meaning and stages of Yoga through the eyes of Patanjali

There are many misconceptions regarding the word ‘Yoga’ and yoga definition. In the modern world, people have started referring to asanas as Yoga. However, Yoga is not bound to asanas, it is deep and is as wide as the width of the endless horizon. There are 8 stages of Yoga, where each stage of Yoga gives a different yet simple definition of Yoga. So, to understand the essence of Yoga, first and foremost light needs to be shed on the meaning of Yoga and the many stages of yoga.

The word Yoga is from the Sanskrit word “Yuj”. Yuj signifies to bind, join, attach, concentrate, and practise. It also means union or communion. ‘yog’ meaning in English is simple. When we say ‘yoke,’ we’re referring to joining or harnessing oneself to Yog’s path in the process of obtaining wholeness. The letter ‘a’ at the end of Yog is a Romanization of the root.  different stages of Yoga enables one to look at life with holistic eyes. One who makes the path of yoga his own is a Yogi. The structure of Yoga as an entity was collated, coordinated and systematized by the great sage Patanjali and is called Patanjali yoga.

The stages of Yoga teach the means by which the Human Spirit (Jivatma) can be united to, or be in communion with the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma), and thus secure liberation. 

in Patanjali’s yogpeeth yoga course, Patanjali describes Yoga as ‘chitta vrtti nirodhah’. The translation of this can be as practising restraint on the fluctuations of the mind. In other words, preventing ripples on the smooth and still surface of the liquid nectar.

The word Chitta refers to the mind in its total and collective sense and as it’s formation is in three categories:

Mind ( Manas)

Intelligence or reason (Buddhi)

Ego (Ahamkara)

The word vrtti is a Sanskrit word, “vrt” which means to turn, or to revolve. If we probe a bit deeper we find the essence of this word lies in one’s course of action or behaviour. Yoga is the way through which one can have control on their restless mind, and enables one’s life-energy in the direction of constructive channels. 

The most common word or sound you here in various stages of Yoga is ‘AUM’. Know more about the significance of chanting Aum.

The Diverse Stages of Yoga

There are 8 stages of Yoga namely


Universal moral commandments


Self-purification through discipline




Rhythmic control of breath


Withdrawal of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects






A state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation in which the Human Spirit becomes one with the Universal Spirit

stages of Yoga, where to begin-Yama

The first stage of Yoga is Yama or ethical discipline which transcends creed, civilization, age and time. The principles that Yama shelters are- Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asateya (non-stealing),  Brahmacharya (continence) and Aparigraha (renouncing all possessions). 

These virtues are rules of morality for the individual and society as a whole. It is considered that violating these rules in the stages of yoga brings about chaos, violence, untruth and conflict escalating to bitter wars. Therefore, in accordance with the meaning of Yoga, the roots of these evils are emotions of greed and attachments. Patanjali strikes at the root of these evils by altering one’s thinking towards the five principles of Yama. 


The word ahimsa is made up of the letter ‘a’ meaning ‘not’ and the word ‘himsa’ which means to kill. It is believed that destruction caused by an individual, eventually becomes his own fate. In the primaeval time, men either killed for food or to protect themselves from danger likened to wild animals. 

But, merely because a man is vegetarian, it does not necessarily conclude that he is non-violent. Violence, like other dark tendencies, is a state of mind. It resides in a man’s mind and not in the instruments he holds in his hands. One can use a knife to slice fruit or to stab another living being. The fault is not of the instrument but, the one using it.

Why does violence arise – First stage of Yoga, Yama?

Violence arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance and restlessness. In order to win over it, a sound state of mind needs to be reached. A free and blissful outlook towards life and the reorientation of one’s mind is required. Violence is bound to perish when men become free of their own ignorance, and blind imaginings. 

When a wrong is committed by a third person, men demand justice; while for that done by themselves, they plead for mercy and forgiveness. On the other hand, a Yogi believes, that for a wrong done by himself, there should be justice, whereas that done by another there should be forgiveness. 

Ahimsa is accompanied by Abhaya (freedom from fear) and Akrodha (freedom from anger). Freedom from fear comes only to those who lead a pure life. Fear grips a man and paralyses him as if being plunged in a quagmire with hands and legs tied. He is afraid of the future, and can only generate negative contemplations regarding the unknown and the unseen. But, the greatest fear that seems to maim him from within is the fear of death.

However, a person is more than his body, which is a temporary house of his spirit. Though the body is subject to sickness, age, decay and death, the atman remains unaffected in the face of the elements. To a Yogi, death is the beginning from an end. 

There are two types of anger, one which causes havoc within and without while the other leads to spiritual growth. The root of the first is pride, which makes one angry when slighted. This prevents the mind from seeing things under a bright light and makes one’s judgment defective. The yogi, on the other hand, is stern with himself when he deals with his own mistakes, but gentle with the fault of others. 


Satya or truth is the highest rule of morality. If the mind thinks of only the truth, if the tongue has no other word to say other than the truth and, truth is what one longs to hear, then the infinite is what one is eventually to become. When the mind holds malice towards none and is ready to always tell the highest truth no matter what the ordeal. Thus, one should remember that he or she has become the great sage who has attained self-control in great measure. 

When such a person speaks he will be heard with respect and attention. His words will indubitably penetrate hearts, for they will be good and true. The man firmly established in truth gets the fruit of his actions as his causes are like that of the seed, rain and sunshine. 


The desire to possess and enjoy what another has propelled an individual to commit evil deeds. Thus, unbridled temptations spring forth the urge to steal and hurt another. The Yogi reduces his physical needs to the bare necessities, believing that if he gathers things he does not require, he becomes a thief. While other men crave for wealth, power, fame or pleasures, the Yogi has one craving that is to realize the mystic nature of life. 


Many people think of Brahmacharya as complete non-indulgence in sex.

Just like the misconceptions with the meaning of Yoga, people also confuse this word with non-indulgence in sex. However, this is not the correct meaning of Brahmacharya. Brahma means divinity, and achar means the way or the path. So to be a Brahmachari means to walk the path of Divinity. Now to practise Brahmacharya, one must be in control of himself.

Control in the sense, say, overeating, sleeping throughout the day, drinking alcohol, or living a life of sexual fantasy. Self-control is synonymous to a fulfilled life.  

Graphics by: Sharmili Maji (simi_8854)

Brahmacharya is related to Hanuman Ji. Read the lyrics of Hanuman Chalisa in English and decode its meaning.


Parigraha refers to accumulating or hoarding. To become free from worldly possessions is Aparigraha. Immense attachment to one’s possessions makes one fearful of living and leaving. By observing Aparigraha, the Yogi strives to make his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss of anything. 

Then, everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the right time. The life of an ordinary man is filled with causes that lead to frustrations and disturbances in his own life. Thus, there is hardly any possibility of maintaining the mind in a state of equilibrium. One has to develop the strength and wisdom to remain satisfied with whatever occurs in his life. 

Sri Krishna promised to Arjuna ( as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita ) : 

‘To those who worship me alone with single-minded devotion, who are in harmony with me every moment, I bring full security. I shall supply all their wants and shall protect them forever’. 

Second Stage: Niyama

Yama is universal in terms of application; on the other hand, Niyama consists of rules of conduct applicable to individual discipline. Patanjali lists the following five thoughts behind the second stage of Yoga, Niyama


The purity of blood is essential for well being. While good habits like bathing purify one’s body from the outside, asana and pranayama cleanse it from within. The practice of asana shapes the entire body and annihilates the toxins and impurities caused by overindulgence. But, as we are increasingly becoming aware that more important than the physical cleansing is the cleansing of the mind.

Disturbing emotions like hatred, anger, lust, greed, and delusionary pride tarnish the mind as if drenched in mud and mire for days. The cleansing of the intellect(buddhi) facilitates the cleansing of the mind of impure thoughts. Education helps in the cleansing of the intellect along with self-reflection, together with help in overpowering the myriad negative emotions. 

As the many learned sages of Sanathan declare- the impurities of the intellect and reason are burned off in the fire of svadhyaya (the study of the self). This internal cleansing makes one’s emanating immense radiance and joy, capable of drawing smiles on the saddest of faces around. 


Cultivation of Santosa(contentment) has to be there. A mind that is not content cannot concentrate. Contentment gives rise to bliss we all yearn for. A content man is complete and blessed for he knows the truth and the joy of the truth. Contentment and tranquillity are two parallel states of the mind. There is contentment and tranquillity when the flame of the spirit remains impervious to the gush of the wind of desires.


Tapas is derived from the word ‘Tap’ which means to burn, blaze, shine from heat. It, therefore, means burning the midnight lamp under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. It involves purification and self-discipline. Tapas is the conscious effort to achieve the ultimate union with the Divine. 

Tapas is of three types. That is of the body, speech, and mind. Through tapas, one strengthens physically, mentally, and character-wise. Infinite courage and ceaseless wisdom, are the fruits of dedicated tapas, thus injecting new life in one’s everyday deed.


Sva means self and adhyaya refers to education. Therefore, it means the education of the self. The person practicing svadhyaya reads his own book of life, at the same time he writes and revises it. He starts to realize that all creations are connected, and their life itself is the energy of the divine. Thus, knowledge is what brings an end to ignorance. Ignorance has no beginning, but it has an end. There is a beginning but no end to knowledge. 

Isvara Pranidhana

It is the practice of fully surrendering oneself to God, Nature, Creator, truth, or the Universe whatever you may call it. This intense yearning for the Lord is like the Sun, dispelling all darkness. The moon is full when it faces the sun. The individual soul blooms like the full-moon when it faces the Lord. 

If the shadow of the earth comes between the full moon and the sun there is an eclipse. If the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘MINE’ casts its shadow upon the experience of fullness, all efforts of the individual to gain peace turn out futile. Actions mirror a man’s personality better than his words. 

Benefits of different stages of Yoga – Asanas, the third of stages of Yoga

The third stage of Yoga, Asana or posture can be viewed as the starting point on the journey of realization, as one advance in yogic meditation. Asanas fuse the body and mind in a state of serene equilibrium, bringing one closer to realize god within. A steady posture is a proof that one any disturbance in the surroundings does not fickle the nature of his or her mind. 

By inculcating the very essence of asanas one naturally comes to develop agility, balance, endurance, and vitality. Asanas keep the body free from disease and reduce fatigue by relaxing the miscellaneous nerves of one’s body. In gist, the different asanas are a way to train and discipline the mind. 

The individual may conquer his body as well as his mind through the regular practice of asanas. The yogi does not fear death; he is well aware that the body is constantly changing through childhood, youth, and old age. Birth and Death are either side of the same coin that pervade all existences throughout the universe. 

Asanas enable the individual to first gain health then, a free mind and spirit. These are no commodities that money can purchase. Physical limitations and mental distractions have only one solution at hand which is practising asanas. The yogi does not gaze at the sky to find God, for he knows that god resides within one’s being. 

As pointed out in the Mundaka Upanishad, the ‘Self’ cannot be attained with superficial physical strength or heavy intellectual contemplations. An unbaked earth pot comes under threat quite easily. So, when hardened with the fire of yogic discipline, the pot becomes indestructible in the face of any of the elements. 

While performing asanas of the different stages of yoga, the yogi’s body assumes shapes that resemble a variety of creatures. He trains his mind, with such assiduous assertion that he sees the universal spirit in a dung beetle to the most perfect sage. He knows that the highest form is that of the ‘Formless’. Asanas are a medium through which the thought of Brahman in its true sense, flows effortlessly through the mind of the Yogi. 

Yoga meaning- Things to be kept in mind while performing asanas

Before starting to practice asana, the bladder and the bowels should be free. 

One needs to be empty stomach while performing asanas, and after a wait of half an hour consumption of food can be there. Not immediately. 

The best time to practice the stages of yoga is either early in the morning or late in the evening. In the first ray of the morning light, our body tends to be stiff thus, making it difficult for our body to adjust. This can be overcome with regular practise. When it is dusk, our body becomes quite used to movements so it is easier to stretch one’s body during the evening hours. 

Do not practise asanas if you have been out in the sun for several hours. 

In all the asanas, breathing takes place through the nostrils and not the mouth. 

After completing different types of asanas, take the last step before concluding which is Savasana for at least 10 to 15 minutes.  

Do you know there are special provisions for women in Yoga?

Benefits of stages of Yoga- Special provisions for women


Avoid asanas or other stages of yoga during the menstrual period. Light physical exercises that are close to the asanas are more preferable.

Learn more about the menstruation myths and why it is advised to take rest and not visit Temples.


During the first three months of pregnancy one can perform all the asanas. During this time those asanas that strengthen the spine and make it more flexible should be of priority.

After Delivery

It is advisable to not to perform any asanas during the first month after delivery. Subsequently, one should perform only mild exercises. After around three months one can again begin anew but, consulting the doctor beforehand is a must. 

Dualities like gain and loss, victory and defeat, fame and shame, body and mind,  mind and soul vanish when a being becomes the master of the asanas. Thus, begins the fourth stage Pranayama, on the path of yogic meditation.

Yama and Niyama make the devout conquer his passions and emotions. Asanas are like the sun that draws all forms of life from within the thin cracks of the earth towards its brilliance. At last, the yogi has become free of his bodily cravings.

Stay tuned for the second part of the article…



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