Whenever the word “Yoga” is uttered or is heard off, two facets of Yoga come forth viz. The Tangible Aspect and the Intangible Aspect.
- Tangible Aspect
- Intangible Aspect
This much will be clear for all the readers by the end of this Series: ‘this is a very rudimentary understand of Yoga’.
Yoga gained popularity with the west making an assessment of the profound impact of Yoga on health. This is particularly in cases where modern medicine failed to cure certain ailments, while Yoga could treat them. Say for example, the auto-immune diseases, or diseases born out of sedimentary life-styles, etc. Today, the knowledge of the east, through the spread of Yoga, is a beacon of light for not just health, but the well-being of the humanity.
Yoga has its roots in India. The ancient Rishis (or Sages) of India envisioned Yoga. Traditionally it was attached to mysticism, and tantra. The Fakirs and Yogis of India, did extra-ordinary feats that awe-struck the entire world. Say for example the “Rope Trick”, “Sitting on Thrones”, etc. All these they say were possible through Yoga Sadhana. From being a knowledge of mysticism to the practice of Yoga inside walls, in Fitness centres, and in open spaces has been a long way. You will know by the end of this Series that all is possible through Yoga, yet Yoga is none that emanates from it.
The interest for Yoga among people is increasing day-by-day. Yoga cannot be understood in its entirety in one single book, or a degree, a professional course, or even through classes (given the limitation of time). Most of the people have substantial misconception about Yoga. The knowledge of Yoga, unfortunately today, is restricted to the practice of Asanas, Pranayams, and Medition. Yes, these are part of Yoga; yet they do not make the whole. Yoga is not an “Exercise” in the traditional sense. Strictly speaking it not connected in any way with “Body-Building”. Yet, it ensures the well-being of an individual with a constant, committed, and consistent practice. The immensity of Yoga cannot be confined to the limited knowledge/practice of Asanas (Physical Postures), and Pranayamas (Breathing Techniques). Further, knowing the basis or the foundation, and principles of Yoga is sine-quo-non with the practice of Yoga. My intention of writing this Series is to make people aware of the basis of Yoga and its various facets. Simple speaking, I am trying to convey to my readers, through this Series, as to “What is Yoga”. I do not propose to make my readers “Yogis”, or “Professional Yoga Trainers” by writing this Series. I only intend to open the gateway to the world of Yoga to those who know not of what Yoga is; I want to make clear to people of certain misconceptions they have about Yoga; and I want to motive people to take up to Yoga as a way of life.
The purpose of any action that a man performs or does, in the very rudimentary form, is ultimately for “Happiness”. The same thing in a very subtle level is referred to as “Ananda” or “Bliss”. Hope my readers enjoy this Series. May the nectar of Knowledge (of Yoga) fill your very being with “Ananda”!
Before venturing in into the basis and the principles of Yoga, let us try to understand the fundamentals; let us explore the meaning of the word yoga; let us understand as to what exactly the word yoga means.
What is Yoga?
To understand the meaning of any word, the best place is to start with its etymology. The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root word “Yuj”, which means ‘union’ or ‘to unite’. So, Yoga is “that which ‘unites’”. When we say “Union” or “unite”, there must be at least two things, if not more. A single piece of a thing cannot unite; either it is a single piece or already in union. Let us look into this more intensely.
Modern science, statistics, and research says that the various parts of our body work in tandem with the mind. When I am referring to mind, it has sharp contrast with the view of mind as “brain”. Brain is just another part of the body with a more profound functionality. Whereas, mind is something related to your consciousness. Take for example your breathing. You can do it ‘with awareness’ and ‘without awareness’. In other words you can breath ‘consciously’ or ‘unconsciously’. That is to say, at any given point in time, you are either breathing “mindfully” or “unmindfully”. Apart from the body, any other external action that you perform, say you work, study, walk, cycle, travel, etc. you can do it consciously or unconsciously. This much is clear, whatever is done with consciousness, by giving proper attention yields the best results. So, for the body, be it internally or outwardly actions performed, paying proper attention is of at most importance. To be very straight and simple you must be ‘mindful’ of all your activities. Just imagine the results of actions executed with the body and the mind. It is at this stage that Yoga comes into picture. It is a “Union” of “Body and the mind”. At a very fundamental level, Yoga brings about a harmony between the body & the mind.
It is also said among the yogic lore, in a more profound or subtle level, that the entire cosmos can be grasped or comprehended with a rigorous and continuous practice of Yoga. This body was born out of the egg in the mother (anDanDa/pinDanDa). The big bang theory says, the cosmos started out of a single dot or a ball as such. The cosmos was born out a golden orb or the golden egg (brahmAnDa). The modern physics also says, the every single atom in one’s body reverberates or interacts with every other atom in the universe. So, if this individual self (i.e. our life) can strike a “union” with the cosmos or with the cosmic reality that is the realization of the ultimate reality. When the individual self merges into the cosmic reality, the purpose of Yoga is served. Health, fitness, peace, harmony, and well-being are automatically taken care of.
Definitions of Yoga
Having looked into the meaning of the word yoga, let us explore the various definitions of Yoga.
- Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Maharshi Patanjali, is the father of Yoga. Yoga existed much before Patanjali, but he was the first to formulate the “Yoga Sutras” – Formulas that govern the principles of Yoga. Yoga sutras define Yoga thus, “यॊगः चित्त व्रुत्ति निरॊधः” – “Yoga is that which controls the very nature of the mind”. It controls & makes steady the ever wandering mind. Let us elaborate more on this definition.यॊगः – Yoga
चित्त – Mind
व्रुत्ति – Nature
निरॊधः – Sublimate/Control
All the words are amply clear, save the word “व्रुत्ति – Nature”. If we understand the nature of our mind, we can be clear as to what it controls. The very nature of mind is to “wander”. It is like a monkey that sits not in one place. It is like the dog that always eats the shit. It is not about being judgmental about what is right or wrong. It is simple the very nature of mind. So, to control the mind, means to calm it down, or to sublimate, or to give direction or meaning for its purposes. Look at the river, it is always flowing at odds and in all directions. Yet, its single purpose is to reach the ocean. Yoga thus, helps the mind to control its very nature in order to reach the desired goals.2) “Yoga Vasishta” written by Maharshi Vasishta defines Yoga as thus, “यॊगः मनः प्रशमनः उपायः” – “Yoga is a technique to control the mind”.This definition as well brings about the same meaning. Sage Vasishta and Patanjali do not differ fundamentally in their definitions of Yoga, though their choice of words are different.
3) The Bhagavad-Gita: The Gita is nothing but a treatise on Yoga. Look at the chapter headings, right from the start to the end, all the headings end with the word “Yoga” viz. “arjuna vishAda yOga”, “karma yOga”, etc. The Gita is in the form of poetry. It is the conversation between Sri Krishna (The Master) and arjuna (his pupil). Bhagawan Sri Krishna says thus in the Bhagavad-Gita. “यॊगः कर्मसुकॊशलं” – “Yoga means skill in action” (i.e work or karma). It is not just skill, but selflessness coupled with skill in action (This is explained in detail in the chapter on Karma Yoga).
In this very first of the series on Yoga, we have learnt as to “What is Yoga”. Going forward (from the 2nd article), we shall learn what are the misconceptions, benefits, forms, streams, and many other aspects of what “Yoga” is. This introduction was made crisp and is to the point. Hope this article (and the ensuing ones in the series) will be of great help to the readers.