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ImagePerforming exercises under guidance of self-styled yoga gurus does not constitute complete yoga. There is no doubt that these exercises, aimed at toning up the body, are indeed one of the eightfold stages of Ashtanga Yoga called 'asana' as enunciated by Sage Patanjali.

However, that is only one of seven stages in the order that Patanjali proposed. When performed in isolation, these are reduced to mere physical exercises. Again these asanas can improve your looks and your internal systems with a better figure and physical efficiency but it will be incorrect to think that performance of these asanas can turn you into a better human being.

The eight stages of ashtanga yoga are yam, niyam, asana, pranayama, pratihara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The five yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-covetousness. The five niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study and surrender to God. Sage Patanjali expected seekers to embrace yam and niyam before coming to the third stage, asana. The eightfold path is to take the practitioner towards moral, physical and spiritual uplift. The ultimate aim of yoga is spiritual realisation or samadhi via mind and body.

Pranayama is control of breath; it purifies and removes distractions, facilitating concentration and meditation. Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses during meditation that enables you to focus on the Supreme Power and establish a cosmic link. Dharana is to concentrate on one point for a considerable length of time. The aim is to still the mind by gently pushing away superfluous thoughts. Dhyana is uninterrupted meditation without an object.

The eight limbs work together: The first five steps — yama, niyama asana, pranayama, and pratyahara — are the preliminaries of yoga and they build the foundation for spiritual life with body and brain. The last three, which would not be possible without the previous steps, are concerned with reconditioning the mind. They help the yogi to attain enlightenment,.

Samadhi or enlightenment can be achieved only when we follow these eight stages in the order prescribed by Patanjali. A yogi acquires equanimity and a detached outlook before developing a flat tummy or toned body.

Training of mind brings equanimity. It is a mental state that looks with equal ease at happiness and sorrow, at misery and luxury and treats success and failure in alike. It looks at the world and happenings around with an open mind free of biases, fears and has only good and positive thoughts.

The Bhagavad Gita describes yoga as a state of equanimity, achieved by cultivating a detached but unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action and the ability to stay attuned to the glory of the Self or atman and the Supreme or Bhagavan.

According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of mind caused by selfish desire. The only way to douse the flame of desire is by simultaneously stilling the mind through self-discipline and engaging in a higher form of activity. Yam and niyams speak of this self-restraint and discipline, underlining that asana without yam and niyam are simply excercises.

Traversing the path of yoga is not that easy since it calls for lot of restraint, discipline and devotion. It is not good to skip the first two steps in order to begin with asanas. There is nothing wrong in it but it can't be named yoga and we ought to be aware of its limitation when it comes to making a person spiritual.

By Bhartendu Sood

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