Here is an essay on the history and benefits of yoga in our day to day life.
‘Yoga’ is an ancient art which has been practised in India since ancient times. Indian sages lived healthy lives by practising Yoga and survived over centuries in those days when medical science was in infancy.
It is a system of mental discipline as well as physical culture which simultaneously ensure excellent musculoskeletal health, improves function of deep organs, including improved oxygenation of brain and skin surface as well.
‘Psyche’ and ‘Soma’ are joined in the technique, hence called ‘Yoga’. It is a health promoting system but does not cure diseases like I.H. D., diabetes mellitus, hypertension, asthma, gout, rheumatism or sinusitis etc. But no doubt many chronic diseases may be considerably benefited provided doctors and Yoga-therapists work together in planning of Yoga-therapy of modern times. Psychosomatic diseases are particularly benefited but supportive drug therapy may also be necessary.
Indiscrete Yoga therapy especially by half-baked Yoga-instructors without medical supervision may be dangerous. Diseases e g- hypertension, I.H.D., asthma, diabetes, gout, rheumatism etc. will require supervision and periodic medical check-up. Many so-called experts claim to cure diabetes, heart disease and even cancers, these “Yogis” should be avoided.
In the process of salvation through meditation there are eight stages to be practised and the comprehensive name is ASTANGA YOGA which means eight limbs of communion. The yogic limbs, Asana (postures of yoga) and Pranayama (controlled breathing) are only parts of these eight stages of activities.
However, the seven stages of yoga i.e. self realisation have correlation with PATANJALI’s ASTANGA YOGA. Patanjali, the great yogic authority emphasised the importance of ASTANGA YOGA (eight limbs of yoga) for self-realisation. Some modern interpreters say that Astanga Yoga refers only to Hatha Yoga (which is a part and parcel of Karma Yoga).
Actually, whatever be the type of field of Yoga, it ought to undergo the eight limbs of Yoga viz:
The first step of Yoga is to free ourselves from all kinds of malicious thoughts, hatred, jealousy, ill-will, greediness, unlawful desire for things (both animate and inanimate), thievish tendency and over-indulgence in sex. All kinds of evil thoughts have to be curbed by the Yogic aspirant and only then he can rise to the next rung of the Yogic ladder.’ Ahimsa’ is most important i.e. “do not envy others” is the principal idea.
After having mastered YAMA, the Yogic aspirant should begin to practise NIYAMA. Niyama here refers to disciple with regard to food, sleep, pleasure, profit and pain.
To achieve success Yoga’ is impossible for the man who overeats, the man who starves, or for the man who sleeps too much or for the man who does not sleep enough. The Yoga which dispels sorrow or misery is for the man who is temperate in his food, recreation, activity and sleep. NIYAMA implies limit in all respects. Yoga does not prescribe one’s pleasure, nor does it prescribe any kind of pain. Tamasik (or pleasure-seeking) attitude should have certain limits.
It is a wrong notion that God is accessible to a man who renounces the world and has gone to the forests as an ascetic. It is only by realising the joys of creation, man can unravel the mysteries of the nature’s Riddle-Me-Ree. The aspirant of Yoga should avoid bad company. He should indulge in Satsang (good companionship). SVADYAY (study), EESWARA PRANIDHANA (devotion to the Almighty), he must be pious, chaste and he must consume SATVIK food (balanced and normal diet which is not too spicy or stimulating).
“Ashara Shuddo Satva Shuddihi
Satva Shuddo Druva Smrutihi”.
Consumption of good Satvik food leads to Satva Shuddhi (purification of mental outlook) and Satva Shuddhi leads to enlightenment.
All kinds of inebriating intoxicants should be avoided. His dictum is ‘Chastity is life and sensuality is death’.
Of course, what is life without natural piety and religious sanctity?
The Asanas or Yogic postures have been given so much of importance in Yogic texts only because they help in reaching the ultimate limits of Yogic realisation and also in maintaining the body in a state of good health, free from all kinds of psychosomatic diseases. According to Yogic texts, it is not possible to be rid of diseases or to improve health without performing Asanas. Primarily, the Yogic postures, which have a remarkable therapeutic value, are practised to improve the physical and mental health.
Our great poet Kalidas has remarked:
Shareeramadyam Khalu Dharma Sadhanam’.
A good healthy ‘Shareera’ (body) acts as a vehicle for ‘Dharma Sadhanam’ (righteousness). Life is like a journey in a vehicle between birth and death. The body is the vehicle in which we are motoring to death. The less luggage we carry the better it is. (Here the word luggage has an ironical meaning, for it represents ‘Karma’ (your own actions in life). Even the great Greek scholar Aristotle too has rightly remarked;
‘A sound body with a sound mind’.
Sickly person cannot aspire for any kind of salvation, neither materials nor spiritual relief, since his illness acts as an obstacle. The physical body acts like a rampart or wall for the sacred inner temple of our soul and if the rampart is sound enough, then the inner temple of soul could be kept clean. If the house is not covered with a wall or any kind of good protection then it will have all kinds of intruders and the treasures in the house will be carried away by unknown elements.
Even the attainment of ‘Samadhi’ is a matter of greatest importance. Yoga, is not possible without Asanas. Patanjali has described the ‘Asana’ as a poised and relaxed manner of body postures
‘Sthira Sukamasanam’ (Patanjali Yoga sutra)
Therefore, this means that the student should try to get fully disciplined in the various Yogic postures, so that he can sit motionless and relaxed for considerable periods. Only then will he be prepared for the various advanced disciplines and practices in Yoga.
When perfection is attained in any ‘Asana’, the external movements of the ‘Yogic’ gradually and progressively diminish till they .cease altogether. This aphorism, thus not only corroborates the idea contained in the preceding one but also indicates that the attainment of perfection in the Yogic postures and leads to the attainment of ‘Samadhi’.
On attainment of perfection in the Yogic postures, the individual becomes immune to dualities.
The body of the Yogic remains unaffected by environmental heat or cold and other dualities on the attainment of perfection in Asanas.
It means that the body acquires enough strength and tolerance to withstand stresses and strains of all types which disturb the ‘Chitta’ (mind) and by making the mind unsteady, disturb the practice of ‘Yoga’. These aphorisms taken together very distinctly indicate that the stage 01 ‘Samadhi’ is attained by a Yogic only by mastering the ‘Asanas’.
The Yogic postures have in fact assumed new significance in modern times. The occidental system of gymnasium exercises, aimed at developing the bulk and the power of the muscle masses, is the most commonly used system all over the world. This system is primarily, if not entirely, based on processes generating great tension in the muscles.
There is no corresponding relaxation of any group of muscles. There is exertion in performing these exercises which lead to depletion of energy and it is harmful to the osteo-articular surfaces which are utilised in these movements. Consequently a pent-up tension in the motor organs of the body is sometimes accompanied by varying degrees of organic injury. Chronic arthritis and arthomyalgic incapacity, which cripple the able-bodied, can to some extent be traced to this single cause.
The performance of Yogic postures, on the other hand, results in renewal of energy and they aim at a homogenously integrated system of neuro-muscular movements in which contraction of the muscles is always consciously followed by their relaxation or the relaxation of some other muscle masses.
At every step, a mental association is established with the physical action, so that the unfathomable reserves and powers of the mind are harnessed for the essential interest of achieving a perfect physical culture of the body. Accordingly a few yogic postures have ‘Pranayama’ or breath control as an internal part of the procedure, but even it ceases generating great tension in the muscles. Others are preceded or followed by exercises in breath control as part of the general plan of the ‘Eight-limbed Yoga’ (Astanga Yoga).
It is now being recognised that the mind and the body, the ‘psycho’ and the ‘soma’ interact and influence each other. Yoga maintains that far-reaching effects can be produced by the effect of the mind. These effects not only affect the physical health of the body but may even overflow into the states which are beyond the average.
Yoga affords an opportunity, for a bold departure from this limitation. However, it must be realised that deal as they do with matters of far-reaching and vital importance. The Yogic practices require the utmost precision and care due to them. It is, therefore, not advisable to completely rely on books to learn the yogic postures. It is essential that a good ‘Guru’ should introduce the student to the exciting mysteries of Yoga to obtain maximum physical, mental and spiritual benefits from it.
Yoga acts as a rejuvenating tonic which revives vigour and vitality, for it not only keeps the practitioner slim, trim and happy but also enables him to transcend to higher spiritual plains. We have instances of great men and women who have excelled in their professional career and they have attributed their success in their respective fields to Yoga.
Dr. Thorpe has said that he seldom has cold and no disease of any kind. He got rid of the fear- ridden world and his mental and emotional control improved and yoga had given him a reserve of mental and physical energy and inner harmony and poise.
Some people do ask whether yoga is a religion or science. Religion is a way of life and yoga, of course, is a healthy way of life and should be considered as science.
(4) Pranayama (Breath control):
‘Prana Vayu’ is the life force, and the movement of Prana in the human body is always upwards whilst the movement of ‘Apana Vayu’ (bad air etc.) is always .downwards. Therefore, the art of controlling the upward movement of ‘Prana Vayu’ and making it flow downwards and expelling the ‘Apana Vayu’ is called pranayama. ‘Yama’ in Yoga means to suppress.
Deep breathing is integral to the discipline and ‘Pranayam’ or breath control is the key not only the bodily stamina but also for supersensory development. The ‘Pranayam’ prescribed by the yogic system is one by which the respiratory system is kept in efficient working order, thereby enabling one to throwout waste matter (Apana) and take in the most essential requirement of life viz., oxygen.
Yogi Charan Das has said that one must attain control on the routes of Pavana through Asanas and Pranayam and through transcending the six chakras (six nerve plexuses) one must concentrate one mind on the void. The term Pavan implies a double meaning, i.e., of the various Vayus (airs), viz., Prana, Apana, Samana, Udana and Vyan in the body, as also the PranaSakti. The latter faculty of Prana be clearly defined by any single term. As in the Yogic texts this term has been made to mean the life force as well as that of cosmic fund of energy of which vitality is only one of the many manifestations. ,
There are, however, eight different types of Pranayam which starts from the practice of Suryavedhana and ends with the perfection of Plavini. To sum up Pranayam, it can be said that it is the secret of the phenomenal energy and mental powers of comprehension and retention.
We are all too much involved in the activities of this material world and unless we develop a sense of detachment in the midst of attachment, we cannot escape from this snare net of material complications and commitments.
Therefore, Pratyahara means developing a sense of detachment in the midst of attachment or a kind of dissociation in the midst of association or it could even be defined as:
‘Relation less relationship’
However, Pratyahara does not mean that we would renounce this material world for we need this material world to know the subtle aspects of spiritualism. To know the reality, we have to survive and for survival we need *Annam’ (food). Only then comes the knowledge of Brahma.
A friend of Sri Ramakrishna asked him whether he could realise the self by living in this material world or should he go to the forest to know the truth.
Sri Paramhansa cited an example:
“Take out a fish swimming in a stinky pond of water and you will see that nothing of the stinkyness of the pond is attached to its body and it remains to be slippery. But the fish cannot survive without the stinky water. Similarly this material world could be compared to a stinky pond. But we should remain like a fish attached and yet detached as a drop of water on a lotus leaf. This is the very meaning of Pratyahara”.
It is a state of concentration of the infinite or on some particular object. The human body and mind keep on undergoing stresses and strains of different kinds every day. The stresses and strains of the body get relieved at the time of sleep. The stresses and strains experienced by the mind get relieved in the form of appearance of dreams.
There are about two billion cells in the human brain and each brain cell acts like a tape- recorder cassette, for the brain cells record various kinds of things which results in the accumulation of different kinds of impressions. Such impressions get discharged in the form of dreams during our sub-conscious dreamy state (which is the first state of consciousness among the seven different types of consciousness) and relieves the strain caused upon the human mind.
The human mind is like a white screen and the very mundane stresses and strains experienced by the serene mind from the black dots on the screen of the mind. The blade dots get released during the course of sleep. The working of mind during sleeping hours is called ‘Dreaming’ and the working of the mind during working hours is called ‘Thinking’.
The dreams of different kinds are experienced during the state of sleep. However, the dreams after playing these roles before the screen of mind in our sleepy state will vanish and at that moment we shall be in a deep sound sleep state (Second type of consciousness) where we shall be literally dead like a wooden log.
So this is the subconsciousness pleasurable experience of sound sleep state of nothingness. According to Yogic analysis it is said that human mind is like a monkey which keeps on jumping from place to place, might be from somewhere to now where or nowhere to somewhere.
This activity of the mind is the very cause of our experiencing the dreams of different kinds. The human mind has no rest and in Yoga it is said that the mind will have a moment’s respite in the Brahma Nadi and this stage of mind’s respite in the Brahma Nadi represents the state of sound sleep, in which state a person neither experiences dreams nor his state of being alive.
However, only after getting up from the bed, he could recollect the pleasurable experience of sound sleep, and he would of course long to have it for ever. Now the person is awake and he is conscious of what he is (Third Type of Consciousness) i.e., state of being alert or alive. The person will be seeing so many things, and the mind will be experiencing different kinds of stresses and strains.
Let us now come to the analytical approach to Dharana or Concentration:
You will now begin to concentrate on some particular object (say, burning candle fire) by keeping your eyes closed.
The reason why you are asked to keep your eyes closed is to make the eyes free from external distractions. The thought of fire appears before your mind’s eye, once in a way, for the mind will be wavering and different kinds of thoughts will glide before your mind’s eye.
Dhyana is a state of meditation. Meditation could be defined as a gentle process of disciplining the naturally diffused rays of mind. In meditation, the distracted rays of mind will be gently disciplined and the different kinds of thoughts will vanish and you will only have the thought of the very object of your concentration.
Therefore, meditation means no stress and no strain on the mind. Meditation is the fourth state of the spiritual consciousness, for it transcends the height of the individuals to a higher state of consciousness which is known as the “Transcendental Consciousness”.
The stream of consciousness is an unimpeded one and therefore the object on which you are meditating is constantly appearing before your mind’s eye, although the perspective of the fire perceived in your mind’s eye might often wobble and shake forward and sideward.
Therefore, the distracted rays of mind or thought have now vanished and only a ray or thought is constantly directed towards the very thought of the object of meditation. And now the burning fire is ever before the inner vision.
(8) Samadhi: (Contemplation):
Samadhi is a state of pure consciousness. It is a crystal-clear state of being alert and union with the infinite. The Buddhists call it Nirvana Nirvana/Samadhi is not like the black dead peace of the grave but the living peace and living happiness of a soul which is conscious of itself.
It is a state of utter extinction of all that is based in us, all that is vicious in us, all that is corrupt and corruptible in us. In the state of contemplation the line we had drawn on the graph sheet becomes the axiomatic straight line, for the fire has now merged with the vision, the body and soul have all merged together.
This is the very meaning of yoga — the union of the body and soul with the supreme consciousness, namely Universal or Cosmic Consciousness — God consciousness and now merged with the Brahmic consciousness — the state of Supreme Delight.
Let apart the subconscious pleasurable experience of sound sleep, the highest material fleshy pleasure that man can derive on earth is the transient or momentary pleasure of sex,
The ancient students of yoga asked their Masters as to how the Moksha (Salvation) would be. Their Masters could only give one small example, which is as follows:
Priyapa Samparshvaktaha Bahya Nakinchanaveda’
The pleasure derived at the climax of conjugal process of sexual love is after all momentary, and evanescent; whereas Moksha/Salvation is a delight in itself and is eternal.
The present-day concept about yoga is that it is a method of religious discipline aimed to achieve transcendent state of Brahmic conciousness or God realisation. In fact, yogaphilosophy teaches us how to control the mind and how to bring about developments pertaihing to the physical, intellectual and spiritual well-being. Yoga is a science of introspectional psychology. Hence, the school of philosophy has not only a spiritual or psychological significance; it has also something very important to do with regard to the body which is to be properly built up for higher intellectual acquisition.
The principles of the Yoga system of Hindu philosophy can be traced even to the days of the Rig Veda as has been pointed out by eminent scholars in this field. Even in the Upanishads there are several references to the basic principles of yoga. The Yoga Sastra or the Yoga Darshana of Patanjali is taken to be the most important work, no doubt. As a matter of fact, the establishment of God’s Kingdom is a co-operative enterprise between God and man. And man is after all a co-sharer in the work of creation with God.
No doubt, ancient sages had a profound understanding of the subtle interdependence of the physical and the mental.
Kingland in his Rational Mysticism says:
‘Modern scientific cries are largely a reversion to the ancient teaching with the added force; experimental evidence and greater knowledge of detail’.
Woodroffe in his The World as Power Reality says:
‘An examination of the Indian Vedantic doctrine shows that it is an important aspect in conformity with the most advanced scientific and philosophical thought of the West, and where it is not so, it is the science which will go to Vedanta and not the reverse.
In this connection it might not be wrong to say that much of the credit of discovering the wisdom of the Oriental likes rightly with the Western scholars.
Asatoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya, Murtyrma Amrilahgamaya Om Shanti, Shanti…..