What is yoga and why are we practicing it?
“Yoga is an ancient system of philosophy, lifestyle and techniques that evolves the whole person, the physical, the vitality, the mind and emotions, wisdom, ethics and a higher quality of relationships, and the realization of the spiritual reality of each of us.
According to the yogic tradition, evolution is a systematic process through which we learnt to harmonize ourselves. It is a process through which we develop the ability to express our qualities optimally and creatively.” Swami Niranjan
That is a lot and we will break it down one by one:
Yoga is an Ancient system
The earliest written evidence of yoga dates back more than 4000 years ago in the Vedas. Sages asked themselves questions about destiny and the creator and questions like why are we here? What are we trying to accomplish in life? What is the meaning of life? They started observing the nature of the body and mind and its function and the different manifestations of nature. This process was the beginning of self-knowledge, understanding, awareness and the union of individual consciousness with the highest consciousness. They created a scientific system of postures, cleansing practises, breathing techniques for a healthy and vital body and concentration and meditation for clarity of mind. Yoga means to unite, a harmony and balance between the internal and external consciousness and manifestation.
The philosophy of yoga deals with one’s personal reality and ones place in the family, society, planet Earth and the Universe. The philosophy of yoga attempts to give meaning to ourselves and our purpose. Is there a purpose for us being here? Or do we just appear and then disappear? Health, illness, pain, – what are the meaning of these and are they there to teach us something? What happens after death? Yoga philosophy also considers our relationship with ourselves, other people, society and with the divine? It is important to note that yoga is a philosophy and we are not instructed to belief in it or to adhere to rules. It is certainly not a religion. Like Pattabhi Jois said: “Practise and all will come” The philosophy and system of yoga is possibilities and guidelines, practise the techniques and lifestyle principles and the fruits of yoga will be reaped, the journey will unfold and you might naturally begin to change certain lifestyle principles and thoughts that no longer serves you for the better, without adhering to set rules.
Yoga is concerned how we live our life with regard to:
- Our own personal wellbeing, health and hygiene
- Our environment
- How we interact with other people
- How we work and behave in general
- Our life as a learning process
- Our relationship to the ultimate consciousness (if that is important to us at this stage of our development)
The yogic techniques consist of: asanas (postures) , pranayama (breathing techniques), shatkarma (cleansing techniques), mudras and bandhas, sound vibration yoga (mantra yoga) , prathyahara (mental withdrawal from outside stimuli), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation)
Why would we want to practice all these “weird” techniques? All these techniques have a beneficial effect on the body, the vitality, the mind, our emotions and that leads to theuncovering of our latent potential and the evolution of our consciousness.
According to yoga, evolvement is the key concept in the whole of one’s life. It is the process that allows everything else to happen. It makes us realize that each individual is capable – in this lifetime – to progress far past their current level of thinking, feeling and functioning. What is it that we evolve exactly?
We are evolving the five sheaths (koshas) of a person according the the holistic view of a person in yoga: the physical body, vitality body (energy body), the mental body( the sense of ‘I’- ness, memory, perception, thoughts, emotions and behavior) , wisdom body (spiritual mind, intuition) and bliss body (self-realization, enlightenment)
We learn to harmonize ourselves
Yoga means to unite, balance, and harmonize. It harmonizes the relationship between the five sheaths (koshas)of a person. It harmonize and improve a sick or ailed physical body, low or unbalanced vitality or a disturbed mind and emotions. The physical practices harmonize the endocrine, neurological and immune system. The breathing practices harmonize our vitality/energy. The meditation practices harmonize our perceptions, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Ultimately it results in harmony and unity of the person’s individual consciousness with the ultimate consciousness.
We develop the ability to express our qualities optimally and creatively
We develop our full potential so that we can express ourselves and be of service in this world to the most optimum, efficient and creative way! What a contribution we could make to the world then! And on the journey there we improve our love, joy, peace and our quality of expression. Yes, and enlightenment might happen but like the old Buddhist saying says: “Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water, after enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water” but it is chopping and carrying from a very different level of consciousness.
“Hatha yoga is practised as preparation for higher states of consciousness.
The main objective of Hatha Yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. When this balance is created the impulses generates give a call of awakening to the central force (sushumna nadi) which is responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. If hatha yoga is not used for this purpose, its true objective is lost “ Hatha Yoga Pradipika
“Yoga stills the changes of the mind” Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
In a nutshell for me yoga is a form of practical psychology giving us the tools to cope with our mind, daily life and its challenges. Yoga transforms the relationship with yourself and the people around you and the world we live in. Yoga leads to self-acceptance and self-love which leads to realizing what our true passions and gifts are in life and the courage to follow our dreams to live a fulfilled life and to service the whole. Yoga helps us to listen to our soul and to become more conscious and thus to live our full potential”
Source: Practical Yoga Psychology Dr Rishi Vivekananda