It’s not a religion, and it is used and practiced by theists, atheists, and everyone in between. There are two major components of yoga that are now being practiced in the West today: physical fitness through stretching (asana), and mental fitness through the practice of meditation (dhyana).
Many in the West do not know that for thousands of years, the true nature of yoga was to achieve states of insightfulness that helped to reveal the true nature of Reality, “before personal biases and cultural expectations have a chance to distort our perceptions.” (1)
Yoga predates Hinduism by centuries, possibly millennia, and is closely associated with Jainism and Buddhism. Its origins can be traced back three to five thousand years ago.
Below, you will find 8 paths as described in the second book (out of four) of the Yoga Sutras, written by the Indian sage Patanjali about two thousand years ago. I thought it would be useful to share, as reflecting on these teachings, for some people, can really improve mental states and life in general.
“The second book of the Yoga Sutras describes the practice of yoga. The goal of practice is to break out of the destructive habits that distract the mind and in turn create suffering. Patanjali describes a method known as ashtanga, or the eightfold path.” Dean Radin, PhD., Chief Scientist At The Institute of Noetic Sciences (1)
Here they are:
Path 1 is Yama: Restraining from harmful behaviour, or cautions on what behaviour to avoid. This includes violence, injury, telling falsehoods, stealing, lasciviousness, greed, and in general adopting ethical and virtuous behaviour.
Path 2 is Niyama: Developing beneficial behaviour, or guidelines on what behaviours to encourage. This includes cleanliness and austerity, along with cultivating an attitude of gratitude and contentment, and being engaged in a disciplined practice of focus, devotion, and self-study.
Path 3 is Asana: Developing of physical postures. These are designed to assist the mind and body in relaxing, through development of strength, steadiness, and flexibility. The purpose of the asanas is to prepare the body to comfortably withstand the rigors of long-term meditation.
Path 4 is Pranayama: Conscious breathing techniques. These further the mind’s ability to focus, and they energize the body.
Path 5 is Pratyhara: Withdrawing from ordinary sensory perceptions and limiting focus to a single object of attention. Restricting one’s attention frees the mind to concentrate on internal objects of attention, fostering even more tranquility of mind.
Path 6 is Dharana: Developing a steady, sustained concentration. The root word for dhri in dharana means “to hold”; one holds attention on a single object of thought. This type of concentration is similar to that experienced during highly focused intellectual work.
Path 7 is Dhyana: Developing prolonged levels of concentration on an object, with deeper absorption and greater sustained alertness. This is sometimes referred to as meditation.
Path 8 is Samadhi: Unity or mystical absorption with an object of attention. In this state, distinctions between subject and object dissolve and one “becomes” the object of meditation. This awareness is frequently described as ecstatic. That is, it is a super-aware state accompanied by intense, nonsensual pleasure.