Ashtanga is the basis of yoga. The word originates from Sanskrit and means “with eight limbs”. In The Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali systematically describes the eight parts that comprise the complete yoga system and leads the practitioner (the yogi) to the true goal. Buddha lived almost contemporarily with Patanjali and there are many obvious convergences between yoga and the commodious and charitable Buddhism. In particular with respect to moral concepts, but also with regard to tolerance towards other religions, respect for living creatures and nature and an acceptance of human diversity.
The eight elements in ashtanga are as follows:
The first two elements, yama and niyama, are a set of universal rules for positive human behavior that are independent of time and place. Living by these ethical guidelines result in a positive cleansing effect on an individual as well as a cultural level. Furthermore, they are regarded as foundational and essential to moving forward in yoga.
Practical exercises compose the next level and consist of asana, pranayama and pratyahara. They mobilize and discipline the body and mind of the individual. In time they lead to the last level that is the inner and spiritual part of yoga consisting of dharana, dhyana and samadhi that together lead to a deeper understanding of life.
Different “schools” that lay down how yoga can or should be practiced have appeared throughout time. Karma yoga focuses on the actions or deeds of individuals, jnana yoga on knowledge and intellect and bakti yoga on devotion to the divine, just to mention a few. It is less important whether you devote yourself to this or that “school”, because they are all connected and converge at the same point. Yoga is yoga, and the goal is always the same – to ease your mind, to gain control of your thoughts and actions, and in the end to unite with the universe and eternity.
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