When you practice yoga regularly, you will notice changes not only in your physical body, but also on a mental and emotional level. By doing yoga with full dedication and commitment, you are on a path of self-discovery!
Even if you are not flexible, or have excess fat in your body, if you think this is not for you, I encourage you to try, give it a chance. Sometimes you need to change multiple instructors to find a right one for you. Of course, not all people will be attracted to yoga and that is perfectly fine.
In my life I’ve been practicing various sports. After graduating from the Faculty of Sports and Physical education, I started working as a fitness trainer and conducted various group fitness programs as well as personal trainings. I always loved to see how people become healthier and happier; the smile on their face was my biggest reward. But for me, something was missing…
Gyms were always full, group programs were raising the adrenaline, but I was looking for some silence. When I tried yoga, first time in 2015, a whole new Universe opened to me and I would like to share with you a few important lessons that yoga taught me.
I have been practicing yoga regularly since 2016 and in 2020 I finished the Himalayan School of Traditional Yoga’s Teacher Training Course in Bangalore, India. I always believe that what is original is essential and truthful; that is why I wanted to study yoga that had been practiced even centuries ago.
Your body is your temple – this is so true. Take care of your body, feel your body, connect to your body. There is no better way to do this than yoga! I am pretty sure! And it is not only about your body, it is much more… If you are interested in knowing what exactly yoga can teach you in life, keep on reading!
1.Love and accept your physical body
How much do we really love and accept our body? How many times do we say “if I could only change this…”? How often do we feel the pain in some body parts and what do we do about it? Our body is sending us signs that we should do something about it.
In yoga, you have the opportunity to connect to your body, feel your body and also transform your body, become more flexible, stronger and healthier. Body transformation will always follow the inner transformation. When you do the asanas, you are fully aware of the body parts involved, you actually feel what is going on in your body and you respect the limits of your body. So there is no pushing or forcing!
2. Love and accept yourself
You are enough and you are unique! Being imperfect is perfectly fine! Drop all of your self-judgment, self-criticism and allow yourself to flow, to be natural. Yoga will teach you that!
You are much more than your physical body. Yoga can lead you to higher levels of awareness and you can only reach this state only when you are in silence and when you are in deep peace.
3. Be in the present
Be here and now. Present time is the only thing you have. Past is gone, future is unknown, so be in now. When you practice the asanas, you are fully in the present moment, feeling what is going on inside you and in your physical body. When the mind starts wandering, the effect is much less. When you are fully focused, which gets improved by practice, you also start to live more in the present in your daily life, and concentration levels are much higher.
4. Do not compare with others
Your neighbor in yoga class might be doing that amazing advanced yoga posture that you’ve always dreamed of! And you are maybe struggling even to move your finger! So what?!
We are all different. Yoga is only about yourself, there is no need to compare with anyone, not only in yoga but in life as well. Everyone has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Keep on practicing regularly and you will become much better, there is no need to show off nor to compare with anyone.
5. Small steps towards big success
“Success comes before work only in the dictionary” is one of my favorite quotes. Today some yoga postures may not be easy, but the more you practice you will become much better and enter into the postures much more easily. For some postures, it may take longer, but keep on practicing. In yoga, as in life, commitment and discipline are the essential part of the success.
6. Failure is fine
When you already have been practicing yoga for a certain period of time and your body is ready for more advanced postures, you may fall hundred times until you learn how to perform certain asanas. “Failure is not the opposite of success; failure is the part of success”.
7. Flexibility, balance and strength
As your body becomes more flexible, the more you will be flexible in life. You will just go with the flow. Yoga also balances body and mind. The more you practice yoga, the more you will be balanced in your daily life. Yoga improves focus and concentration. You will become like a peaceful warrior, peaceful inside and strong and brave to deal with many different life challenges.
8. Everything starts with a breath
You can’t control your heartbeat, your digestion, secretion, etc. The only thing you can control is your breath. Without oxygen, there is no life. Everything starts with a breath. Different breathing techniques, or pranayamas, will help you become more peaceful, stress-free, relaxed, to sleep better, while some of them will make you more energetic, balanced, sharpen your focus. There are plenty of health benefits of breathing techniques, which are one of the important parts of traditional yoga classes.
9. You need to find time for yourself
In the modern world, we are so busy. There is a quote “If you can’t find time for your wellness, eventually you will find time for your illness”. You need this time for yourself. You deserve time for yourself. After yoga class, people usually feel so refreshed and rejuvenated.
And after all, just relax! Drop off all your thoughts, heaviness and relax completely. One of the best moments for many yoga practitioners is a deep relaxation part after yoga asanas. This feeling can hardly be put in words, you have to experience that!
Authors: Monika Nedic, yoga instructor
Dr.Nagendra is known for his scientific approach to yoga and yoga therapy. He has authored over 100 research papers, and over 35 books on yoga. He is an academic, an institution builder as well as a guide and a mentor to innumerable people in the field of yoga. He is also popularly known as the personal yoga consultant to the Indian Prime Minister, Sri. Narendra Modi.
The Government of India awarded him the fourth highest civilian honour of the Padma Shri in 2016 in recognition of his services to society.
Dr. H.R. N: When I started my doctoral program inThe Indian Institute of Science, we were really asking a question as to what the purpose of this research was. The top brains from The Indian Institute of Science discussed and we found that there was no way we were headed towards finding reality! We then wondered what the way out was. It is then that I got exposed to the Upanishads, and we were convinced that indeed we now had to go the Upanishadic way and Yoga was the way to bring in this dimension. This was the turning point in 1965. And then I started studying the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Sanskrit and all the texts and also started doing many practices. Soon, it started growing more and more. That’s how everything crystallized. When I went abroad, I developed a clear idea that I would come back and pursue this line to further advance whatever research has been done in the West. We would now take it further. That’s how the whole process started. We realized that there are many yoga institutions throughout the world, but our specialty would be to bring in scientific research. And as you said, this is what we have pursued at our institution, S-VYASA. It is known for research. https://svyasa.edu.in/
When I found the direction in which to progress and pursue efforts, Swami Vivekananda came into my life. He told me to combine the best of the East with the best of the West. The best of the West is modern scientific research. So, I wanted to get familiarized with the total perspective of research, the best universities in the US and the Western industries. So I worked there for a while and came with a broadened perspective and started engaging in research in this field.
Dr. H.R. N: I was not an institution builder, but I’m an academician and also a researcher. Our training took place in Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, under the overall guidance of Sri EknathjiRanade. He was a tremendous organizer, builder and a team builder. He then developed the VivekanandaRock Memorial in Kanyakumari, amidst all odds. Nobody imagined that we could build the Rock Memorial. How he converted problems, challenges and difficulties into opportunities was a great training and a mind boggling experience. I had the good fortune of staying with him from 1975 until his death, for almost 11 to 12 years and that helped me learn the science and art of building organizations and teams in the country. He also gave two beautiful books,’Sadhana of Service’ and ‘Rousing Call to Hindu Nation’ which were almost like our Bible, in which he brought out the complete and essential dimensions regarding the direction we had to move in using the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. We came there from Kanyakumari with hardly a few rupees in hand. The biggest challenge was that we had to collect the donations and finances and already Eknathji had trained me to be a good beggar(laughs). That beggary helped me to go around the world, and get some funding for this. Slowly, it started getting built and my colleagues Nagarathna, Mohan,Subhadra and I, worked together as one team to bring whatever was needed. In contrast to many other Universities or organizations that were built with industrialists’ support and financial backup, ours was built from scratch. We always believed that if it has to happen, it will happen. We were to only be instruments in the hands of the Divine. And that’s how it had grown.
Dr. H.R. N: Swami Vivekananda said that we have to bring yoga from the Himalayan Mountains down into our day to day life, to make yoga, a socially relevant science. There are very few among the millions who go on to pursue yoga with the goal of getting to Liberation or Moksha. But how could I bring yoga to our day to day life for the rest? That was the whole idea. And we started this journey way back in 1975 when I was in Vivekananda Kendra. We decided we had to bring it to our education system and it slowly started coming up. Working in Arunachal Pradesh (a state in India), was most challenging; unread and unschooled people had to be trained to blossom as beautiful flowers in the country. And that’s what we did by developing wonderful yoga modules, for total personality development and consciousness, physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, personality development, and full core consciousness of civics and patriotism, service, health and spiritual life. These modules were put into practice there. We had scientific research, we published papers and started implementing them. The children grew wonderfully much to our great satisfaction. That’s how we spread yoga around the entire country. The government saw the research and decided to bring it to our education system.
Dr. H.R. N:We started getting inquires for helping people deal with issues like arthritis, bronchitis and asthma. We started by conducting yoga therapy camps and also started measuring all the things gradually just like when we go into more rigorous studies. We incorporated randomized control trials, and then went into long term studies. We put in our efforts and by 1986, we published our first research paper in the British Medical Journal, which was unheard of in the field of yoga. It was the first yoga publication and it was presented in the best journal of the world; not an easy task; we worked hard for almost a year with questions from reviewers;tearing, tough questions. We had to answer everything and at times the communication went back and forth three or four times; given that we did not have any email facility at that time, it was letter correspondence. It was a huge effort but finally, one single paper in the British Medical Journal called, ‘Yoga for bronchial asthma – a controlled study’, brought our entire work in front of the whole world.
Then we published a long term study in the Journal of Asthma in the United State of America, in which we showed people the results of follow-up practice of yoga. Normally, when people are very severely asthmatic, they practice yoga very regularly, about 95% of the people practice. When they get better, only 60% practice; when they get even better, only 20% practice yoga. This is what we have seen, and we tracked in our study that was published in the Journal,what happens to patients, when they are regular, discontinuous, or irregular in the practice of yoga. It was a paper involving 660 patients and also all the work was done with no grant at all. It was entirely volunteer work and that was the beauty of the project.
In recent times, another big project has been a model for diabetes. Throughout the country, India is facing the challenge of diabetes and our Prime Minister gave a mandate that we should see that we prevent India from becoming the diabetic capital of the world. We conducted research with around 250,000 people around the country, and we have published 30 cutting edge research papers. Because of all these, the American Diabetic Association, which is the premier body in diabetes acknowledged that this was the biggest research and also the best and gave us the biggest award for the year.
Now we have taken up COVID Research also in order to bring out some important dimensions through yoga; how we can boost our immune system to meet the challenge of COVID and many such questions are addressed through this research.
We have published nearly 800 papers on various problems including cancer. Cancer is another big research we were involved in and this was with MD Anderson Cancer Centre, the biggest Cancer Centre in the world. We have also completed a five year study on Cancer, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) which is complete and will go into the archives as some of the best research papers in the field of cancer.
Dr. H.R. N: What we wanted to find out was where this knowledge base is available to us in our ‘Yoga Shastras’. We searched and finally, we found the clue and the secret in the ‘Yoga Vasishta’, in which it is beautifully described as to how these ailments are promoted and how they are caused. It all started with ManoMayakosha as Aadi and comes down to the physical body and becomes the vyaadi (disease). I’ve been talking about this everywhere. Unless we remove the Aadi we have no solution. The entire medical world that we have today is essentially only with the physical aspect; trying to go deeper and deeper into the body level, going into the immune system, going into the respiratory system, going deeper into the DNA and even gene therapy is being pursued. But the root cause is not tackled; that is the Aadi. So that’s the speciality of yoga.
We developed an integrated approach of yoga therapy to work at all levels of the bodily sheaths or koshas and develop a holistic system, which can bring about improvements as diseases are not only physical. They present a multi-dimensional challenge; they have physical and mental, restlessness, emotional upset, deep-rooted psychological conflict etc. Whether it is asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart problem, epilepsy, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer or depression, all these are very complicated, sophisticated, and pose a multi-dimensional challenge. Yet the knowledge base that we have in modern science and technology is essentially physical. We cannot fight with a one-dimensional solution for a multi-dimensional challenge. Yoga provides a multi-dimensional solution.
But the important point to note is that people have to realize that specific modules have to be developed based on the pathophysiology and deeper dimensions of their disease. We have Dr.Nagarathna. She’s an expert in the modern medical world. Both of us together developed the model which was needed.
Dr. H.R. N: Normally, we ask people with severe symptoms to come to our centre here in the beautiful PrashantiKutiram campus, a 400-bed facility. When they come here, they are trained from morning 4.30 AM till night, on Raja yoga, Bhaktiyoga, Karmayoga; all put into in an integrated approach. Now, we have added the dimensions of Ayurveda, naturopathy, homoeopathy, physiotherapy, acupuncture; all these are included in an integrative model which reduces the time to heal and harmonize.
Dr. H.R. N: People can use yoga as a physical exercise and also bring in various permutations and combinations. That’s fine. Nothing wrong in it; people also can find out innovative, even creative ways of adopting these dimensions. And that way, we start off. But, gradually, they should grow. There are thousands of people throughout the country who have been doing that and they are developing themselves at various levels. Now it has to be brought into the greater focus. And therefore, we have standardization procedures through the Yoga Certification Board in the Ministry of Ayush.
Similarly, WHO is also coming up to help establish standardization, in order to show people basic level and advanced levels. And this how it’s going to come up. In order to bring it to the university level, the MHRD has developed the Inter University Centre for Yoga Sciences. The main objective is to train people to reach higher levels and ensure that centralization happens at the university level. This is how it has to grow, from the primary level, to the middle school, and then high school and college level. There’s nothing wrong in it; let them have a different approach to yoga and use it differently. But you need to be cautious as to not bring a bad name to yoga by practising distorted and maybe totally dangerous forms; claiming that yoga can do everything in the world; there is nothing that yoga cannot do, etc.; such claims have to be curtailed. This is what we are requesting people and the Indian Yoga Association, which is a conglomerate of all the top yoga masters in the country has been able to build upon this idea. It’s a great achievement in a sense because people were working as islands, at different places. We had to build a common platform to synergize the effort.
Therefore, around 12 to 13 years back, when we wanted to achieve this, we went to Sri BKS Iyengarji. He became the first President of Indian Yoga Association and slowly we brought everybody, the 18 yoga paramparas and others on a common platform to synergize and build standardization.
Dr. H.R. N: The COVID crisis has given us a great opportunity to bring about a paradigm shift in our understanding of our way of working and also the process of how we can handle staying alone, in an isolated situation. Thanks to our Prime Minister and the COVID, which have turned out to be a boon, now people are forced to take up a new way of life. They were all very busy and when we used to say at least half an hour to one hour of practice is required, they would say, “Where do I have the time? I am very busy. I don’t have time at all.”I would counter and ask, “Are you busier than our Prime Minister, who spends almost an hour every day for his practice?”People have their own limitations of laziness, lethargy against doing anything physical and hence they say that. Now they’re forced to change due to COVID and therefore, it’s a great opportunity to change one’s lifestyle from running all the time, at times not knowing where we are running, to a place where you can stay and develop our family ties with love and affection and gradually move towards selflessness, which is the key essence of yoga and also using various yoga techniques.
Therefore, we developed three modules; one below 15 years, then 16 to 60 years, and above 60 years; they are integrated yoga modules, very simple ones that everybody can do in about 10 to 15 minutes. We ask them to do this in their home, maybe three to four times a week. Information on this is available on our website. Then, for people who are already in the hospital with COVID, we have 5 or 6 other simple modules, which require only about 5 to 10 minutes. And they can be done even while lying down on the bed.
Essentially, whatever you practice, we have to bring this dimension of harmony, love, and peace to the people at large, contribute more and more to society. You slowly move from a self-centred life to a selfless type of lifestyle; raise a man from our normal level to become great human beings, super divine human beings. These are the qualities we have to develop. And we promote these through various yoga practices, that is asana, pranayama, mudra, kriya; these are all there to bring about transformation right from inside, deep relaxation at the body level, and slowing down of the breath at the prana level, calming down of the mind at the mind level, bringing equanimity at the emotional level and a proper understanding at the intellectual level.
Dr. H.R. N: I would say Santhosh; to be happy all the time and spread the fragrance of love and bliss to everyone. Whatever be the circumstances we are under, we have to maintain that equipoise, the blissful awareness and the smile on the face. If you start doing that, it will start working wonders.
Author: This interview was conducted by Madhusudan Rajagopalan, a member of the Early Birds Club global board. Madhusudan is a Director of Himalayan School of Traditional Yoga (HSTY – himalayanschool.com), a yoga institution founded by Mohanji to propagate the knowledge of authentic traditional yoga. HSTY is a Yoga Alliance registered yoga school and an associate centre of the Indian Yoga Association. Madhusudan is also CEO of Mohanji Foundation (mohanji.org), and an entrepreneur who is currently building a new venture, Water and Light Applications (https://waterandlight.in), in the domain of coherent water.
Yoga is one of the three best things that ever happened to me. Yoga as a spiritual technique. I am referring to the yoga people practice in spiritual centres, while the yoga teacher is a dedicated yogi who shares with us, practitioners, the wisdom of living, the truth and philosophy of beings and life through this ancient technique. Like a prayer, intentional silence, meditation, or chanting, practicing yoga takes a person to a destination full of peace, tranquillity and various realizations. Once you know and understand the philosophy of yoga, after much dedication and commitment to the practice, it becomes a way of life and the wisdom of living.
The first major thing I experienced and realized through yoga was awareness. Being aware of every movement, holding a yoga pose (asana) with awareness, and directing attention to a certain part of the body – that was spirituality in practice for me. Awareness of the moment, pose – they will calm your racing mind, make them stay where they were, but weakened and without influence on your present moment because the mind no longer inclines to experience them. You watch them as if they were appearing on a TV screen, aware that now they have no influence on your emotions and reactions. Your body strengthens, pushes the boundaries of your stamina, just as mental toughness does, because your mind thought that until then you were not able to do that.
When our body exercises with full awareness, when we focus our attention on the part of the body that holds a pose, then prana, i.e. life force, feeds that part of the body. By consciously directing life energy to a certain part of the body, we literally rejuvenate it, strengthen it, refresh it. There may be areas in our body that are blocked both physically and energetically. When we consciously direct the flow of prana to that part of the body, energy, just like water, finds its way into the body and flows into the “dried-up area.” Life force in certain areas of our body may be inert, blocked, clogged. When you boost and release it through dedicated exercise, that results in relief on a physical level, when pain in a sore spot goes away, your head “clears” – then you realize how powerful we are and what blockages in the body, which are actually dictated by our mind, we can eliminate, overcome. I once again learnt to love my body, in a new way. I began to respect it more. I started to express my gratitude to my body over and over again. Both to my body (because it cooperates perfectly) and my ego (because it bows down before my soul) and the soul itself (on intuition and guidance). I realized how the body actually has fantastic communication with us only if we are connected, focused, open to receive the information it sends us. It has a unique intelligence. Our body remembers. It remembers movements and boundaries, communicates with us, responds to our presence. When we are connected to our body, when our attention and movement are one, our body just flows from one movement to another, dances to its own rhythm and pushes the boundaries of its own endurance.
Although human breathing is almost always an automatically unconscious process, it doesn’t really have to be that way. During yoga classes, special, very intense breathing exercises called pranayama (prana – omnipresent life force and yama – control) are performed, during which we empty our body of stagnant life energy (through exhalation) and fill it with new, fresh prana (by breathing in). This vitalizes our physical body, shines the light on meridians of our energy body, activates the “operation” of both nostrils at the same time. Throughout the day, we breathe only through one nostril. Each nostril takes regular breaks, and this changeover occurs every hour; except from 3 to 6 a.m. when both nostrils are active at the same time, and so is the functioning of both hemispheres of our brain. I have met many Muslims who spend this time of night and morning praying during the last week of Ramadan, and the most dedicated ones pray during this period. In India, this period of the day is called brahmamuhurtha (literally meaning “hours of the Creator”) and people there tend to spend this time in a kind of spiritual practice, and often practice no other than yoga or just meditate. During this period, we are most open for connecting to the Source and, if the intentions are pure, great realizations, reliefs, grace, healings occur. When we control our breath, i.e. prana, we are actually controlling our mind. Our state of awareness depends on the quality and the quantity of prana in our body; it depends on whether we have physical or mental issues or not.
I love practising pranayama! It boosts my concentration, and thus the productivity of my intellectual and creative tasks at work and during the day, in general.
Mantra is a vibration. It is a unique set of words that, when pronounced correctly, connect us to the Source. Chanting is one of the techniques of connecting with consciousness. People often find meditating difficult because their mind is restless. The nature of the mind is to control. A mantra is a channel that shifts the flow of thoughts. Chanting makes it easier for us to stay on the path of awareness. Most of the mantras are in Sanskrit, the language that has been proven to produce the highest vibration. The most well-known mantra is OM, which closes each yoga class. It consists of the sound “AUM” which echoes through the universe, which can be heard in space, at the bottom of the ocean and in the mother’s womb. OM is a symbol of the whole universe, a symbol of Existence. When we chant the OM mantra, we align with the vibration of the universe, with the harmony of Creation, and our mind, body and soul merge in deep unity. Whenever I felt anxiety in a certain situation, I would withdraw into myself and chant my most favourite mantra. It is something that literally restores peace in my heart and body, almost instantly. I can feel the connection almost on a physical level. Knowing that we are loved and guided in every situation. Priceless.
Yoga Nidra is a kind of deep relaxation that is practiced after yoga exercises. The technique is based on consciousness (not concentration). The light of consciousness is shed on every part of our body, the energy field around our physical body (aura) expands, our biomemory absorbs the effects and changes that occurred during the exercise. During yoga nidra, when our subconscious mind is pure and receptive, and our body is deeply relaxed, the mind is in the state of alpha waves, our positive intentions are released like seeds and enter our subconscious mind. This is also the path to the realization of some of our major, sincere wishes. The promise we make to ourselves to maintain our greatest truth. Just then, because we are centred, open and in perfect harmony with our soul, with the universal consciousness. And then, yoga Nidra comes as the icing on the cake. I learnt I can (and should) address every cell of my body, to express gratitude for the good health of each one of them, to let go of the cells that may be ill, to release them with love and blessings so that they could leave my system and make room for the growth of new, healthy cells, or for ill cells to recover. The intensity of the love and the feeling of unity with my inner body, organs, blood stream and the entire perfect system that operates beneath our skin and skeleton, that connection of my mind with the rest of the system – I have never felt all that more than while practicing yoga Nidra. My gratitude to the Universe which pervades you, the gratitude for my life path just as it is, acceptance of all blessings and challenges that await us on that path, with constant feeling of peace and fulfilment.
I am immensely grateful to my yoga teachers. Through yoga, they have had a huge impact on my everyday life, as well as on the growth and development of my inner being. I would like to thank all yoga masters who gave us this ancient technique and huge thanks to all teachers who maintain and spread this technique through dedication and commitment.
Author: Dejana Vojnović – graduated from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade she has been working as a foreign language teacher for ten years. She completed her psychology training in transactional analysis and at the same time became interested in a more in-depth spiritual search, which continues today. Using her own acquired knowledge and what she has experienced, she has been working as a consultant for several years.
Nowadays, the word religion often has somewhat negative connotation of an organized institution which is more turned towards its profit, than towards God. However, religion is a very important notion for human society as well as for its individuals, and as such requires to be revisited and re-redefined. What we normally think of when we say religion is the mass, organized religion, and that’s not what this beautiful word was originally meant to denote. Its root lays in the Latin word ligare – meaning to connect, and the suffix re, which even today in modern English denotes repeating an action, or doing something again, so it could be translated as reconnecting. But to what, or to whom? The answer is very simple – to ourselves, or to be more precise, to our Self, our Soul, the God or the Guru which lies in each and every one of us.
Similarly, instead of invoking the dreams and hopes of a better world, the word utopia often creates negative associations of a nightmare society. According to its theory, utopia as understood by the Western civilization, stems from Christianity. So, utopia and religion are the two words which have somehow over time acquired negative connotations, and they most certainly deserve redemption and rehabilitation as they are both very important for reaching a better world. You may wonder how this can be done, and how the two are connected at all.
First of all, we need to change our old-fashioned outlook on utopia as a silly dream of a supposedly and seemingly perfect society which has a fixed set of rules imposed by some imaginary governing system, and which is so obviously full of faults when seen from the outside. The ambiguity of the meaning of the word – is it a perfect place or place that doesn’t exist, could be resolved in a completely new way – it is a perfect no-place, meaning it is not a place at all, but a journey, and being a journey it can never be perfect, which would be mean it’s over and done. It can only be more perfect, or better. So, the new utopia is dynamic, it is a constant change for the better. Also, it is constantly questioning itself, analysing its faults and looking for better solutions. So, the new utopia is constantly flowing, changing and improving, being aware of itself and trying to be better with every new moment. Doesn’t this somewhat evoke the Buddhist message to question absolutely everything? Also, utopia is no longer imposed as a set of rules from the outside, but it’s being built brick by brick, grain by grain, person by person. We no longer need some abstract rules to know what is good and what is bad, because we fully understand that harming anyone or anything means harming ourselves, because we are finally waking up to the truth that All Is One.
We are waking up to this new society which is getting better day by day as every new person awakes to the Divine Consciousness and understands that the only way to a perfect society is through unconditional love, selfless service and non-violence. New individuals who understand that by working on their self-acceptance and improvement means an improvement for the society as well, as we are all equally important members of that society, and more importantly, we are all examples to each other. Our behaviour is not just ours. It has so much effect and can change so much. Buddha, Jesus, Krishna and many others are exactly that – the examples of whom we can and should be. So, imagen a society of Bodhis – fully spiritually awakened people, of course it would be perfect. That is our way to utopia. That’s how mysticism as individual religion, i.e. reconnection to our true Self is important for the whole society.
This is where yoga starts to play an important role. But yoga, not just as a set of asanas, but Yoga as a conscious way of living. Since all that is done with full awareness can be Yoga. And among those different types, there is one which in my view surmounts them all, as it is equally and very obviously beneficial for the individual, and for the society, and that is Karma Yoga, or selfless service. This is the ultimate Yoga on our earthly plane, the one we should practice every day. There is no better way of elevating ourselves on our spiritual path, there is no method that can make us feel as good as selfless service. And then, the good we do for the society and Mother Earth is also priceless. On top of that, our selfless service serves one more purpose – as a good example to the others. Our actions can serve as an inspiration to others to do the same, to help and serve and continue the beautiful flow of unconditional love throughout this world. We are like dominos leaning on each other and we have the power to lift each other up, or take us all down. Our society is like a huge organism, and in order for an organism to be healthy, all, or at least the majority of its cells have to be healthy. And we are those cells, so it is our duty and responsibility to keep ourselves healthy, to love ourselves, be good to ourselves, and then to heal each other and help each other. We need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to help the society.
A beautiful example of literary utopia which proposes turns to Eastern religious teachings for the solution for a better society is Aldous Huxley’s not so well-known novel “The Island”. Its beauty also lies in combining the East and the West, taking “the best of both worlds”, or taking “the best of all the worlds”, or as he loves to say in the novel “Nothing short of everything will really do”. We, as individuals are also small worlds, microcosms, the pieces of a giant puzzle, and we all matter in the total picture. This Huxley utopia is definitely not perfect, some of his solutions are rather questionable, yet the essence and the ultimate message of the novel are extremely powerful and to the point.
So, it’s important to understand that utopia is not an imaginary place, it is not a place limited by boundaries. Just like the Kingdom of God lies within us, utopia lies within us, too, and we spread its territory with our good deeds, selfless service, unconditional love and rising the awareness. We are all ambassadors of Utopia, which is rising brick by brick, piece by piece, or to use the language of the modern technology, it is being downloaded like a torrent, one piece here, another one over there, until we finally have a perfect society of fully realized Boddhis. It is possible, and it does depend on you.
Article Credit: Tijana Sladoje
As I roll out my mat, palms to heart, I inhale deeply, setting my intention. I center myself and place my focus inward, preparing to guide a yoga class for the next 75 minutes. Trying to breathe through nerves, I think about what exactly I will be guiding.
My hope is to guide openings: open hearts to flow more freely, heal, and take in more of what is needed (more beauty, more hope, or more love). I hope to guide bodies to find more strength, release tension, and gain flexibility. I hope to guide the release of tension in the mind.
I hope to guide a journey—a journey that has changed my perspective about who I thought I was and what my body-mind connection was capable of. Yoga has healed me and given me the self-love to kick a nicotine addiction, as well as an addiction to feeling like I’m a wounded person. I hope to ignite that same self-care in others.
When we practice yoga, we’re guided to focus only on ourselves, not looking around or noticing what any other yogi is doing.
We breathe through our own practice. The audible breath sounds have always been comforting to me, somehow. It is as if I can feel the class’ collective strength, which manages to feed my strength with each inhalation and exhalation.
As a teacher, though, we’re there to notice the other yogis. We’re no longer paying attention to our own practice, but tuning into the practice of others. We look for alignment, deep breathing, possible strain, or notice where space can be created for deeper engagement.
The perspective has now shifted, and we have an opportunity to teach, to guide, and to be part of the physical and spiritual expansion of another person.
As class comes to a close and everyone lies in Savasana, I am moved by the beauty of meditation. I notice the progression of the new practitioner who seemed so uncomfortable being in stillness during her first class, now welcoming this opportunity.
With deep respect, I understand that this resistance to stillness humanizes us. I’m fully aware, as I watch the rise and fall of bellies and chests in meditation that every person who enters class is trying to be better in some way. I’m inspired by their efforts and I see myself in all of them.
The walls that have been constructed to keep us safe come down with each breath. I’m more conscious than ever of the connectedness between us.
These yogis are faithful to their practice and to their bodies. Some days, their practice seems effortless as they gracefully flow and hold balance. Like in life, on certain days we show up as the best version of ourselves.
On other days, as class ends, they express their fatigue and how class felt harder. I completely understand them because these are the days when we simply feel weaker and have less to give, but we show up anyway.
There are empty classes at times. I resist the urge to feel down about it because I remind myself that there are days, I too, don’t have much to give or time to carve out for self-nourishment.
When they do come back, I guide them as best as I can and am humbled by their commitment to heal, to grow, and to find strength. I realize that I’m also guiding myself—remembering to honor every phase of my own humanity.
Some days, we claim rock star status; on others, we struggle just to keep moving. I may stumble on my words during certain classes, while others seem to flow effortlessly, as I remember every bit of dialogue and even infuse some of my own humor, inspiration, and voice into it.
As I guide each practitioner to forget about what they needed to do to get to class, releasing thoughts of anything that they might need to do after class, we place our hands in prayer and begin breathing together. We pretend that I’m teaching them.
As we say our goodbyes, however, I’m fully aware that it has been the other way around…for me, anyway.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Author: Nicole Markardt, doyouyoga.com
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:
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