The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe a progression of practices that liberate awareness and reveal the miraculous nature of the higher self. The yogic practices described are arranged in eight limbs or stages. The first four focus on the outer practices of right action, purification, physical postures, and breathwork. The final four describe the inner journey of concentration, meditation, absorption, and illumination.
In his sutras, Patanjali explains that reality is divided into two parts, consciousness on one hand, and the perceived world of the mind on the other. In the West we are more familiar with the division between mind and matter, but it is important to realize that for Patanjali, everything in the mind is part of the perceived reality and not consciousness.
Our experience of anything seen, felt or understood, whether it be an idea, emotion, memory, rock, or tree, is separate from the consciousness that sees, feels or understands it.
Everything we think of as reality, both mind and matter, is created from mental objects generated by the mind and made visible to consciousness. One of those mental objects is a sense of self and the belief that it is conscious. But that self is not conscious, it is an idea that consciousness is aware of.
Consciousness illuminates everything that arises in the mind including our identity. Yogic practices are designed to liberate consciousness from its fixation on the perceived world of the mind and awaken it to the reality of its own being. The yogi enters the path entranced by the assumption that they are the person that they imagine themselves to be, and reality is what the mind experiences.
To liberate consciousness requires the development of a profound capacity to focus our attention on a single mental object, and to hold that focus for long periods of time until the distinction between ourselves and the object dissolves. In this depth of absorption we experience unity, oneness and the eternal essence of reality.
By establishing ourselves in the state of inner absorption, we develop strong powers of discrimination that open us to higher dimensions of reality. As our spiritual powers develop, the mind begins to serve our spiritual quest. Rather than repetitively generating the mental objects of our familiar reality, the mind begins to activate the inner vision of the higher self. Once inner vision is activated the road to perfect realization reveals itself.
According to Patanjali, the spiritual awakening that occurs is not caused by our spiritual practice. Awakening the source of consciousness and our own higher self, is a process that inevitably occurs according to the higher laws of spirit, and begins as soon as we liberate our attention from its compulsive fascination with the world of the mind.
We begin the spiritual path mesmerized by the apparent reality of the mind and it takes an enormous degree of focused concentration to free ourselves from that. In order to generate that profound degree of concentration we must engage the energy of our entire lives and harness all of our mental capacities toward that end. This is the aim of the practices described in the Yoga Sutras.