Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, or eightfold path, is the cornerstone of the science of yoga, and gives us a roadmap for the journey back home to God. I’ve found it clarifying to view the eight stages in reverse order—samadhi, dhyana, dharana, pratyahara, pranayama, asana, niyama, and yama—so as to see how each one rests logically upon the stage preceding it.

Samadhi is the ultimate state of expanded awareness, in which the ego is dissolved, and we realize that we are not the body but a soul, one with all Creation and with God beyond Creation.

Our minds must first, however, be prepared for the enormous power of this state. When Yogananda, then new on the path, asked a saint to give him samadhi, the saint replied, “Your body is not tuned just yet. As a small lamp cannot withstand excessive electrical voltage, so your nerves are unready for the cosmic current. If I gave you the infinite ecstasy right now, you would burn as if every cell were on fire.” The indispensable preparation is dhyana, complete absorption in God or one of His aspects.

But before the mind can become absorbed, it must first be able to hold its concentration without wavering. If we are flitting from one thought to the next, how can we become absorbed? Deep, continual concentration is called dharana.

The problem is that sensory input disturbs our concentration, so somehow we have to disconnect from the senses. We approach this state of pratyahara each night, when we partially shut down the senses in sleep. Now we must learn to do so fully, while awake in deep meditation. How do we do it?

To turn off the ringer on your telephone, you turn off its power. The power source in our body is prana, which keeps breath, senses, and mind active. So the great yogis have given us pranayama techniques to help us control and interiorize the prana. In fact, most meditation techniques are designed for this purpose.

Pranayama practices aren’t effective, however, if our bodies are nervous and fidgeting. We first must learn to sit motionless and relax while still remaining highly alert. This state is called asana.

The relaxation and stillness of asana are difficult to achieve until we develop non-attachment and self-control. Otherwise, desires and attachments keep the mind—and the body which is tied to it—forever restless. Spiritually, self-control is the ability to do what is beneficial (niyama), and to avoid all behaviors that increase our sense of separation (yama).

These, then, are the necessary stepping-stones of our journey. Fortunately, we have not only a roadmap, but also guru-guides ever willing to walk with us and show us the way home.

With joy in the journey,
Nayaswami Jyotish

17 Comments

    1. Wonderfully explained. each and every step in reverse order.Thank you so much for help so needed.

  1. Dear Nayaswami Jyotish,
    Thank you , Very well explained. :) Aum !!!

  2. Dear Jyotish,
    Thank you for listing Patanjali’s eight-fold path so concisely & clearly. Must say I’ve always taught this starting with niyamas & yamas ~ starting with samadhi & showing how each step builds upon the previous one seems so much better. Thank you ~ Joy.

  3. What a beautiful explanation! This article brings such crystal clarity to the path of yoga and what exactly is needed on each step! Thank you:-)

  4. Your explanation helped me to understand in a new way and to realize how important each step is. Thank you!

  5. Dear Nayaswami Jyotish,
    Thank you for this simple, yet profound, approach to understanding the Sutras. The insights offered by you and Devi in A Touch of Light often assist me in teaching my yoga classes and in our meditation group. I am very appreciative of your guidance.
    Namasté
    Jackie

  6. Thank you, Jyotish. I’m amazed at how switching the direction of the 8-fold path makes such a difference in my thinking. Very well stated.

  7. Sri Jyotish, I as well find this explanation so very clear!
    Maybe as Yogi’s this would make more sense to us!
    Thank you for allowing Masters to come through you in
    this way!
    Love,
    Brindey

  8. What a beautiful and challenging way to understand this path home to Divine Mother.
    Thank you Joytish and Devi. Your spiritual guidance is ever welcome.
    Michele

  9. Holy Cow Jyotish, You’ve done it again!
    What an expressly powerful and simple way to view the 8 limbs…
    I had, as I can imagine others too, viewed them in the “uphill” manner; when
    of course going “downhill” is so much easier, and so much more fun! WEEEEEEEEE
    Just like a little kid, I read your blog, and found myself rolling “downhill” gleeful and laughing
    at how silly we are (humans that is), making things so much harder than they need to be.
    GOD BLESS YOU! You nailed it!
    ~~~Peace, Josette

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