An intro to Patanjali’s 8-Fold Path of Yoga

I’m providing this brief outline of Patanjali’s 8-Fold Path for students’ reference.

The highest purpose in classical yoga is self-realization, union with the soul or the true self. In the 8-Fold Path, Patanjali lays out a step by step process to attain this goal through a progressive practice which culminates in the highest states of concentration and meditation. As most of us cannot just jump into deep meditation to become united with our true selves, we start with the basics.

As per Patanjali’s 8-Fold Path, the first two steps are the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances). These steps provide an ethical code to help us establish harmony with ourselves and others, creating a foundation for our yoga practice. Then we begin to discipline our body through physical postures (asana) and expand our vital energy using the mechanism of the breath (pranayama). These in turn prepare us to turn our attention inward by withdrawing our senses (pratyahara). Pratyahara is the bridge between yoga practiced in the external world (all the steps up to this point) and the yoga practiced internally through deeper and deeper stages of meditation in the last three steps of the 8-Fold Path. These last three steps are concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and trance consciousness (samadhi). Samadhi is a technique of deep meditation that enables us to gain knowledge of ourselves and ultimately experience self-realization.

Summary of Patanjali’s 8-Fold Path:

Yamas – Restraints, there are five of them:

Ahimsa – Non-violence

Satya – Truth

Asteya – Non-stealing

Brahmacharya – Moderation, purity in sex-life (celibacy in the case of monks/nuns)

Aparigraha – Non-accumulation, not using more resources than we need

Niyamas – Observances, also five in number:

Sauch – Cleanliness, purity in body and mind

Santosh – Contentment through acceptance

Tapah – Burning effort, fortitude

Swadhyaya – Self-study

Iswarpranidhana – Surrender to higher reality

Asana – Posture

Pranayama – Expansion of the vital energy using the mechanism of the breath

Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses

Dharana – Concentration

Dhyana – Meditation

Samadhi – Total absorption, trance consciousness

Sources:

Iyengar, B.K.S., Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Harper Collins, 1993

Yogendra, Shri, Guide to Yoga Meditation, The Yoga Institute, Santacruz Bombay, 1986