The main path of Patanjali yoga is contained within eight fundamental stages:
- Social code (yama)
- Personal code (niyama)
- Sitting pose (asana)
- Control of prana (pranayama)
- Sense withdrawal (pratyahara)
- Concentration of the mind (dharana)
- Meditation (dhyana)
- Superconsciousness (samadhi)
The are two main groups inside the stages, first five stages and last three stages.
First five stages
The first five stages are external. They progressively prepare the body-mind for last three stages. First five stages negate consciousness. These stages also gradually remove external distractions.
Last three stages
Last three stages are the internal practices of yoga. These last three stages expand consciousness. They also eradicate the disturbing thoughts and psychic manifestations so that the mind ceases to function.
When all stages are accomplished inner world is balanced with outer world so that the transcendental world begins to function in superconsciousness.
It has to be said the eight steps are really advanced techniques for those people who have exhausted most of their mental problems and conflicts. They are not really for the average person. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika it says:
Hatha yoga in the form of asanas, pranayama and other practices should be mastered until one is ready for raja yoga.
First of all, one should take steps to purify the mind through hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga and general meditative techniques that involve awareness more than concentration. You can find further information about raja yoga preliminary practices here.
With this in our minds, let’s now have a more detailed description of the eight stages.
Personal and social code
Five parts of social code:
- feeling of non-violence to all beings, human, animal,…
- sexual control or abstinence
Five parts of personal code:
- surrender to the cosmic will
Social code is designed to harmonize one’s social interactions and the personal code is intended to harmonize one’s inner feelings. All the rules, social and personal, reduce friction between one’s outer actions and inner attitudes. Even limited application of social and personal code results in greater peace of mind. Perfect application can only arise with self-realization.
Sitting pose is a steady and comfortable sitting position. The purpose of sitting pose is to balance the different nerve impulses, feelings of pain and pleasure, heat and cold and all other opposite sensations.
Control of prana
It deals with concentrating all the pranic forces of human structure. This leads to control and one-pointedness.
Sense withdrawal means ‘to gather inwards’. The practice checks and curbs the outgoing tendencies of the mind so that awareness can be directed inwards. In a higher sense, this practice also includes the cutting of inner psychic and mental sensations.
Concentration of the mind
It is a step before meditation and is concerned with fixing awareness on one object to the exclusion of all others. Many methods can be used to induce mental one-pointedness. Religions in general try to induce it through rituals, church service, worship, chanting, kirtan, prayer and so forth. Patanjali yoga utilizes a psychic symbol as a focal point for internal concentration. It can be one’s guru, a deity, a mantra, an enquiry,…. It must be something that spontaneously attracts the attention of the individual and must be chosen to suit the inherent nature of the mind and personality. The psychic symbol, projected in front of the closed eyes, must be so overwhelming that one’s whole being is consumed and absorbed by it. There must be spontaneous attraction, otherwise one’s psyche will remain scattered.
Meditation is merely an extension of concentration. It arises when one is able to maintain a smooth, unfluctuating flow of concentration towards the inner symbol for a period of time. Eventually this leads to an elimination of duality; the seer, seen and seeing merge into unity and one’s being fuses into the state of superconsciousness.
Sage Patanjali lists different levels of superconsciousness, but a good definition in the Katha Upanishad (111:10) is as follows:
When the five senses of perception together with the mind are at rest, when even the intellect has ceased to function, that, say the
sages, is the supreme state.
This is the state where there is complete absence of both external and internal modification; all that remains is awareness. Superconsciousness brings self-realization.