All the yoga traditions are included in the two – Tantra Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. While Tantra yoga is the study of the universe from an individual’s point of view, the Ashtanga yoga believes in purifying the mind thorough eight steps. Asht in Sanskrit means eight.
The eight steps prescribed by all the schools and branches of yoga are: Yama, Niyama, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Yama teaches control. Control over the mind in such a way that you practice honesty and sexual continence. While being honest you have to practice truth and non-violence and spread kindness. They are guidelines to conduct one self for maintaining relationships in our social structure.
Niyama talks of the rules to be followed on daily basis without any break. First of all you should believe in God. You should daily worship God. Study His teachings spreads by His followers. If required perform sacrifice to observe vows.
Asana depict body postures. One of the main objectives of the asanas is to practice real meditation. Mastering many different postures helps to strengthen the will power and increase concentration. Increasing concentration is an important part of ashtanga yoga as it helps to have better control over our senses, by controlling our mind.
Controlling our breath through muscular control is called Pranayama. Prana is said to be ones life force. So pranayama is not merely a breathing exercise. It helps to manipulate our energies by increasing the amount of oxygen going to our brain. Ample amount of oxygen increases meantal clarity and alertness. A breath is divided into inhalation, holding it and exhalation. The various muscular controls are called bandhas.
Pratyahara means withdrawing the sensory perceptions. This means holding the mind by suspending the breath to absorb the senses in Kundalini energy. Kundalini energy refers to your dormant spiritual resting energy. It is said to have its base at the base of the spine called the Muladhara chakra. On the whole it means managing the senses in such a way that one is not required to suppress them forcefully.
Dharana in ashtanga yoga means concentration. Our body has seven centers called chakras. Each one of them corresponds to a part of our body and a set of desires. To balance ones desires we need to understand the seven chakras representing the psychophysical energy. Deep concentration on these chakras can be done with the help of mantras in Ashtanga yoga.
Dhyana means meditation without interruption. Not just closing the eyes, it’s a state of mind. It takes a lot of energy to attain this ultimate stage of meditation. It requires a perfect resonance between our physical self our sensual self and our energy i.e. life. The mind and the internal energy are two sides of the same coin. While the mind starts to think about some thing our life starts to input energy into it.
Samadhi means complete equilibrium: Since the basic idea of yoga is to unite the atma with the parmatama, the need to practice ashtanga yoga ends with elongated state of samadhi. By this time one reaches the stage of everlasting connection with Him. Yoga is a Sanskrit term for union. It is the ultimate connection between the individual and the universal soul.