What is Yoga? Part 2

To read about the first 4 limbs of Yoga check out the first part of this article “What is Yoga: Part 1”. 

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara means taking control of the senses. Instead of cravings, external rewards and possessions, we look inwards and find everything we need inside. The mind can be our path to freedom or our imprisonment depending on what control we have over our senses.

The mind becomes pure when all cravings and desires are eliminated. This is the same teachings as Vipassana meditation. When we stop moving between cravings and aversions and accept things as they are we can finally feel peace.

An example would be with finances. You always hear cravings like this, “If I won the lottery all my problems would be solved” or “Once I have enough saved, then I can enjoy my life”. Likewise we are constantly trying to avert realities, “I hope I don’t make a mistake in the talk tomorrow”. Thoughts like this are robbing you of happiness. Spending all your days wishing “if only things were a bit different , then everything would be perfect.”

I love this quote from Iyengar “At first he prefers that which is bitter as poison, but he perseveres in his practice knowing well that in the end it will become as sweet as nectar. Others hankering for the union of their senses with the objects of their desires, prefer that which at first seems sweet as nectar, but do not know that in the end it will be as bitter as poison.”

Pratayara teaches us that the path to sensual desires is flawed and must be controlled. New possessions, over indulging in food, intoxicants or sex will never result in long term happiness as they only lead to short term happiness.

What is Dharana?

Dharana means “concentration of the mind”. This state can only be reached once the body is strong and flexible from asana practice. The breath is under control from pranayama practice and the senses are under control from the practice of pratyahara.

In order to understand the mind it is important to get to know it and understand oneself. The mind is separated into five stages.

1. Ksipta state – this is where mental thoughts are scattered and unfocused.

2. Viksipta state – the mind is agitated. Here the mind can enjoy some efforts but there is no control over emotions.

3. Mudha state – foolish stage. This is the mind that doesn’t know what it wants. Tamo guna predominates.

4. Ekagra state –  In this state the mind is focused and one can put there attention on one task at a time. Stave gun prevalinging? Some times people in this state can be overly focused on one point and neglect other parts or people in their life. This is the negative downside to this type of focus. It is advised that one should concentrate on the the single element that pervades all to not get confused on the path to ekagra. The single element is known as “AUM”.

AUM means “source” or “universal consciousness”. It is said to contain all the sounds of the world. “A” represents the creations of the universe. Just think of the first sound babies make, “A”. The “U” represents the energy of the universe and the “M” sounds represents transformation. These three states are said to represent birth, life and death and the three states of consciousness, waking dreaming and sleep.

The easiest way to explain dharana would be when a musician or athlete is in a state of flow. I have experienced this in sport. There is a tunnel vision and a single focus on what you are doing. Everything else fall away and the whole process becomes almost effortless. Czechimenki calls it the “flow state”. This focus is needed to be able to move into deeper states of concentrated attention during the next stage Dhyana.

What is Dhyana?

The 7th limb of yoga refers to meditation. To ‘meditate’ on something in English means to reflect or think about it. People seem to have a misconception about meditation. There is an idea that you reach a thoughtless state. One of complete silence.

Of course, anyone who has meditated for a consistent period of time know that this just isn’t true. Understand you will have lots of thoughts but it is about not reacting to these thoughts.

You are passively allowing this thoughts to arise and fall and focusing on gently bringing your attention back to your breath, your mantra, your sensations or whatever type of technique you’re using.

The sign of progress along the path of Yoga are health, energy, increases in happiness. You often here of people listing these benefits after consistent practice of all the previous limbs.

What is Samadhi?

This final stage of yoga also know as the stage on enlightenment. Again a lot of confusion about this final stage. When is one enlightened? Is it when we can levitate, walk on water and make enough food for an army from one loaf?

What is enlightenment to you? Being completely content with yourself. No more cravings, no more aversions. Being at peace with oneself. It took me a long time to figure this out. And what I have just recently realised is that this is not a static state.

This can be experienced for brief periods but it is not like you reach the top of a mountain and you can rest at the peak. Imagine there’s a treadmill on the mountain. You must practice daily. Living your life, practicing Asana, Pranayama and Pratayara. This lifestyle is like bathing. Once you shower you are clean but after a day or too you are dirty again. There’s no finish line. Whether it’s diet, exercise or your spiritual practice, they must all be consistently practiced.

The sense of “I” or “mine” completely dissolves and the yogi becomes completely present experiencing only things as they are, no dwelling on the past or looking to the future. Again I think these experiences are not necessarily long term. One can go through short experiences of Samadhi. I guess the more experienced we become in our practice the longer we can stay in this state.

So there you have it. My longest blog series to date about what Yoga actually is. The motivation behind this post was to educate more people that Yoga is so much more than a “workout” and after reading you can see that the physical practice is just 1/8 of the entire Yogic lifestyle.

A lot of us in the “west” want to just burn more calories but the more you invest in yoga as whole the more you gain from it.


About The Author


I am a wellness coach from Ireland currently based in Melbourne Australia. I love teaching and learning about physical autonomy and sustainable lifestyle habits.

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