Ashtang Yoga as postulated by Sage Patanjali, if followed in true letter and spirit can catapult the evolution of our soul to another level thereby imparting us ultimate happiness and bliss. Ashtang Yoga is an eight limbed path which begins with Ethical Code, Discipline, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharna (to imbibe), Meditation for achieving the final limb that is ultimate bliss. Prime importance has been given to code of ethics/righteousness because without understanding their value, a soul would never even want to pursue higher goals, so for such people who are not interested in strengthening their ethics and wish to enjoy materialism without morals, this path will be of no use unless their soul is ready. Next comes discipline because without discipline we cannot achieve anything.
Now lets jump to the third limb- Asana. To begin with, Asana/Yogasana should be performed in the morning hours. This is because after a long overnight rest, our body constricts inwards leading to reduced blood circulation in peripherals including brain. So we must perform Asanas especially Surya namaskar in the morning to equalise circulation of blood in the entire body (remember that conventional exercises cannot be as equalizing as Surya namaskar). Consumption of food without equalising blood flow results in unequal distribution of nutrients consumed (which is called as Vata imbalance in ayurvedic terms and which leads to diseases in the long run).While Surya namaskar is the best way to start the day as it homogenizes the body fluids (nutrients) similar to the way when we shake different fluids in a bottle to homogenize them, one should also focus on those Asanas which would help one to strengthen ones weaker parts of the body. For example a person with Vata ridden (meaning weak due to less flow of blood) Anahata chakra (lungs and heart area) would need anahatasana.
Whereas a person with reduced upper body strength due to poor circulation of blood in upper body, should go for Shivananda yogasanas. We all must understand that when we lose blood in upper parts of the body due to wrong foods, the blood not only reduces from main stem but also from the side branches. That is why Shivananda Asanas focus not only on headstand but other Asanas too to spread lymph/blood in peripherals of upper chakras.
On the other hand, a person with strong mind but weak lower body leading to issues like backache/constipation would be benefitted by asanas like bhujangasa etc.All Asanas must be followed by Pranayama especially anulom vilom to undo minor imbalances in blood flow. Anulom vilom works like broom by oscillating blood to and fro in the body thereby levelling the blood vessels. That is why it is called as Nadi Shodhan. Bhastrika is another kriya/pranayama where one breathes out with force to increase blood flow in lungs thereby clearing impurities and improving oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. Basically it opens anahata chakra. So those who have already excessively open anahata (characterized by uneasy brain and heart) should not perform this unless their chakra is healed.On the other hand, kapalbhati pushes blood outwards from stomach area towards upper and lower body including naval and back area thereby opening that chakra. That is why kapalbhati helps to undo constipation, backache and even mild headaches. Goes without saying that those having excessively open Manipura chakra characterized by issues like ulcerative colitis/burning of stomach should not perform kapalbhati.
Whereas Mantras like AUM and brahmari vibrate and open up our upper chakras and the master glands in these chakras (pineal/pituitary/thyroid) thereby increasing peripheral circulation in these chakras and revving up the circulation of the entire body through brain. That is why after Asana and Pranayama, we should recite these mantras unless our chakras are excessively open (which may lead to issues like insomnia/hyperthyroidism).
Meditation is important because it slows down a racing mind and it’s only when the mind slows down that it is able to connect pieces of information lying in brain to convert them into knowledge. Meditation also helps to understand imbalances in one’s body and mind which must be corrected through Asanas and Pranayama before they blow out of proportion. Obviously those having depression should not meditate due to consistently low Pitta in their mind.
*** All limbs of Ashtang have intricate connection with principles of Ayurveda including Yogasanas and therefore sattvic food/lifestyle including sleeping/eating/waking in line with suncycle must be followed as part of Ashtang. This also means that a good Yoga teacher should have knowledge about Ayurveda so as to understand the meaning behind every Asana.
*** Astrologically as a thumb rule- Rahu in a chakra (meaning a specific number of house in one’s birth chart) indicates excessive opening of that chakra whereas Saturn indicates closed chakra. Of course zodiacs too have to be taken into calculation while understanding this aspect.
*** Bliss- doesn’t mean renunciation. It means to enjoying/leading life without the vices of attachment/ego/possession/greed/anger/lust etc. In spiritual terms, it means progression of the soul to higher level by getting liberated from lower order world full of chaos, misery and excessive materialism.
*** While foremost importance has been given to Ethical codes, the fact is that all eight limbs are interconnected and any break/discontinuation in any limb can slow down the process by denting another limb, however with regular practice we can master this circle. Picture below captures them in a simple Astrological manner.
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