Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which includes the eight components of yoga, is a framework for Raja Yoga and within which most of the religious and spiritual teachings in the world today are contained. I highly recommend that you familiarise yourself with these teachings. Yoga and meditation schools deliver their specific teachings within this framework, with different emphasis on techniques that are more suitable for certain individuals. There is no specific set of techniques, rather a variety of methods and teachings within this framework.
Yama and Niyama are a set of moral codes, like the ten commandments. We covered the moral codes in an earlier section. This provides us with a set of inhibitors which we store in a section of our prefrontal cortex as a set of moral rules and values that we use to guide us in our daily living.
Hatha Yoga practitioners are at the third step (Asana), which may or may not include Pranayam training. These steps work on the vital body (nerves, hormones). Successful work in this area leads naturally to Pratyahara – sense withdrawal. The ascetics who demonstrate the ability to withstand pain (eg with skewers through their tongues and cheeks) are demonstrating Pratyhara.
- Yama – “restraint”, the do nots. Abstinence from injury, falsehood, stealing, lust, and avarice.
- Niyama – “observance”, the do’s. Cleanliness of body, contentment, austerity, study, and devotion to God and guru.
- Asana – posture. Perfection of the body ready for meditation, eg lotus position, or a straight back sitting in a chair in the Egyptian position. May include hand mudras (hand/finger positions). Hatha yoga is a system of asanas, and some people get caught up with these practices and whilst that is great, they forget to move on to more advaned yoga work.
- Pranayama – breath control. Actually, it is prana control, and usually employs breathing exercises as means of regulating pranic flow. This works on the vital body (endocrine system, nervous system, neurotransmitters – refer back to the section in the physical body). Prana control is very important and spending ones time in mental and other advanced meditation exercises is futile if prana control techniques are not being practiced.
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses from external objects, to rest in the mind. At this stage the student must be able to free themselves from external distractions, and it also means that they must be free from addictions.
- Dharana – concentration, ability to hold the mind on one thought/object for long periods of time. This is a preparatory exercise for the next step.
- Dhyana – meditation, which is defined as concentration of the mind on God. Also a pre-requisite for this step is that the student must have a concept of God (see discussion earlier on this page) – this will vary from student to student (may be seen as a male personality, female or gender neutral or an object such as the sun).
- Samadhi – mergence into Superconsciousness, where the student perceives himself and the object of meditation as one. There are further stages of Samadhi defined, the two basic ones being Sabikalpa and Nirbikalpa Samadhi. Sabikalpa Samadhi is attained first, and 8 steps are defined as:
- Om Samadhi – union with the cosmic sound of Om
- Mahaprana Samadhi – union with cosmic life force
- Astral Samadhi – perception of the cosmic light
- Ananda Samadhi – union with the cosmic joy
- Jnana Samadhi – attainment of cosmic wisdom
- Devotional Samadhi – cosmic devotional state
- Prema Samadhi – love for all creatures
- Sundara Samadhi – perception of glory/beauty in everything
Nirbikalpa Samadhi is the highest state of self-realisation, also known as Nirvana, or God realisation. Some sources refer to Sabikalpa Samadhi as self-realisation, and Nirbikalpa Samadhi as God realisation, but there is considerable confusion and these states are well above the normal states of human conscious experience. If you are experiencing these states of consciousness then you are well on track and you probably don’t need to bother with any further reading these web pages!
Comparing this framework with the conclusions we have come to so far regarding the human body and the brain, we can see that it begins with formulating some good rules to live by – the do’s and don’ts to establish a set of moral values. At the third step there was the recognition of physical fitness and exercise, which again we know is needed for the physical prefrontal cortex region of the brain to remain healthy. The next two steps are involved in gaining control over the body and removing addictions (the dopamine reward pathway), overcoming fears and phobias, etc, and quieting the DMN and the ego. All laying the foundation for proper activation of the Central Executive Network and focusing mental concentration in that area of the brain with the rest of the body at peace.