sattvo guna, of paramount importance to meditate successfully.

Santosha is contentment. This is the ability to recognize that although it is important to try to better our environment and life situation through proper effort, the world around you is never going to be perfect and absolutely to our liking. Therefore the raja yogi should be happy with what he has and endeavor to do the best with what he has got.

Tapas is austerity. The luxury and comfort of our modern society, with all their advantages, make our mind soft and weak. To strengthen ourselves physically and mentally we must practice austerities. The highest tapas is meditation on God or the divine Self. Daily practice of yogic disciplines is considered tapas. A very good practice is fasting.

Swadhyaya literally means study of the Self. The main practice is the study of the yogic scriptures but it also includes japa (mantra repetition).
Not any yoga or spiritual book qualifies as proper material for swadhyaya. For a vedantin the best scriptures are the upanishads, the bhagavad gita and the brahma sutras. Many other scriptures such as the puranas, the ramayana, the mahabharata and many more.
Next come the books written by great mystics or masters such as Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnu-devananda or other saints from all traditions.
Also suitable are books written about these masters - biographies.

Ishwarapranidhana is surrender to God's will and devotion. All ethical and moral precepts of yoga culminate here.

3. Asana

Keeping in mind that the objective of raja yoga is to calm the mind down, this is only possible if one has control of the physical body. Body and mind are intimately connected and if the body is agitated the mind will be actuated as a result. In order to meditate successfully one must develop a very steady posture. Furthermore the posture must be kept still for a long time and therefore it needs to be extremely comfortable.
When the meditator is not able to control his mind, he is advised to practice the asanas of hatha yoga in order to gain the needed mastery.

4. Pranayama

The raja yoga theory tells us that prana is animating the mind. Very much like the wind creates the motion of the leaves, prana creates the motion of the mind which gives rise to the vrittis.
Air is the primary physical medium of prana and breathing is our best method to gain control over the prana. To meditate the practitioner should calm his breath down until it is very shallow and even.
If this is not possible he should practice the different pranayamas of hatha yoga.

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