Yoga is based on a method. Patanjali says that there are eight steps in the yoga path. These are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi.
If someone wants to follow yoga (complete Yoga), then they have to follow the eight-fold path.
Patanjali goes into much depth in the Yoga Sutras. There is much knowledge in it. People think that yoga is so easy. But if you read Patanjali you will see that it is amazing, what the possibilities are in the yoga path.
I will try to explain the steps in simple terms:
Yama is our attitude towards our environment. It is about care and consideration for all living beings; it is proper communication and action; it is about developing qualities of moderation and balance.
Niyama is our attitude towards ourselves. It is about developing cleanliness, and satisfaction with what we have. It is about working to purify ourselves not only on a physical level but internally too. So we can study and analyse our behaviour in order to improve ourselves. Niyama is also about devotion and surrender to a higher intelligence.
The third and fourth steps are Asana and Pranayama. With help of these we perform actions by using our body and the breath to overcome some of the obstacles on the yoga path. If we decide to change our attitudes and are not doing anything, it is not so easy, so we can easily go back to our old ways – if we think that our mind is a garden, then in yoga we want to pull up the weeds by the root. Then the garden will be beautiful afterwards. So with the help of Asana and Pranayama it is possible.
Many people feel some difficulty with this and think that it means they have to practise Hatha Yoga asanas. But actually Patanjali does not recommend any particular postures. He says that any way that you can sit comfortably with alertness of mind, and in a relaxed way, is known as Asana. There should be no tension in the body.
In Pranayama, we are controlling inhalation, exhalation and retention of breath. We make our breath long and constant. With much practice, we get more clarity in mind and the obstacles in yoga are fewer. The breath goes beyond the level of the conscious mind.
The fifth step of yoga is Pratyahara, which is the restraint and mastery of the senses. The mind can focus in one direction without distraction.
The last three steps of yoga are Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. It is a complex matter. These are the higher stages on the yoga path known as concentration. In the higher stages some different sources of distraction can come, but the aim is to reach the highest state of being, where subject becomes one with object. Then there are also more different stages in Samadhi.
So the beginners have to follow the eight-fold path, they have to develop certain qualities because if you are cheating and behaving violently, you cannot follow this path. You will be too disturbed by the restless mind. Only once a discipline is established, then yoga can begin.
First we are training our mind to stay in one place through the help of Pranayama and Asana. We have to make our mind quiet and constant. Then meditation comes by itself. When meditation goes into a very mature and a very advanced stage, it turns into concentration. Concentration is last; that is what we call Samadhi.