In modern times, it is certainly true that the popularity of yoga has skyrocketed, with more and more people realizing the benefits that the practice can have towards mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.
However, there are still many elements to yoga that most will not be aware of – one example of which being the “8 stages of yoga”. But what exactly are the 8 stages, and to what do they refer?
What Are The 8 Stages?
Otherwise known as the “8 limbs” of yoga, the 8 stages refer directly to the style of Ashtanga yoga – a popular and traditional variety of yoga that has been around for thousands of years.
Each of the stages/limbs refers to a single element required on the road to enlightenment, and as such, it is only when someone has mastered all of the stages that they will have achieved what the practice set out to teach.
Otherwise known as “the don’ts”, the Yamas refer to moral imperatives that all practitioners of the style need to follow.
These specifically refer to external don’ts – namely the way that our actions affect other people and the world around us. These Yamas include:
- Ahimsa – non-violence, not harming other living things
- Satya – truthfulness, not lying to others or yourself
- Asteya – refraining from stealing
- Brahmacharya – chastity, moral fidelity, and sexual restraint
- Aparigraha – non-avarice, the relinquishing of greed and envy
Countering the Yamas, the Niyama refer to the things that you should do – otherwise known as the morally right actions that all humans should take. These are also thought of as the internal moralities – namely the ways that we think and behave within ourselves.
These consist of:
- Shaucha – purity, clearness of mind, speech, and body
- Santosha – contentment, accepting others, optimism, accepting oneself
- Tapas – persistence, perseverance, austerity, asceticism, discipline of the self
- Svadhyaya – study of Vedas, self study and reflection, introspection of the self, thoughts, and speech
- Ishvarapranidhana – contemplation of the Ishvara (God/supreme being), truth, and reality
Asana refers to a form of meditation, or any other posture wherein the practitioner remains motionless, silent, relaxed, steady, and comfortable.
There are many of these to be studied, and in fact there are 12 seated meditation poses, including:
- Padmasana – “lotus”
- Virasana – “hero”
- Bhadrasana – “glorious”
- Svastikasana – “lucky mark”
- Dandasana – “Staff”
- Sopas Rasayana – “supported”
- Paryankasana – “bedstead”
- Krauncha-nishad asana – “seated heron”
- Hastanishadasana – “seated elephant”
- Ushtranishadasana – “seated camel”
- Samasansthanasana – “evenly balanced”
- Sthirasukhasana – refers to any motionless, pleasurable posture
Pranayama specifically refers to the control of one’s breath – something that is important throughout all forms of yoga and meditation.
This relates to the aftermath of poses, wherein a practitioner is encouraged to condition and normalize their breath to once again find peace, calm, and comfort within themselves during this rest state.
This can be done in many ways, including breathing in deeply and holding in the breath, before exhaling, or by changing the time and length of each breath.
This specifically refers to one’s self awareness, and honing and controlling these thoughts and feelings so that they speak only the truth.
This means retracting the sensory experiences from the actual fact of the situation at hand. We are often so caught up emotionally in many situations, leading to anxiety and depression when we cannot separate the truth from our own fiction.
As such, by focusing on situations in this way, practitioners can find truth, and thus peace, within situations and life.
Dharana refers to concentration, inner focus, and “one-pointedness” of the mind – namely honing your own mind to shut out the distractions of the world around us, and focusing on what is important and prudent at that moment in time.
In many cases, this is the breathing, or a specific targeted thought within the mind. This is all about creating a source of inner focus that can obliterate all badness and distractions.
This refers to contemplation, reflection, and profound “abstract meditation”. Speaking specifically, Dhyana essentially reflects the state of reflection regarding whatever was thought about during Dharana.
One state leads to the other, and the two are linked together within the teachings of yoga. Dharana is a state of mind, whereas Dhyana is the process of the mind, and while one teaches us to be in one thought, the other analyses that thought and why it holds such power for us.
Last, but not least, we have Samadhi – the last limb of the Ashtanga, and one that essentially refers to “oneness”, “putting together”, “Union”, and creating a “Harmonious whole”.
This specifically relates to the practice of meditation, and suggests a mindset wherein only the thought or purpose of the meditation itself is thought about – something that can be achieved with only the thought itself, or with the assistance of an object which facilitates the continuation of the thought.
There are also two associated ways of thinking that are related to this stage: deliberation and reflection.
What Is The Point Of The 8 Stages?
Of course, the actual point of the 8 stages of Ashtanga yoga is entirely down to the seeker – or, the one who began to practice the style in the first place.
The aspects within ourselves that are illuminated during practice are wholly original and unique to ourselves, and they might refer to the things we think, feel, or have experienced.
However, the general point of this practice is to better guide ourselves to a state of oneness, stillness, thoughtfulness, and reflectiveness – one that isn’t clouded by the untruthfulness in our own minds, blinded by emotions, distracted by the world around us, or focused on actions and thoughts that might hinder us from our path.
Why Is It So Popular?
While everyone might have their reasons, the main, general reason why it remains so popular is that it promises a state we all seek in some shape or form.
The whole point of Ashtanga yoga is the pursuit of inner peace, stillness, contentment, and reflection – a state where we are not haunted by regret, troubled by emotions, burdened by immoral actions, or worried about our relationships with others, the world, and ourselves.
This is essentially the human experience in a nutshell, and reflects a personal journey that everyone has to take within their own mind as they age and progress through life.
Is It Actually Beneficial?
This once again depends on the individual, but generally speaking the popularity of this style should indicate that there are indeed benefits to be had.
Aside from this, the lessons themselves are focused on self improvement, so how could it be anything other than beneficial?
And there we have it, everything you need to know about yoga, and the 8 stages that make up the principles of the practice.
It is certainly true that, in recent times, the popularity of yoga has skyrocketed – with people all over the world realizing the amazing benefits that it can have towards physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
So if you want to learn more about yoga, then be sure to read up on these further!