When we think of yoga, we often limit ourselves to thoughts about peace and flexibility. However, health, happiness and a sense of harmony are by-products of yoga.
The purpose of yoga is enlightenment and liberation. The root word 'yuj' means to unite or yoke body mind and spirit.
Therefore you experience yoga when you have immersed your heart and mind in an activity. It could be while listening to music, watching the sunset or hugging your child. In the same light, you are NOT doing yoga, if you are doing your Surya Namaskar, all the while thinking of the meeting you be attending later during the day.
So what is Yoga?
Yoga is all about presence. Yoga is 'stilling' of the mind. Yoga is excellence in action. Yoga is harnessing the senses. Yoga is balance and equanimity while facing the vagaries of life. Yoga is to learn to dance with your daily sufferings. As BKS Iyengar states, “Yoga teaches us to cure what we need not endure and to endure what we cannot cure.”
Yoga – its origin
Yoga is one of the six schools of philosophy (Shat-dharshans) that emerged in India. Please note, I use the term philosophy and not religion; philosophy is rooted in searching for the purpose of life.
Yoga concepts are an amalgamation of details from Upanishads, Buddhism, Tantra and so on, and dates back to a period between 5th Century BC and 5000 BC. There are various paths of yoga (bhakti/ prayerful devotion, karma/selfless action, Gyana/philosophical inquiry etc), and Raja Yoga (introduced in 8 AD) is the one about controlling and transcending the mind to attain liberation. Patanjali codified RajaYoga and suggested an 8 limb approach. The eight-fold path is called ashtanga, which means 'eight limbs' (ashta=eight, anga=limb), one of which is 'asana' or the posture. Body based practices are given greater importance in Hatha Yoga, what we now consider as traditional yoga.
What makes Yoga relevant today?
Today, yoga is only thought of in terms of a physical practice for its health benefits. While this makes yoga appealing to many, it does limit the benefits the practice can offer. The mistake we make is when we call an asana practice session as yoga. Postures in yoga, calisthenics, pilates, gym, dance and other isometric practices look the same. The difference is in the breathing (slow conscious breathing) and awareness.
A typical 'yoga session' includes vinyasa (dynamic movements), asana (postures), mudras (gestures of face/ hands/ body), bandhas (energy locks), pranayama (breathing to channelize bio-energy) and meditation or Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation).
Practice of vinyasa and asana require strength, flexibility and coordination. Most of the practices when done correctly engages the core muscles of the body. You are not only strengthening various groups of muscles, but also helping in improving the functioning of ligaments, tendons, connective tissues and fascia of the muscle, which essentially translates to less wear and tear, less pain and better mobility and so on. Asana helps to improve circulation with its twisting, stretching and kneading actions which helps in reducing toxins, fat and kicking up metabolism.
Once we learn to combine postures with slow breathing, one feels more positive, which in turn helps to release stress. This gets various organs and hormones to function better.
Bandhas and mudras channelize bio-energy to flow in a specific pattern, which in turn creates calmness and promotes healing of various ailments. Meditation and deep relaxation is the opposite of the stress we feel through the day, making it a sanctuary for all who find themselves hassled with the day.
A piece of advice to the readers
Quoting Swami Sivananda -“An ounce of practice is worth tonnes of theory” - it does not matter what you practice, as long as you do it daily. Think of practicing yoga as a bathing session for the body, mind and spirit – just like how we wash ourselves every day after we get dirty, we need to practice yoga daily. Rest assured, many benefits shall come to you, with regular, joyful practice.
(The author is the CEO of ME MET ME. She is an internationally trained Yoga Teacher and Wellness Researcher. You can Email her on firstname.lastname@example.org, Whatsapp on +919567366250 and Facebook MeMetMeYoga)