Most people, around the world, consider Yoga to be a set of body contortions designed to stretch and relieve tired muscles, release nervous and mental stress and breath control to detox the system of harmful toxins. Well, yes, so it is, but this is only one part of Yoga. Rishis of yore mention many kinds of Yoga: Karma Yoga, Dhyan Yoga, Buddhi Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Gyan Yoga, to mention just a few.
The Asanas(physical exercises) that generally go by the name of Yoga are mentioned as just one unit in a set of 8 main units mentioned in the elaborate treatise on Ashtang Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali.
Yoga has become internationally famous and accepted because of its health benefits. Undoubtedly the asanas have a tremendous capacity to help rid the body of toxins and many diseases, and keep the body agile, supple and healthy, but that is just an elementary benefit it promises to its practitioner.
An important unit of Yoga is “Pranayam”, which is generally understood as breathing exercises. The most common ones among a host of others are: Kapalbhanti, AnulomVilom, Bhastrika, Bhramari and even the deep chanting of Om.If done regularly, these can keep your whole system: glands, lungs, stomach, eyes, nose, throat as well as immune system in perfectly fine order. However, Pranayam is not just Shwasayam (breathing exercises).As the name suggests, Pranayam is the control of prana. “Prana” is the term used in the science of Vedanta to mean the expression of life’s vitality through the various organs and systems of the body. Life expressing as the various functions in a living body is called prana, or you may call it the “life force”. According to their manifestations and functions they were classified by Yoga masters into 5 categories: 1) Prana: the faculty of sense perception, 2) Apana: the excretory system, 3) Vyana: the digestive system, 4) Samana: the circulatory system, and 5) Udana: the capacity in us to see beyond our present world of objective sciences and lift our gaze to higher ways of living. Dr Richard P. Brown, a senior psychologist at Columbia university has been curing his patients of depression with the Pranayam techniques. He believes that the yogic breathing techniques such as Pranayam and Sudarshan Kriya, can activate some positive bodily processes. He believes that rapid breathing activates the nerve Vagus, the heart and the brain, resulting in opening pathways that send messages to the body to shut off areas of worry and awaken those of happiness and well-being. He also says that this kind of breathing activates hormones that help people come close and feel affinity with each other. One such is the cuddle hormone, that is naturally released in the mother after child birth, which makes her love, fondle, cherish and cuddle her baby. This hormone is also released during sexual activity, to form closeness and bonding with the partner.
The word “Yoga”. does not mean exercises, it means “to join”. From the same etymological root springs the word “yoke” meaning to join. So what does Yoga help to join with what? In simple language it helps the Created to join with the Creator. It helps the lowly mortal to join with the immortal self. To help this merger with the Creator Patanjali lists 8 important steps in his treatise on Yoga: 1)Yama:External discipline; 2) Niyama: internal discipline; 3) Asanas: physical exercises;4)Pranayam: prana control with breath; 5)Pratyahara: watching and regulating carefully the intake from all senses; 6)Dharana, developing the ability to concentrate; 7) Dhyana: Meditation; and 8) Samadhi: union with the Ultimate source. Generally people who say they practise Yoga, are practitioners of Asanas, not of Meditation or sense control, or the other mentioned disciplines. The other parts of Yoga are difficult to achieve, but slowly with regular practice they become a way of life and the human being emerges as a balanced and positive human being—healthy, strong and confident to take on life’s challenges. The focus in Yoga is not the corporate goal of relieving stress. It is a transformational change in human thought which floods a person with contentment, peace and tranquillity.It readies one to aspire for the higher in life. He reaches out beyond his body and mind needs to realms never explored before and Yoga energises him to reach that inner state of pure unearthly bliss which is not the lot of us mortals who grovel in the ditches of sensuality searching for crumbs of joy. A Yogi joins with the Supreme Joy: his own true self.
LaoTzu says: “Health is the greatest possession.
Contentment is the greatest treasure.
Confidence is the greatest friend.
Non-being is the greatest Joy.”
When in Samadhi you lose your individuality and merge with the supreme, you become a Non-being. The ultimate goal of Yoga.
Prarthna Saran is President, Chinmaya Mission Delhi.Email: prarthnasaranagmail.com