This article is the second in my series of article on Yoga. In the very first I wrote about the meaning, definitions, basis, and principles of Yoga. In this article I will be writing about the Misconceptions and benefits of Yoga. I shall address the two topics separately and one small topic on contra-indications of practicing Yoga in a wrong way, if any, and the safeguards to be taken, if required.
Now, when you are talking about misconceptions, it may arise out of the mind or through false propaganda by vested interests. The false propaganda about Yoga has been initiated largely by two communities Viz. The Drug Industry and by the Religions and their prophet. The former do not wish to lose out on “their business” with an alternative “Preventive Healthcare System”, and the latter are afraid of “loss of belief systems” and subsequently the “loss of faith” in “false religious propaganda.
Let us now study the misconceptions about Yoga and beat them one by one! There may be a host of other misconceptions, however, I am limiting the numbers to the following major ones.
Misconceptions about Yoga
It belongs to one religion.
Having left the practice of Yoga, people gain weight.
Unscientific Method or a quark System!
Yoga means Asanas, Pranayama, & Meditation.
It is highly mystical, magical, etc.
It is only for the elite class.
Misconceptions explained in detail:
Yoga belongs to one religion
We have understood as to what is Yoga. Before deciding as to whether or not Yoga belongs to one religion or is it a religion in itself, let us understand what religion is. The oxford dictionary defines religion as thus, “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”. So, Yoga is neither a belief system nor a system of worship. There is no God, or a holy book, or prophet for Yoga. Hence, Yoga is not a religion in itself.
Yoga is India’s gift to the world. The knowledge of Yoga emanated from India. So there may be some assumption leading to conclude that Yoga is a “Hindu Religious Practice”. Look at it this way. Take the example of Edward Jenner. He developed the first vaccination in the world. Edward Jenner is a Christian. This does not mean that non-Christians should refrain from getting themselves vaccinated. Einstein was a Jew, and that does not mean that his discoveries are useless for Hindus, Christians, Muslims, etc. Likewise, Yoga being a source of Knowledge, Yoga being a way of life, it cannot be the authority or stamp of a religion. The crux of the matter is this, even if a Muslim performs Yoga, he is no less a Muslim; if a Christian performs Yoga, he is no less a Christian. It is a tool that gives equal benefits for those who practice it in the right way, irrespective of their caste, creed, community, religion, sex, colour, or nationality. Yoga must be learnt and practice by all of humanity.
Having left the practice, people gain weight
This is a very tricky statement. This statement could be true even to strength training, aerobics, gymnastics, etc. Now, what accumulates weight is a “Sedentary Lifestyle” and not by stopping any physical activity. More so, the idea of weight loss or gain is limited to the “Asana” view of Yoga. Some amount of physical activity is required for every man and women on this planet. Else, like a machine that rusts by not using it, the body rots. Diseases and a bad body is a result of “no physical activity” or a “sedentary lifestyle”. Besides, if one practices Yoga, the need for quitting the same never arises. One who has witnessed or enjoyed the benefits/fruits of Yoga will never quit it for a life time.
Science is a system based on mathematics and measurements, evidences by corroborative findings, and based on logical or rational hypothesis which are proved by experimental evidences. Claiming Yoga to be unscientific is a blatant lie. Some lies are being spread about Yoga as to primitiveness. These people or organisations are spreading such lies with agendas. Today, we have concrete evidence to show the impact of Yoga on health of an individual. Studies and researches are coming to conclusions that a few set of yogic practices can cure many diseases and ailments and that too free of cost. Besides, Integrated Approach to Yoga Therapy (IAYT) is gaining importance with Yoga being able to cure many auto-immune and/or non-communicable diseases. A close analysis of Surya Namaskara will tell you that it is a perfect example of a scientific formulation (This has been explained more in the ensuing article on Surya Namaskara). Yoga Nidra is another technique that impacts our life at the sub-conscious level. There is not an iota of doubt that Yoga is more scientific than any of its counterparts (on life style & fitness activities). If you still think it is unscientific, do not worry, and just practice Yoga as it works for you.
Yoga means Asanas, Pranayama, & Meditation
This is the biggest of all misconceptions that most people have about Yoga – ‘Yoga means physical postures (Asana), breathing practices (Pranayama), and meditative techniques (Dhyana). Yoga is a much bigger and higher subject. It has 4 streams: –
Jnana Yoga (The Path of Knowledge)
Karma Yoga (The Path of Action)
bhakti Yoga (The Path of Devotion)
Raja Yoga (The Path of Will Power)
Ashtanga Yoga (Also known as Hata Yoga) is part of Raja Yoga or Raja Yoga. Asana, Pranayama, and Dhyana, are only 3 out of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (This is explained in detail in the Chapter on Raja Yoga). Therefore, Yoga is not just the 3, it a larger and a higher, deeper and subtler stream of knowledge.
It is highly mystical, magical, etc.
There are references in history and in certain books as to the mysticism of certain Yogis. Say for example, the magic of “Pavari Baba” that Swamy Vivekananda refers to. Baba had the power to bring to reality any flower or fruit that Swami ji desired of or wished. Even Swamy Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is said to have had the power to change the colour of flowers. In the words of Ramakrishna, this mysticism, magic, and power, is a hindrance in the path of “Sadhana” (Realization). Besides, Fakirs, Babas, and Aghoris are also known to perform extra-ordinary feats through Yoga Sadhana.
Nevertheless, personally for me I do not find any reason why you should go behind the magical or mystical part of Yoga. For a beginner, it is best to avoid the same. Only in advanced Yogic practices one can practice, understand, and realise the immensity of the same. It is best not to believe in something you do not know or have not realised. It will be appropriate to comment on the same only when one has explored it. I would strictly recommend beginners to keep away from such hallucinations about Yoga.
It is only for the elite class.
Another common misconception maybe that one may feel that Yoga belongs to a class, creed, gender or sect. Besides, one may have a false notion that only healthy persons can do Yoga, it is a preventative technique, and has no cure. Another preposition is also possible wherein one may feel that only unhealthy people must do Yoga for health benefits, and that fit and hale persons must avoid it. I would rubbish all these notions out rightly. Yoga must be practiced by all irrespective of their age, sex, religion, race, or whatever the differences may be. However, during the practice of certain Asanas, it would be prudent to know certain specific limitations. This is only in respect to specific Asanas, and not to all Asanas or as such Yoga in its entirety.
Benefits/Use of Yoga
Abundant/enormous: There is no end or one cannot limit the benefits of Yoga to a page, or an article or even a book. The benefits are enormous and each one experiences the benefit in his own way.
Mind Control/Stable Mind: The best part of Yoga is that it calms down the mind and brings about stability in the mental order. We saw earlier that the very definition of Yoga means the same.
General Health/Immunity System: Yoga helps improve the general health and overall the immunity system of our body. It helps improve the capability of our body to fight alien organisms.
Confidence/Will Power: This is one of the best benefits of Yoga. Anybody who has practiced Yoga will tell you the amount of confidence that they get by its practice. The ability to solve any difficult situation in life, both physically and mentally, is obtained by continuous practice of Yoga.
Spirituality/Consciousness: This aspect will be clearer by understanding the various streams of Yoga viz Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, etc.
Respiratory Problems: With the regular practice of Asanas and Pranayamas, the oxygen level in our body increases. The lungs increases its capacity to intake more air. This is particular true of certain Pranayamas like Nadishodhana, Vibhagiya Pranayama (Sectional Breathing), etc. Basically, Yoga helps one to fight respiratory problems.
Skin Diseases: Studies show that by the practice of certain asanas and Pranayamas, practiced in a definite set, time, and with regular efforts, skin diseases can be done away with. Some examples of where skin diseases are cured to a great extent are psoriasis, eczema, or say acne, etc.
Cancer: Some studies are emerging in this regard. However, I personally do not have access to concrete evidence. Yogi Rishi Swami Ram Dev ji Maharaj has been telling off late that Yoga can cure cancer. Some studies are also being conducting in this regard in certain Yoga University. The Central Health Minister of the Union of India had also made a statement with regards to cancer being able to be cured through Yoga. At a very gross level the very nature of Yoga is to increase the oxygen levels in our body. More oxygenated the cells in our body are, the less chances are there of them becoming cancerous. Though the study is in a preliminary stage, considering the nature of Yoga, it is highly possible that ailments such as Cancer can be controlled by Yoga, if not cured. Besides, Yoga would be a more natural way to cure cancer than through radiations and chemical bombs.
Flexibility: This much is very true of Yoga. The body becomes flexible, especially with respect to the spine. The spine is always erect in all the practices, and the muscles, and joints become more flexible.
Back Pain: Back pain can be prevented and controlled through certain yogic postures.
Stress Management/Fitness: With stability and peace of mind through Yoga, stress management would be a cake walk. Through rigorous practice of Asanas, fitness is ensured.
Holistic/Wholesome Approach to life: Unlike any other means of tradition or fitness training approach, or a knowledge system, Yoga has a much holistic approach with a wholesome view of life. It helps perceive life in its original form. Leading a Yogic way of life, one perceives the environment and himself quid est. What one makes of such refined reception is entirely in ones hands.
Everything comes with a set of benefits as well as limitations. Yoga is not an exception. Though yoga must be practiced by all and has no general safeguards to be ensured, it is prudent to be cautious and consultative during the time of pregnancy, at the time of ailments & diseases, during the old age, etc. The practice of Asanas require specific safeguards for specific ailments. Say for example, people with back pain are not supposed to do forward bending postures, or people with high blood pressure must avoid doing Surya Namaskara, or people with sciatica or varicose veins may avoid postures that put much weight on to their legs etc. Therefore, it is best for the beginners to learn and practice Yoga under the guidance of a trained Yoga instructor or Guru. The other streams of Yoga i.e. other than Raja Yoga, viz. Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga must be practiced by all, depending on the choice of their path.
Hope this article was helpful to my readers. I will be happy to know your responses. The next article in the series shall be on the first three paths of Yoga viz,. Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Karma Yoga. Raja Yoga shall be dealt after that separately and in detail.