Yoga – Beyond the Mat

Yoga rightly called as the “Sanatana”- eternal has come a long way. Ever along its journey the substance of Yoga has been well preserved and fortified by the experiences of the Rishis, mystics and sadhaks (students). We are seeing a revival of Yoga in today’s age. Millions of us are taking up “yoga”. Yoga is in the magazines, on T.V, in Hollywood and everywhere it can possibly be. But is it really penetrating “Inside” us? We “do” Yoga but do we really “practice” it?

Today’s highly obsessive physical culture and overtly self-indulgent attitudes have unfortunately limited down the scope of Yoga to that of “physicality” – I am into soccer, I do it to lose weight, I do it because Madonna does it are some answers I get when I ask the participants why they do yoga. All along the common strand of “physicality” is ever present.

So is yoga just about standing on the head, or about sweating out in heated rooms or about the group class on weekends to socialize? What really is yoga then if it is beyond “physicality”?

To explore the holistic nature of yoga we need to analyze the word “yoga” itself.

Yoga has been derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” means to yoke or join or unite. Now what to unite solely depends on the outlook and need of the aspirant or seeker on the Yogic path. This is the beauty of Yoga, it cannot be caged in limits, and any individual can adapt it for his/her life. A spiritual aspirant may look at Yoga as union of man and God; a householder may look at it as a union of personal life and work life. An athlete may look at Yoga as a union of his mind and body for his athletic performance. Applications vary with the objective. It wont be wrong on my part if I say that Yoga helps develop flexibility in body, in mind and in life.

Yes, physical practice is an integral part of Yoga ( hatha yoga ) but its not the end all of the practice. In fact it comes to me as a surprise when I see people who have been doing asana for many years without even knowing pranayama or the integration of breath in asanas. They are oblivious to the fact that the basis of asanas is in fact the Prana. With regards to our above definition Yoga is also the “union” of body and breath. In fact it’s this awareness of body and breath that takes a person from “gross awareness” to “subtle awareness” resulting in a state of Samadhi that is the end point of Yoga.

The definitions of Yoga can be found in Vedas, Upanishads, Samhitas and Sutras.
The commonly quoted definition of Yoga is “Yogaschitta vritti Nirodaha” Patanjali Yoga Sutra Ch1 Verse 2.
I love Patanjali because of his “to the point” style of writing. He doesn’t waste time taking us around philosophical jargons but he defines the purpose of Yoga and shows us the way.
This verse says Yoga is about restraining the movements of conscious or control of thought waves of the mind. And why do we do that? Because this mind complex is the source of all afflictions.
Once the mind is stilled it is comparable to a lamp in a windless place – unmoved and undisturbed as mentioned in Bhagvat Gita chapter 6 verse 19.
Patanjali says that this state of controlled mind can be achieved by abhyasa and vairagya. Where “abhyasa” is Practice and “Vairagya” is detachment.
We will come to the above two in the due course.

Lets look at other definitions of Yoga.
The first verse of Patanjali Yoga Sutra calls Yoga an “anushansana” or discipline.

The Bhagvat Gita in chapter 2 verse 47 says “Yoga samatvam uchyate” or Yoga is balance or equanimity. Equanimity between whom? Again like the earlier definition of Yoga this concept of equanimity can also be personalized. Balance between body and breath, work and personal life, possibilities are endless.

Yoga as a philosophy preaches action and practicality and is not just for debates and discussions. According to one definition “yoga karmashu kaushalyam” means yoga is skill in action. “Skill” as defined by Oxford English dictionary means “practiced ability”
This gets us back to the earlier definition that “restrain of mental waves or fluctuations “ can be achieved by “practice”. A regular Practice comes under the purview of discipline again fitting in our earlier definition “yoga is discipline”.

Further more “skill in action” can be personalized to whatever action the practitioner is involved in. An athlete may want to increase his skill at his performance, a salesman may want to polish his skills at sales techniques, and a homemaker would want to cook skillfully. This definition of Yoga can be taken home, at work or even on the road thus making it a part of our lifestyle.

This fluidity in meaning and application of Yoga is what makes it so acceptable and practical. Thus as a substance Yoga can be defined as control of mind with practice to develop skill in action and equanimity of thought, speech and action. Leading our lives with this principle would certainly reduce the shocks of the shaky fundamentals of our modern life.

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