| The Awakening Times magazine, April 2014 |
In today’s world, the very word and concept of Yoga is greatly misunderstood – Yoga can be used for fitness, toning of the muscles, balancing, relaxation and rejuvenation, as these are some of its beautiful effects, but it’s true purpose is far beyond that. Before diving into the topic of the true purpose of Yoga, let us briefly look into its history and the rich tradition that brought it forward to the present day.
BRIEF HISTORY OF YOGA
The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit ‘yug’, meaning to yoke, join, connect or unite – to unite with our Higher Self. Yoga can also mean “to attain what was previously unattainable” or “to cause change”.
The forefathers of Yoga were spiritual explorers/inner scientists, in search of the secrets of a healthy and truly happy life. These sages did not set out to put their bodies into pretzel positions or stand on their head. They were fueled by the idea that life has something deeper and more meaningful to offer if one is able to tune in to the soul’s purpose. While spending lengths of time in meditation and through careful observation of the ways of nature, they realized that sincere inner exploration is not easy. To start with, one needs a strong and supple body and sharp mental focus in order to prepare oneself for the dive within and deep inner cleansing. The complex system of postures and techniques that we now call Hatha Yoga was born from this observation. This goes to say that all the stretching and movement one does in Yoga was originally designed to prepare the practitioner to sit still and dive deep within effectively and effortlessly.
“Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah” is Patanjali’s famous definition of Yoga. In short, it means, “Yoga is the removal of the fluctuations of the mind”.
Chitta is mind, vrittis are thought impulses, nirodah is removal.
Although nobody can own Yoga, Patanjali is known as ‘the father of Yoga’ because he was the first to codify various Yoga teachings around 300 B.C. Throughout the centuries, yogis practiced intense and methodical investigation into their minds and looked deep within themselves to find the answers to life’s most pertinent questions. All in all, the Yoga that we get to practice today stems from an unimaginably rich tradition.
The benefits of Yoga are many. Yoga provides both, instant gratification and lasting transformation. True Yoga practice incorporates awareness in the practice of asanas (Sanskrit word meaning ‘steady pose’), pranayama breathing techniques, meditation and mantras. Moreover, it also teaches us how to incorporate awareness and purity at the level of thoughts, words and actions and assume responsibility for creating our own reality.
Yoga is much more than an exercise. The practice of Yoga allows students to achieve stillness in a world engrossed in chaos and to tap into the consciousness of the ‘inner witness’, the operating mode of our soul. In other words, Yoga students gradually learn how to rise above the pull of mind, emotions, and lower bodily needs and face any challenge of life with maturity. This lasting transformation is the promise of Yoga to all sincere practitioners.
METHODOLOGY & TRUE PURPOSE OF YOGA
Yoga practice is not so much about the skill but about the feeling and sincerity of practice. Yoga students/practitioners have to be taught how to really apply themselves during their Yoga practice and allow themselves to go beyond the mind and ego, becoming aware of every cell in the body vibrating in perfect harmony. Meditation and Yoga Nidra (or yogic sleep) done after one hour of Yoga asanas are of crucial importance and are considered essential in order to allow for the transformative results of Yoga. If a sponge is not left in water long enough, it will not absorb the water. In the same way, if one doesn’t allow some time to ‘absorb’ the effects of the Yoga asanas, the practice will be reduced to a mere exercise.
Awareness of each movement and utilization of mind’s power of ‘Sankalpa’ (Sanskrit word for ‘intention’) with which one moves the body while performing Yoga asanas is the key to a successful Yoga practice. Regular Yoga practice prepares our body to withstand higher energy and to cope with all the challenges on the path of one’s Self-Actualization and Liberation with a balanced mind.
Before starting the Yoga practice, one should acknowledge his/her body as a beautiful vessel of the soul and the most remarkably fine-tuned instrument with immense capabilities. We then invoke our Higher Self and set the intention behind all the asanas during the Yoga session. With mind fully present in each asana and breath utilized properly to help remove the blockages in the subtle meridians in our aura, the level of awareness and purity rises with each Yoga practice.
It is important to understand that lack of flexibility is associated with energy blockages in the nadis (energy meridians in the subtle body), and with samskaras (negative/painful impressions of the mind stored in the muscles (and subconscious mind), which add to the ‘luggage’ we carry unnecessarily). Yoga practice helps us to remove these blockages by working on our physical body, by consciously breathing through the stiffness in certain areas of the body. We hence start experiencing the all new lightness, learn to truly love our body as the vehicle of our soul, and come to experience the cause-less joy of our true Self.
The following points are essential for effective Yoga practice:
- There is nothing competitive about Yoga and one should never become egoistical about his/her level of fitness/flexibility. Do not compare yourself with others as all of us have unique blockages and our inner journey is individual. While performing each asana, go as far as you can, consciously breath through the stiffness of the body and each time push yourself just a bit more beyond what is comfortable. You will be amazed how fast your physical body will respond and the results that you will achieve.
- The quality of the breath will reflect what is going on in the mind, and consequently in the body. While performing each asana, one should always be aware of the breath – never hold the breath, strain or frown. When breathing through stiffness, keep your mind calm, facial muscles relaxed and continuously focus on your breath ensuring it remains smooth. While practicing Yogic rhythmic breathing with awareness of the spine, we breathe in the cooling Feminine/Moon/THA energy and breathe out the warm Masculine/Sun/Ha energy, balancing the feminine and masculine aspect of our being.
- During your Yoga practice you will be trained in how to witness your physical, mental and emotional reactions as you perform Yoga asanas. Mind will thus be kept under control and not allowed to wander off following other subjects or stimuli.
- As you become more adept in the practice, you will be able to hold the asanas for longer (1-2 min.), without straining, followed by short relaxation in between. The goal is to hold the asanas with ease and enjoy the practice, as well as to deeply enjoy the short relaxation between the asanas and to reach and elongate the thoughtless state.
- You will be taught effective meditation techniques to be done after Yoga asanas (either in Shavasana or in cross-legged position, but always keeping the spine straight), which are essential in allowing the energy to sink in and the cleansing to take place.
- As you become more connected with the Life Force through your own inner experiences, non-violence at the level of thought, word and action will come naturally to you. All Yoga practitioners are encouraged to follow a Vegetarian/Satwic lifestyle and do selfless service, as both are closely interlinked with successful Yoga practice. Rather than being imposed as a strict rule, this is something that comes naturally, from within, as the subtlety level rises with regular Yoga practice.
The primary objective of Yoga is to spread the message of love, peace, healthy living and harmony with nature starting with one’s own direct inner experience of this harmony and blissful lightness through the practice of Yoga. Aside from numerous benefits at the physical, emotional and mental level, the practice of Yoga leads to self-knowledge, i.e. knowledge of the truth of our being.
Yoga practice (sadhana) has the enormous potential to make us more conscious human beings. It requires, however, the willingness of the body, mind, heart and the will to align with the soul’s aspiration for purification and perfection.
In the following issues of The Awakening Times, I will share with you insights, methodology and benefits related to selected Yoga asanas in order to inspire you to benefit from the profound Yogic science and experience a lighter, more loving and more fulfilling way of life.
Author: Biba Mohan, certified yoga instructor