Kautilya Chanakya, also known as the Indian Machiavelli, was the architect of the Mauryan Dynasty which is known by historians to be the most significant periods of Indian history. Not only was it was significant for power, control and military rule, but for the arts and sciences as well. It was during this period that Ashtanga Yoga was written by Patanjali in his life’s work called the 'Yogasutra'.
Most people assume that Yoga is a dying art that was created a long time, and is now forgotten amongst people of today. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Progress is universal, which impacts every art-form no matter how obscure or arcane. Interestingly, Yoga also ‘moved on’ to meet the needs of the requirements of the present day. If Patanjali was considered the authority figure in Yoga, then Swami Swatmarama designed the form of ‘Hatha Yoga’ with the objective of bringing the body to a state of perfect health in order to achieve a level of higher meditation. Some might consider this to a variation of the former, yet I consider it to be an influence much like how musicians have their influences to create their music.
Firstly, Ashtanga Yoga (or ‘Raja Yoga’) is not the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga that is taught by the revered Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois in Mysore in Southern India. So, an important geographical distinction here would be that the former has been derived from a much older era, and is from North India. Hence, it’s justifiable that the rant of America’s own McYoga guy, Bikram Chowdhury, who continues to deride this form of yoga as it doesn’t seem to be based on Patanjali’s work, the creator of Yoga.
Here’s a video that beautifully describes the purpose and essence of Raja Yoga.
And once you’ve watched this video, you’ll realize that this form of yoga is achieve the tranquility of the mind and liberation from suffering (moksha) through meditation. And sometimes, you have to go through torment through asanas and pranayams [Read: bodily cleansing] of ‘hatha yoga’ that Bikram Chowdhury teaches in order to get there. Just like the age-old saying, “No pain, No gain”. He is hundred percent right here.
Ashtanga Yoga is called so because it is based on eight ‘limbs’ on which it stands, or principles that one has to adhere to in order to reach that final state of ‘moksha’:
1) Yama – This part reveals aspects of maintaining a code of conduct ( do-nots in terms of actions & words) in order to conquer the ‘lower self’, in order find one’s center.
2) Niyama – This part deals with the do’s which comprises religious observances, commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
3) Āsana – is the integration of mind and body through physical activity which is the Yoga postures/ exercises that you see nowadays which assists the body to act as a self-correcting system and heal itself.
4) Pranayama – regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
5) Pratyahara – abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their objects
6) Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
7) Dhyana – meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
8) Samādhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious state.
If you haven’t noticed this already, each of these ‘limbs’ will assist you to reach the final state of ‘Samadhi’, the final step to recognizing one’s spirituality and center. Although, this might simple enough, there is a wealth of information when it comes to Yoga, and what I’ve written here can be considered as a basic introduction to the limitless world of Raja Yoga.