Yogasana, pranayama and meditation are yoga techniques that can help one achieve the highest level of consciousness. This science is today reoriented to suit modern sociological and lifestyle needs which helps in the prevention and mitigation of diseases and promotion of health.This article by Dr. Pretty P helps one to understand the eight fold path of yoga as advocated by the saint Patanjali along with its physiological implications.
Yoga follows an eight fold path popularly known as Ashtanga yoga that helps in the all-round development of human beings by attaining mental purity and harmony.Yama,Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Prathyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi are the 8 steps of Ashtanga yoga which should be practiced in the same sequence for best results. It is understood that in the last decade, yoga and meditation became popular all over the world as this science demonstrated its effectiveness on the body, emotions and thoughts by restoring overall health.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means union and the word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word युeÉç or युजिर्, which means to bind together or join together or to combine together. Yoga thus combines the soul and mind with the body and never considers the human body as a mere machine but instead as an absolute combination of self (soul), mind & body. It accepts the life situations as we see it and suggests methods by which we can transcend human limitations.
Among the eight steps of Ashtanga yoga the first four are known as Bahiranga yoga & the last four are Antharanga yoga.
- Yama (Abstinence) – As the first step of yoga, it helps in developing self control and uplifts moral values. Pathanjali identified the following five as Yama:- Ahimsa, Sathya, Astheya, Brahmacharya,Aparigraha.
Yama helps achieve the voluntary control over the autonomous nervous system by establishing an equilibrium between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves through the hypothalamic limbic system. Thus, this first step of yoga easily achieves control over the mind by relying on the autonomic nervous system.The behavior and emotional changes of human beings are mostly affected by the hypothalamus and the limbic systems.
- Niyama (Observances)- Niyama means observances(practice of complying with a rule). Pathanjali suggests certain good habits, which help in the development of the total personality.Soucha, Santhosha,Thapas, Svadhyaya,Isvarapranidhana are the 5 different steps in Niyama.
Yogic practices have been found to be very useful in resolving emotional conflicts and neurotic tendencies. Yoga reduces the level of anxiety scores and significantly reduces total neuroticism(long-term tendency to be in a negative emotional state). Physical and mental hygiene are a must for the well-being of a person. Mental tension is the origin of many psychosomatic disorders of the present ‘stress-age’. Hence santhosha is the key to human health.
- Asana(Body postures)- These are physical postures that can help to control the body and the mind.Yoga asanas have direct influence on the endocrine glands and other metabolic activities. Along with controlled breathing techniques asans form the basis of Yoga’s mind-body integration work.
By regularly practicing the different yoga asanas one will be able to develop proper awareness of their individual muscles. Hence, by attaining voluntary control over the muscles, a selective strengthening and relaxation of the muscles become possible. Each asana thus helps to stretch and stimulate specific group of muscles that can result in relaxation. Asanas not only strengthens the muscles, but also trains them to loosen and relax. By practicing the different yoga asanas, dualities like heat and cold, hunger and thirst will not disturb a person. This is achieved by regulating the physiology; like reduction of BMR, enhancement of sensitivity levels, controlling the peripheral circulation etc. Sensitivity is mostly linked with the irritability of the mind. Yoga asanas reduces the irritability of the mind and empowers the body to react mildly towards extreme situations.
- Pranayama (Breathing Exercises) – Pranayama is the science of proper breathing. Breath is the main source of nourishment for all the cells of the body and life without oxygen for more than a few minutes is impossible. By regulating the breath and increasing oxygenation to the cells of the brain, pranayama, helps to strengthen and revitalize both the voluntary and autonomic nervous system.
Pranayama is controlled respiration, hence it is worth observing its effect on the body. When a person exhales in a resting position, he does not expel all the air from the lungs. Pranayama enables one to force out all the air from the lungs including that which is not released by breathing. Thus, more fresh air is available to the alveoli to absorb oxygen. The partial pressure of oxygen in the lungs increases when inhaling deeply after exhaling. Hence this partial pressure increases the amount of oxygen in the lungs. Thus, it is understood that when the partial pressure increases, the cells take in more oxygen.
- Prathyahara (Concentration) – All the five senses are always longing for contact with sensual objects. This behaviour of the senses diminishes the power of concentration. This makes the yoga practitioner unfit for practicing the advanced path of Yoga. Prathyahara, thus enhances the power of concentration of senses.
Prathyahara tries to reduce the affinity towards certain objects. It is advised that this should be practiced more often to increase affinity to soft objects as this will enable the mind to withhold the senses. Another technique to calm down the sensual activity is to adopt the attitude of ‘let go’. A prolonged attention on a single object will produce fatigue in the senses. After this, a natural withdrawal from the objects will be experienced. This happens due to synaptic fatigue of the neurons. Synapse is the junction of two neurons. While engaging in sensual contact, synapses are repeatedly stimulated at a rapid rate. This results in the exhaustion of the stored neuro-transmitter substances in the synaptic terminal. A prolonged attention of mind on the same object will thus increase the temptation to withdraw from that object naturally.
6.Dharana(Concentration)- When the mind is localized on a certain location (desabandha) it is called dharana. Desabandha means confinement within a territory, without allowing freedom of movement.
- Dhyana – When the mind is fixed on an object, the practitioner gradually shifts to the next stage i.e, dhyana. Prolonged focusing is stressful act. Dhyana is a stage of defocusing.
- Samadhi – At the stage of Samadhi the practitioner becomes one with the object of meditation.
Physiological changes in Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi
A combination of the above three helps to achieve a voluntary control over the autonomous nervous system by establishing an equilibrium between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems through hypothalamic limbic system. Thus yoga easily achieves control over the mind which depends on the autonomic nervous system. The behavior and emotional changes of the human beings is mostly affected by thehypothalamus and limbic system.
Experience after yoga practice
Yoga is not just a slow motion calisthenics (i.e, free hand exercises performed in a rhythmic sequence). The following benefits are achieved by a person who practices yoga:-
- The relaxation and softening of deep inner tension and blockage
- Sense of body – mind equilibrium
- Feeling of energetic light – heartedness
Studies reveal that by regularly practicing yoga for atleast 6 months one can experience an increase in parasympathetic activities, stability of autonomic balance during stress, improves thermoregulation efficiency and cognitive function such as : concentration, memory, learning and vigilance. Clinical studies have also demonstrated the therapeutic potentials of yogic practices.
Dr Pretty P
Dept. of Kriyashareera