The word “Yoga” literally means “union,” and refers to an inner state where one experiences everything as a part of oneself. Yoga means to know the union of existence by experience. Often mistaken for a system of physical exercise, the Yogic system is actually a set of tools for self-transformation that are designed to bring one to this state of union. When you know the oneness of existence like you experience the five fingers of your hand, then we say you are in Yoga. Yoga is not a practice, a particular action, or a posture – it is a way of being. When a person begins to experience everything as a part of themselves, they are in Yoga.

Adiyogi – The first Yogi
In the modern world, Patanjali is widely known as the father of Yoga, but did you know that Yoga originated thousands of years before Patanjali? Over 15,000 years ago Adiyogi, the first Yogi, transmitted the science of Yoga to his seven disciples, the Saptarishis. So Yoga predates all religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. This is way before ancient scriptures such as Vedas and Upanishads were written. In fact, even the Sanskrit language had not been invented yet. In the yogic culture, Shiva is not known as a god, but as the Adiyogi or the first yogi – the originator of yoga. He was the one who first put this seed into the human mind. According to the yogic lore, Shiva attained to his full enlightenment and abandoned himself in an intense ecstatic dance upon the Himalayas. Adiyogi expounded 112 ways through which human beings can transcend their limitations and reach their ultimate potential. Adiyogi’s offerings are tools for individual transformation, as individual transformation is the only way to transform the world. His fundamental message is that “in is the only way out” for human wellbeing and liberation. Because he was the source of Yoga, Adiyogi is also called Adiguru or the first Guru.

The Adiyogi brought this possibility that a human being need not be contained in the defined limitations of our species. There is a way to be contained in physicality but not to belong to it. There is a way to inhabit the body but never become the body. There is a way to use your mind in the highest possible way but still never know the miseries of the mind. Whatever dimension of existence you are in right now, you can go beyond that – there is another way to live. He said, “You can evolve beyond your present limitations if you do the necessary work upon yourself.” That is the significance of the Adiyogi.

Patanjali – The Yoga Sutras
Over the generations, the science of Yoga took on a life of its own and branched off into hundreds of systems. When Patanjali came (∼ 2000-2200 years ago), he saw that it had become too complex and diversified for anyone to grasp in a meaningful way. So, he codified all aspects of Yoga into a certain format known as ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. This is a collection of 196 sutras on yoga. And so, Patanjali is known as the father of modern Yoga.

“Sutra” literally means “a thread”. Or, in modern language, we can say it is like a formula. Anyone who knows the English alphabet can say “E=mc²”. But, there is an enormous amount of science behind that little formula which most people cannot understand. The sutras are like this. Out of ignorance, people have interpreted these sutras in very superficial ways and have tried to implement them in their lives accordingly. The thread is vital for a necklace or a garland, but it is not a goal by itself. No one ever wears a garland for the sake of the thread. It was for each spiritual master to put his own kind of flowers, beads, pearls, diamonds, or whatever else in the garland.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are the most tremendous documents about life in the world, and also the most uninteresting. It is the driest and dullest book you could possibly read. Patanjali did this intentionally; though his mastery of language and composition was matchless, he wrote it in a way that no scholar would find it appealing. If people appreciate the literary, poetic aspects of the work, then all kinds of people would naturally read and misinterpret it. They would miss the fundamental purpose of the sutra – a formula to open up life. The sutra means something only to a person who is in a certain level of experience, and who wants to explore his consciousness. Each sutra is a method. You do not have to read all of them. If just one sutra becomes a reality within you, it will take you into a completely new dimension of experience.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras elucidate the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’, each illuminating a different stage on the yogic journey towards self-realization:

  1.  YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
  2.  NIYAMA – Observances, self-cultivation
  3.  ASANA – Physical postures
  4.  PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques
  5.  PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
  6.  DHARANA – Focused concentration
  7.  DHYANA – Meditative absorption
  8.  SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment

Yama & Niyama – the first two limbs – are ethical and self-disciplinary guidelines for inner peace, well-being, and positive relationships with the world around you. They provide a framework for inner growth, that serves as a strong foundation for conscious leadership and entrepreneurship.

The term ‘Yama’ is commonly interpreted as ‘restraint’, ‘moral discipline’ or ‘moral vow’. Patanjali states that these vows are completely universal, no matter who you are or where you come from, your current situation or where you’re heading. To be moral can be difficult at times, which is why this is considered a very important practice of Yoga. It is no coincidence that the Yamas come first; after all, if you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself. The Yamas serve as guiding precepts, directing us towards behaviors that prioritize ethical conduct and integrity in our interactions with both ourselves and others. Patanjali’s Sutras outline five primary Yamas:

  1.  AHIMSA – Non-violence
  2.  SATYA – Truthfulness
  3.  ASTEYA – Non-stealing
  4.  BRAHMACHARYA – Right use of energy
  5.  APARIGRAHA – Non-attachment

The second limb, Niyama, are ethical observances that guide internal discipline and self-cultivation. The prefix ‘ni’ means ‘inward’ or ‘within’. Niyamas are traditionally practised by those who wish to travel further along the Yogic path and are intended to build character. Interestingly, the Niyamas closely relate to the Koshas, our ‘sheaths’ or ‘layers’ leading from the physical body to the essence within. As you’ll notice, when you work with the Niyamas – from Saucha to Isvara Pranidhana – you are guided from the grossest aspects of yourself to the truth within. There are five Niyamas in Patanjali’s Sutras:

  1.  SAUCHA – Purity
  2.  SANTOSHA – Contentment
  3.  TAPAS – Discipline
  4.  SVADHYAYA – Self-study or self-reflection
  5.  ISVARA PRANIDHANA – Surrender to a higher power

The physical aspect of Yoga is the third step on the path to freedom. The word ‘asana’ literally translates to posture or seat – specifically the seat you would take for the practice of meditation. The only alignment instruction Patanjali gives in the Sutras is “Sthiram, Sukham Asanam“, meaning that which is absolutely stable and comfortable is an asana. The idea is to be able to sit in comfort so you’re not pulled by aches and pains or restlessness due to being uncomfortable. Because ‘comfort’ is such a misused word, maybe a closer word to ‘sukham’ in English would be ‘ease’. It simply means that your body is at ease, your mind is at ease, and your energy is at full vibrance and balance. Now you are naturally meditative. You will find full potential to your life.

Out of the innumerable asanas a body can assume, 84 have been identified as “yoga asanas” or YOGASANAS, through which one can transform the body and mind into a possibility for ultimate wellbeing and elevated consciousness.

‘Prana’ means the vital energy or life source, ‘yama’ means to gain control over that. So, Pranayama is a subtle process through which you can gain control over your vital energy. It is the very essence that keeps us alive. Whatever you do in life, how your body, your mind, and your whole system function is ultimately determined by your prana. Prana is an intelligent energy. Since prana has the karmic memory of the individual imprinted on it, it functions in each person in a unique manner.
There are five basic manifestations of prana in the body. These pancha vayus – prana vayu, samana vayu, udana vayu, apana vayu, and vyana vayu – direct different aspects of the human mechanism.

Pranayama is the science where, by consciously breathing in a particular way, the very way you think, feel, understand and experience life can be changed. The breath can be used as a tool to do many things with the body and the mind. One who takes charge of one’s prana can be one hundred percent assured to have unshakable psychological balance. The physical act of working with different breathing techniques designed to manipulate the flow of prana within the body, alters the mind in a myriad of ways. These techniques may vary in complexity and intensity, but they all aim to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being through the regulation of breath.

Pratyahara is often translated as sense withdrawal. ‘Pratya’ means to withdraw, draw in or draw back, and the ‘ahara’ refers to anything we take in by ourselves, such as the various sights, sounds and smells our senses take in continuously. So, pratyahara means taking your sensory engagement from the outside world and turn it inward, away from external stimuli and distractions. The practice of drawing inward may include focussing on the way you’re breathing, so this limb would relate directly to the practice of pranayama.

Pratyahara serves as a bridge between the external aspects of Yoga, such as asana, and the internal practices of concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Pratyahara is a crucial aspect of Yoga practice as it lays the foundation for deeper states of concentration, meditation, and self-realization. By mastering the art of withdrawing the senses, practitioners can develop a greater sense of self-awareness, mental clarity, and inner peace. It helps reduce the mind’s tendency to be constantly pulled outward by sensory experiences and enables individuals to cultivate a deeper connection with their true selves.

In practical terms, pratyahara means consciously detaching from the senses’ inputs without suppressing them. It’s not about shutting out the external world completely, but rather about cultivating a state of inner awareness and control over how we respond to sensory stimuli. By withdrawing attention from external distractions, we can turn our focus inward to explore the inner landscape of thoughts, emotions, and sensations. You become so absorbed in what it is you’re focussing on, that the things outside of yourself no longer bother you and you’re able to meditate without becoming easily distracted. Experienced practitioners may be able to translate pratyahara into everyday life – being so concentrated and present to the moment at hand, that things like sensations and sounds don’t easily distract the mind.

Dharana is often translated as concentration or focused attention. It involves the practice of single-pointed concentration, where the mind is directed to focus on a specific object, idea, or internal state. Dharana serves as a precursor to deeper states of meditation (dhyana) and ultimately leads to the state of samadhi, or union with the divine.

In dharana, the practitioner trains the mind to sustain attention on a chosen focal point while minimizing distractions. This focal point could be an external object, such as a candle flame, a symbol, or a mantra, or it could be an internal sensation, such as the breath or a visualization. The key is to maintain unwavering focus on the chosen point of concentration, allowing all other thoughts and distractions to fade into the background.

Dharana requires effort and discipline to cultivate, as the mind naturally tends to wander and jump from one thought to another. Through consistent practice, however, the practitioner learns to harness the power of concentration and develop greater mental stability and clarity. It is essential to approach dharana with a sense of openness, curiosity, and non-judgment, allowing the mind to gradually settle into a state of focused attention. With dedication and practice, dharana can become a powerful tool for cultivating inner peace, clarity, and spiritual growth.

The seventh limb is ‘meditative absorption’ – when we become completely absorbed in the focus of our meditation, and this is when we’re really meditating. The actual practice of meditation is not something we can actively ‘do’, rather it describes the spontaneous action of something that happens as a result of everything else. You can’t really do meditation, you can only become meditative. Essentially; if you are in a state of allowance, thoughts come and go,… you realise your are not your body and you are not your thoughts. It refers to the uninterrupted flow of awareness toward an object of meditation, leading to a state of profound inner absorption and mental stillness.

Meditation is a certain quality. It is not a certain act. If you cultivate your body, your mind, your energies and your emotions to a certain level of maturity, meditation will naturally happen. It is just like if you keep the soil fertile, if you give it the necessary manure and water and if the right kind of seed is there, it will grow and bloom into flowers and fruits. Flowers and fruits will come out of a plant not because you want it, but simply because you created the necessary, conducive atmosphere. Similarly, if you create the necessary atmosphere within yourself, on all the four dimensions of who you are, then meditation will naturally flower within you. It is a certain fragrance that you can enjoy within yourself.

Unlike dharana, where the mind is directed toward a specific focal point, dhyana involves a more expansive and fluid awareness that encompasses the entirety of the present moment. You become fully absorbed in the object of meditation, whether it is the breath, a mantra, a visual image, or a sensation, allowing the mind to merge with the object of focus. Dhyana is characterized by a profound sense of inner peace, tranquility, and unity, as the boundaries between the meditator and the object of meditation begin to dissolve. You experience a deepening connection to the present moment and a heightened sense of awareness, leading to insights, clarity, self-discovery, and spiritual awakening. It requires regular and dedicated practice, as well as patience, perseverance, and surrender. It is essential to approach dhyana with humility, openness, and non-attachment, allowing the meditative experience to unfold naturally and organically.

Dhyanalinga @ Isha Yoga Center Coimbatore : ‘The meditation machine’ consecrated by Sadhguru for the purpose that whoever visits naturally becomes meditative.

Samadhi refers to the highest state of human consciousness that one can attain to. The word samadhi comes from the words ‘sama’ meaning equanimity and ‘dhi’ meaning buddhi or the intellect. If you reach an equanimous state of intellect, it is known as samadhi.

The fundamental nature of the intellect is to discriminate – you are able to discriminate between a person and a tree only because your intellect is functioning. This discriminatory quality is very important for survival. If you transcend the intellect, you become equanimous. This does not mean you lose the ability to discriminate. If you lose the discriminatory intellect, you will become insane. In a samadhi state, your discriminatory intellect is perfectly in shape but at the same time you have transcended it. You are not making a distinction – you are simply here, seeing life in its true working. The moment you drop or transcend the intellect, discrimination cannot exist. Everything becomes one whole, which is the reality. A state like this gives you an experience of the oneness of the existence, the unification of everything that is.

The whole aspect of spirituality is to go beyond that discrimination and the survival instinct, which are meant only for the physicality of life. Samadhi is a state of equanimity where the intellect goes beyond its normal function of discrimination. This in turn, loosens one from his or her physical body. A space between what is you and your body is created. In this state, there is no time or space. Time and space is a creation of your mind. Once you transcend the mind as a limitation, time and space do not exist for you. What is here is there, what is now is then. There is no past or future for you. Everything is here, in this moment. You may think someone has been in samadhi for three days, but for them, it was just a few moments – it just passes off like that. They have transcended the duality of what is and what is not. They have crossed the boundary and tasted that which is not – that which has no form, shape, attributes, qualities – nothing. The whole existence, the many forms of creation, are present only as long as the intellect is there. The moment you dissolve your intellect, everything dissolves into one.

The existence is made of “that which is” and “that which is not”. “That which is” has form, shape, qualities, beauty. “That which is not” has none of these things, but it is free. Here and there, “that which is not” spurts into “that which is”. And as “that which is” becomes more conscious, it will long to become “that which is not”. Though one enjoys the form, qualities, attributes and beauty attached to it, the longing to get to a state of utter freedom of being is unavoidable and inevitable. It is just a question of time, and the bondage of time and space also is only the hallucination of “that which is”. “That which is not” neither perceives time nor space because it is boundless and eternal, not shackled by the limitations of time and space.

Experiencing samadhi does not mean you are released from Existence. It is just a new level of experience. It is like when you were a child, you had one level of experience. Once you moved into adulthood, you have another level of experience. You experience the same things in a totally different way at different points in your life – you have moved from one level of experience to another. Samadhi is just like this. You are moving from one level of experience to another in a much more significant and deeper sense, but still, it is just another level of experience.

Someone may go into a certain state of samadhi and stay there for years because it is enjoyable. There is no space or time. There are no bodily problems. He has broken the physical and psychological barriers to some extent. But this is only temporary. The moment he comes out, again he gets hungry, he has to sleep, and everything comes back again. All samadhis are a way of getting high without any external chemicals. By going into these states, it opens up a new dimension for you, but it does not leave any great transformation behind. It does not leave you permanently transformed. You have not moved into another reality. It is just that in the same reality your level of experience has deepened. You have experienced the same things in a deeper sense. You have not become free from the mind. Many yogis have created their own worlds and been trapped in realities like this.

As long as you are in the body, whatever liberation you attain, the body is a limitation. It is not complete liberation. When someone leaves their body in full awareness, then we call this Mahasamadhi because he or she has shed the body. Mahasamadhi is a dimension where you transcend discrimination – not just experientially but also existentially. There is no such thing as you and the other. Right now, there is you and the other; it is a certain level of reality. In a samadhi state, you go beyond that discrimination and in your experience you are able to see the oneness of the existence. Mahasamadhi means you not only see it that way, you have become that way totally – discrimination is finished. That means individual existence is finished. Who you are does not exist anymore. The life that is functioning as an individual life right now becomes absolutely universal or cosmic or boundless. When you become one with everything, free from existence, the is mukti, nirvana or moksha. Your existence is finished. Mahasamadhi is a state where one willfully drops the body. The cycle is over. There is no question of rebirth; it is complete dissolution. You can say this person is truly no more. Mahasamadhi means the real end. This is the goal of every spiritual seeker. Ultimately, he or she wants to go beyond existence.

Sources : Sadhguru, Isha Foundation, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The methods and technologies of how to experience that which is beyond the physical is what is known as the science of Yoga.