After All, What Is Yoga?

Choose Yoga, Choose Life!

Yoga is perhaps one of the most abused words in the world right now. Many believe that it is just another routine or set of exercises to keep fit and even practice it as such. Some believe that it a religion or has to do primarily with Hinduism. Only a few believe in what Yoga truly is – a way of life. Although efforts are being put into promoting Yoga as something everyone can do, not enough is being done to promote it perhaps as something everyone must do. Many people talk of Yoga as a practice to bring about inner peace. In fact, Yoga is much beyond just that. This article is an attempt to introduce the common person or even a Yoga enthusiast to holistic nature of Yoga, in a concise yet comprehensive manner.

There are many aspects of Yoga – philosophical, physiological, psychological and social. Philosophically Yoga means uniting self-consciousness to super-consciousness. Many people try to simplify the philosophy as uniting mind and the body. Although it may be simple to understand, it appears to be an understated philosophy of Yoga. Physiologically, Yoga is a complex science in itself with deep understanding of the human anatomy and systems with practices which bear positive impact on most, if not all of these systems. Psychologically again Yoga has been proven as an effective psychosomatic medicine & instrument. It is believed to be one of the best curative as well as preventive medicine for depression, stress and has been even promoted by many Oncologists as an instrument to improve the quality of life of cancer patients. Lastly, from the social aspect, Yoga in today’s world is far more accepted practice. However its acceptance has been limited to that of a regular exercise and as an instrument for natural weight loss. It has been promoted in this way by many celebrities as well as popular Yoga studios across the world, including its country of origin – India! However, only a few know that Yoga is a science with a great influence on the social life of the Yogi through rules of “Yama” (Universally accepted code of conduct) and “Niyama” (Regulations). In fact we will look into both of these in a little more detail in the following texts. Yoga practices were first consolidated and promoted as a path of realization and spiritual progress by Lord Patanjali in the ancient texts of “Yoga Sutras”. Patanjali categorized the different practices of yoga into eight limbs or essentially highly intertwined modules which work as pillars. Without one, the practice is incomplete. He perfectly mentioned these eight components as limbs but not as steps or parts. That is, these eight components works together, not step by step. Just imagine an earth mover which is working in all directions. If one part of the mover lifts something, it is well supported by other parts. For example, like the rear portion of the machine gives good support to ground preventing toppling, side wise wheels gives stability to whole machine, its engine pumps out real energy required for doing that activity. Similarly, the eight components of yoga comprehensively work together supporting the path of progress.

These eight components are-

  1. YAMA – As mentioned earlier, Yama is the set of universally accepted code of conduct. These essentially include what almost all religions and faiths in this world preach and promote: Ahimsa or non-violence: Refrain from causing mental or physical harm to another being. All living beings are to be protected by thought, word and deed. Satya or honesty: Refrain from speaking the untrue and to be truthful in thought, word and deed. Asteya or the refrain to steal: To refrain from involvement in anti-social activities such as theft, corruption, adulteration and discourage others who do it. Brahmacharya or celibacy: To control the mind and the senses to behave appropriately and lead a balanced life so as to have control on sexual behaviors. Aparigraha or non-hoarding: To refrain from accumulating more than what is required and to strive for wellbeing of all.
  2. NIYAMA – These are set of universally accepted regulations which include: Shaucha or Hygiene: To be pure in thought, word and deed by striving for hygiene of both mind, body and the physical environment. Santosha or contentment / Happiness: One who is happy is content with the situations, achievement in the present. Tapa or Penance: To be patient while facing difficulties by striving for inner peace. The power of tapa helps you to increase your will to work harder. Swadhyaya or Study of Self: To acquire knowledge of self through literature, scriptures, mentors and the will to analyze our own behaviors while monitoring our own thoughts, words and deeds. Isvara Pranidhan or Submission to the Divine: To give up ego and serve the society without any expectations through submitting to the divine.
  3. ASANA- This is probably the most widely known component of Yoga. Physical health of human-being is very much dependent on his ergonomics and Asana is defined as firm, fixed, steady with full comfort and endurance of any posture. This is how each asana should be understood, practiced and experienced. Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. The effect of asana is to put an end to the dualities or differentiation between the body and mind, mind and the soul. So just being comfortable with physical pose is not asana, there is long path in attaining perfection in asana.
  4. PRANAYAMA- Another popular component of Yoga which emphasizes on modulating and regulating the breath, which in Yoga is considered as the bridge between the mind and body. Respiration is a voluntary as well as involuntary process and pranayama seeks to take advantage of this uniqueness of the system.
  5. PRATYAHARA - The withdrawal from outer world. It occurs when we realize that external objects cannot make us happy but rather get in to mire. The second aspect of this is internalization, when we realize that all we yearned for is within us. In this way, prathyahara acts as the gatekeeper between manner and outer yoga. This is the fitness to concentration in our mind.
  6. DHARANA - Focus, concentration. It is essentially confining the mind to a point in space. Many people confuse it as meditation. In fact, it is a pre-requisite for meditation.
  7. DHYANA - contemplation, meditation. Uninterrupted flow of the mind awareness or consciousness towards the object is called dhyana. When dhyana happens, your mind like stream of uninterrupted oil flow. Yes, dhyana just happens, and it is not a practice. Both Pratyahara and Dharana are essential to dhyana. It is perhaps one of the most attractive features of Yoga which helps in self-exploration, channelizing the thoughts and bringing clarity in thoughts, relaxation, inner peace, positivity in attitude leading to high productivity.
  8. SAMADHI- generally known as trance state of mind, it is the experience of inner silence, the state of Trance (Detachment from one’s physical surroundings, as in contemplation). This is essentially the state which is attained through the process of meditation (dhyana), if the object only shines forth without being modified by the mind at all. Well, the discipline of Yoga offers much broader knowledge that what is mentioned here. However difficult it is to define Yoga in a nutshell, I have tried my best to compress it to best of my knowledge without many alterations. I hope you have liked this post and will share with your friends & family and connections.

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