There are three elements of sadhana: tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana.
Tapas means ‘concentrated effort’.
Svadhyaya means ‘study of oneself’ and comes from sva – ‘oneself’ and adhyaya – ‘study’. You study yourself through meditation. There is no other way. Some people describe it as reading the scriptures, but if you look at yourself through the scriptures, then you still have to meditate on the truths of what you’ve read within yourself.
Ishvara pranidhana. Ishvara – ‘God’, pranidhana – ‘surrender’. Ishvara pranidhana – ‘surrender to God’. Surrender is not towards someone else. It is the devotion which has to be cultivated within yourself. Patanjali’s practice is non-dualistic.
So these are the three ways that one proceeds in the eightfold path: yama, niyama, asan, pranayam, pratyahar, dharana, dhyar, samadhi.
Yama, and niyama are certain regulations, guidelines to follow if you are a practitioner of Yoga. Whether you are a practitioner of any spiritual path, you need to understand what the yama – the moral conduct – is. There are 5 yamas: ahimsa, satya, asteya, aparigraha, brahmacharya.
- Ahimsa – nonviolence.
- Satya – truth.
- Asteya – non-stealing, not taking what is someone else’s.
- Aparigraha – not holding any property. The more you have to hold, the more your mind is involved in thinking about it, protecting it.
- Brahmacharya – the person who is headed on the path of Brahman. Brahmacharya is commonly translated as abstinence, no sexuality, but that’s not the correct way. What it means is that anything that takes you away from your path in terms of disturbance, in terms of obsession, giving out too much energy – all that is to be avoided. You tread on that path which takes you towards the state of silence and everything else has to be put aside.
Those are the five yamas. They are the same in all religions.
- The niyamas are the things you have to do on a regular basis. They are:
saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya, Ishvara pranidhana.
- Saucha – cleanliness of body, of mind and of your environment. You achieve the cleanliness of the mind by devotion, that is by doing something which will take you away from all those things which the mind constantly bothers you with. Light some incense, do a little puja. The practice of asana is purifying the body.
- Santosha – contentment regardless of external factors e.g. regardless of whether you have something or not. People who are not content are e.g. those that want something and perhaps can’t get it or those that are obsessed with the past and cannot see what is there in front of them.
First Patanjali said what is the path of practice: tapas, svadhyaya, Ishvara pranidhana.
Again, he is saying the same thing – what you do every day:
- Tapas – concentrated effort.
- Svadhyaya – in this context it means that every day you sit for meditation. The process of meditation is to unburden myself, de-condition myself.
- Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God.
After yama and niyama, there comes asana in the eightfold path of Yoga. The ultimate asana is sthira – ‘steady’ and sukha – ‘easy’. When you are in the asana, Patanjali says, you concentrate on the greatness of what is happening to you and all the dualities within you cease. Hatha Yoga took this up and made it as their whole practice. The dualities are represented by ha – ‘sun’ energy and tha – ‘moon’ energy. So in Hatha Yoga we don’t start with yama, niyama. We start off with asan and pranayam
Pranayam is when the breath stops by itself and it happens in total silence. Therefore pranayam is the highest form of physical practice that one can perform. Through a physical practice you can come to that state of silence, where there is nothing and breath comes to a halt.
The hatha yogis developed pranayama: they described the kumbakas – the holding, all the mudras, the exhalation retention. Skipping the step of the asana and rushing to pranayama is very dangerous. Until the body and mind are stabilised by the asana – until there is a certain comfort and openness in the body as well as silence and focus in the mind – the practitioner is not ready for pranayama.
Patanjali is the father of all Yogas: Hatha Yoga, Bhakti (the Yoga of surrender or devotion), the Yoga of meditation, Raja Yoga, the Yoga of right action. No matter what you do, it is possible to make it a path which transforms you, which changes you, and which takes you to that subtlest state of silence within you. Patanjali has mentioned all these forms in 196 sentences.
What happens to you next, after the pranayama? You go into pratyahar – a state where all the senses cease to trouble you. The fluctuations arise from the senses. You have seen something good or bad and then you develop raga or dvesha – like or dislike towards it. You have smelled something, you have heard something, and that is what keeps pulling you here and there in your memories; pulling you away from the silence. After doing pranayama, all that settles – the senses do not trouble you anymore, the mind stops to trouble you.
Up to pratyahar we have the bhariranga sadhana – practice which is external. We use our mind to understand the yamas and niyamas and we use the body to do the asan and pranayama – all this is the external practice. Pratyahar is that borderline from where the internal practice – dharana, dhyan, samadhi – starts. Getting more and more into a state of absorption, meditation.
Dharana – all your energy starts to move toward one direction – inwards. There it becomes mature in the quietness.
Dhyana – arriving at the state of meditation; it’s not a directional approach anymore.
Samadhi – staying in the meditative state; stabilization of dhyana state.
This in essence is our yogic practice. Sadhana pada is the description of what the practice is.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course at the
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol, North Goa, 2002