Yoga for self-improvement and peace

Verse 368 of the “Vivekachudamani”, written by Adi Shankaracharya says:

The first doorways to Yoga consists of: (1) control of speech, (2) non-accumulation of possessions, (3) freedom from expectations, (4) freedom from activity and (5) living always in (inner) solitude.

June 21st every year is celebrated as the World Yoga Day. Yoga draws its origins in the root, Yuj, which means Union – of body and soul to the Brahman, the Supreme One.

While it is a fact that Yoga originated in Bharat, a lot of chatter on Twitter & in many magazines in the US have conflicting views about the origin of modern Yoga. Some say that it was actually invented in the USA and some presented papers to prove that it started in the Scandinavian countries, where people doing these exercises had never been to Bharat ever. “Yoga was invented in the United States in the 1960s, based partly on British and Prussian calisthenics. The spiritual hogwash was retrofitted.” – Kevin D Williamson. “The irony of all the yoga chatter today is that modern Western yoga as most practice it was actually imported to India in the 1920’s by Scandinavians via the Young Men’s Christian Association. That’s not to say there aren’t Hindu practices, but the YMCA movement moved into India and brought what we now consider the modern yoga most commonly done in the West. Indians repackaged it and exported the new package.” – Erik Erikson. Why do people have this notion?

It is fact that for most people Yoga is just about the Aasanas or physical exercises. It is just about the body and there is no scope for the Union of the Soul with the Divine. This is because of the way it has been and is marketed as a set of exercises. And now it borders on inanity thanks to the modern forms of Yoga – Snowga, Dog Yoga, Beer Yoga & what not. Definitely this cannot be what Yoga is all about. So what is Yoga really? Let us try and understand it in simple words –

Patanjali Yoga lists out 8 steps on the way to the Union of the Soul with the Divine –

  • Yama
  • Niyama
  • Aasana
  • Pranayama
  • Pratyahara
  • Dharana
  • Dhyana
  • Sannyasa

So it is obvious that even before one embarks on Aasana (exercises) one must achieve certain requirements to make ourselves ready for the path. Let us take a look at these requirements –

YAMA:

These are the boundaries or framework which we set for ourselves – our do’s and don’ts. These include Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha.

Ahimsa or Non-violence is the basic tenet that any Soul is expected to live by. Do not harm any other living or non-living thing / animal / plant / Nature. When one tries to destroy another person or culture too, that is Ahimsa. Violence is of many types and most of the problems that mankind today faces is because of this. All religions which have their origin in Bharat believe in Ahimsa as the first rule that man should follow.

Satya means truth, but what is truth? One must have heard of the word Maya – Maya is that which has 2 faces to it – one for show ie. the identity that is put out to the World and the other face is that which it actually is. If one were to use this word for humans, it would mean the mask which we put on our faces when we are in company. When we are alone, our thoughts, our deeds may be something else. Then what is Satya? Satya is Ishwar ie. the One who is Same in all directions for eg. Jyoti or light – it is the same in all directions. By following the path of Truth, within & without, one walks the path leading to Ishwar.

Asteya means to abstain from Stealing. It means that if something doesn’t belong to you, you have no right over it; you cannot become the master of that thing by stealing it from someone. But is it defined only to material things? No. It also includes the abstract. When one steals from another, one is causing grave harm to one’s soul. One cannot become Arhat – One who is Worthy, one cannot become better than our old self if one indulges in theft, in mind or deeds.

Brahmacharya – This word is almost always defined as abstinence of Sex. But this is a very limited meaning of such an important part of Life. Brahman is the Supreme One. Brahma-charya means “Letting your actions face that Brahman always”. It means letting your Ojas or inner glow to face permanent bliss, not some temporary bliss. (Many have mistakenly used the word Sex for temporary bliss). As my Guruji says, “If a rocket has to reach Mars, it requires so much energy. This is materialistic energy. Now if we want our Soul to reach Brahman, how much energy would be required? It would require that we focus all our inner energy – Ojas – to reach Brahman”. That is why Brahmacharya is one of the most important facets of Yoga. Note: Brahmacharya is for householders too.

Aparigraha basically means that one should not gather more than what one requires. Simple living is the way to live life. The problem with having more is that one has to do more to maintain it. This means that our focus is then directed to satisfying material pleasures. Hence Aparigraha is necessary if one wants to go closer to Brahman.

NIYAMA:

Niyama is much deeper than Yama. Mending the mind is more important than bending the body in Yoga. The five arms of Niyama – Shaucha, Santosha, Tapas, Swaadyaya and Ishwara Pranidhaan seem very Personal in nature but these are the very steps which make one look inward all the time, leading to Yoga. The Niyamas when followed, may not be visible to all, but when blended into the personality, one rises above others on the path to the Divine.

Shaucha means Cleanliness. When one has Shuchi Bhava, one becomes Nirmal ie. when one’s thoughts and deeds become clean (no dirty or evil thoughts), one becomes Pure. One must remember to remain clean, within & without – Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Santosha means happiness. But what is happiness? Happiness is not that which is dependent on any external object, because that is short-lived. What one needs is Contentment – be happy always especially with whatever you have. See good in everything and every event. Most of us feel unhappy when things don’t go our way. It destroys our tranquillity. When we view everything with equanimity, with no extremes in our feelings, we remain content. This helps us on the path.

Tapas means austerity and self-discipline. Tapa means Agni. In the Bhagwad Gita, Sri Krishna says that in the elements, He is Agni. Agni has the inbuilt mechanism to destroy dirt and make things pure. When Agni rises, it destroys our evils. Where is Agni in our body? In Digestion. When we eat continuously, in excess, we do not allow the Agni in us to rise. That is why we need to reduce our intake of food, to make ourselves simple. “Eat to live, not live to eat”.

Swaadyaya means to use our time with complete Awareness. One way to do that is to read material which takes us closer to God. Swadyaya is contemplation and introspection.

Ishwar Pranidhaan means to do work with a mind to offer it to God. Whatever we do, whether it is walking, talking, eating, sleeping, working, let it all be an offering to Brahman. But that is possible only if we do that work which is Fit for Offering to God! This way one comes closer to Ishwara.

AASANA:

Our mortal body houses the Soul – in other words, our body is the temple and the soul in the God within. So it is our duty to keep our body fit and clean and give utmost respect to the soul within. It is for this that the Aasanas are done. Yoga Aasanas help in preventing us from falling ill as well as curing us, if we fall ill. Surya Namaskar helps us in harnessing the energy of the Sun and is a complete set of exercises. Shavasana helps us in reducing tension in our mind and body and keeps us calm and composed in all situations. When one begins with Surya Namaskar & ends with Shavasana, there is no doubt that one will become physically and mentally fit at all times.

PRANAYAMA:

Pranayama is taught along with the Aasanas. But have you ever wondered why Pranayama is so important? Today everyone talks about living in the present and watching your breath – that itself is one part of Pranayama – is it not? In the Ramayana it is Hanuman who takes finds Sita, gives Her Sri Rama’s message that He is looking for Her, and takes back Sita Mata’s message asking Sri Rama to rescue Her. Hanuman is Pavan Putra ie. Son of the Wind God. All breath is part of the Wind energy. Now imagine for a minute that Sita is the Jeevatma (individual soul) and Sri Rama is the Paramatma (Brahman) and Hanuman is your breath. Does the Ramayan strike a chord even more deeply? Do you realize the value of the breath and thus Pranayama?

The remaining steps of Dharana, Pratyahara, Dhyana & Sanyasa are further steps on our way to Yoga. These are better taught by a Guru and with self-contemplation.

Yoga is that part of Bharatiya Wisdom which definitely lays emphasis on every individual doing his/her bit for self-improvement. Without improving oneself, one cannot improve the world. “Yatha Pinde, Tatha Brahmande” – ie. ‘As is the Microcosm, so is the Macrocosm’ or ‘As is the human so is the Cosmos’. If one wants peace and wisdom in the World, every single person should strive for it. Yoga helps one become peaceful and in that peace, seek wisdom.

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