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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Book 2 - The Steps to Union
29. The eight means of yoga are: the Commandments or Yama, the Rules or Nijama, posture or Asana, right control of life-force or Pranayama, abstraction or Pratyahara, attention or Dharana, meditation or Dhyana, and contemplation or Samadhi.

It will be noted that these means or practices are apparently simple, but it must be carefully remembered that they do not refer to anything accomplished on one or other plane in some one body, but to the simultaneous activity and practice of these methods in all three bodies at once, [181] so that the entire threefold lower man practices the means as they refer to the physical, the astral, and the mental vehicles. This is often forgotten. Therefore, in the study of these various means to yoga or union, we must consider them as they apply to the physical man, then to the emotional man and then to the mental man. The yogi, for instance, has to understand the significance of right breathing or of posture as they relate to the triple aligned and coordinated lower man, remembering that it is only as the lower man forms a coherent rhythmic instrument that it becomes possible for the ego to enlighten and illuminate him. The practise of breathing exercises, for instance, has led the aspirant frequently to concentrate upon the physical apparatus of breath to the exclusion of the analogous practice of rhythmic control of the emotional life.

It may be of use here if (before we take up the consideration of the means, one by one) we tabulated them carefully, giving their synonyms where possible:

Means I

The Commandments. Yama. Self-control or forbearance. Restraint. Abstention from wrong acts. These are five in number and relate to the relation of the disciple (or chela) to others and to the outside world.

Means II

The Rules. Nijama. Right observances. These are likewise five in number and are frequently [182] called the "religious observances" because they relate to the interior life of the disciple and to that tie, the sutratma or link which relates him to God, or to his Father in Heaven. These two, the five Commandments and the five Rules are the Hindu correspondence to the ten Commandments of the Bible and cover the daily life of the aspirant, as it affects those around him, and his own internal reactions.

Means III

Posture. Asana. Right Poise. Correct attitude. Position. This third means concerns the physical attitude of the disciple when in meditation, his emotional attitude towards his environment or his group, and his mental attitude towards ideas, thought currents and abstract concepts. Finally, the practice of this means coordinates and perfects the lower threefold man so that the three sheaths can form a perfect channel for the expression or manifestation of the life of the spirit.

Means IV.

Right control of the life-force. Pranayama. Suppression of the breath. Regulation of the breath. This refers to the control, regulation and suppression of the vital airs, the breath and the forces or shaktis of the body. It leads in reality to the organization of the vital body or the etheric body so that the life current or forces, emanating from the ego or spiritual man on his own plane, [183] can be correctly transmitted to the physical man in objective manifestation.

Means V.

Abstraction. Pratyahara. Right withdrawal. Restraint. Withdrawal of the senses. Here we get back of the physical and the etheric bodies, to the emotional body, the seat of the desires, of sensory perception and of feeling. Here can be noted the orderly method which is followed in the pursuit of yoga or union. The physical plane life, external and internal is attended to; the correct attitude to life in its triple manifestation is cultivated. The etheric body is organized and controlled and the astral body is reoriented, for the desire nature is subdued and the real man withdraws himself gradually from all sense contacts. The next two means relate to the mental body and the final one to the real man or thinker.

Means VI.

Attention. Dharana. Concentration. Fixation of the mind. Here the instrument of the Thinker, the Real Man, is brought under this control. The sixth sense is coordinated, understood, focused and used.

Means VII.

Meditation. Dhyana. The capacity of the thinker to use the mind as desired and to transmit to the brain, higher thoughts, abstract ideas, and idealistic concepts. This means concerns higher and lower mind. [184]

Means VIII.

Contemplation. Samadhi. This relates to the ego or real man and concerns the realm of the soul. The spiritual man contemplates, studies or meditates upon the world of causes, upon the "things of God." He then, utilizing his controlled instrument, the mind (controlled through the practise of concentration and meditation) transmits to the physical brain, via the sutratma or thread which passes down through the three sheaths to the brain, that which the soul knows, sees and understands. This produces full illumination.

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