Yoga is becoming increasingly popular. The numerous yoga studios in every nook and corner of both big and small cities do more than testify this growing trend. But the most unfortunate fact is that people have acquired a very limited view of yoga. Most teachers and students of yoga focus only on the physical aspect. Their goal is limited to losing weight or just looking better.
There is nothing wrong with these aims. But yoga is actually much more than just a form of physical exercise. It is a path to the divine, a road that leads one to ‘moksha’ or freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth. No, most people consider spiritual devotion or enlightenment to be some esoteric school of thought highly unsuitable for living a supposedly ‘good’ life in the modern world. Think about it again, what is the purpose of life? Is it merely to wake up every morning, go to work, accumulate wealth and hang out with friends? How can it be, after all ‘life’ itself is a temporary state of being. Despite all our hard work we are all doomed to leave this world some day.
According to yogic philosophy, it is only the soul that is eternal. The aim of the soul is to attain moksha or liberation and merge into the universal life force. You do not have to give up on all worldly pleasures for this. In fact, ‘kama’ or desires and its fulfillment along with ‘artha’ or material gain are essential parts of human life. Yoga does not demand renunciation, it only asks for a heightened state of consciousness. This heightened state of consciousness leads to a deeper sense of fulfillment, peace and happiness.
There are different schools of yoga. Namely, bhakti yoga, ashtanga yoga, hatha yoga, karma yoga and jnana yoga. Bhakti yoga, as taught in the Bhagwad Gita, is complete devotion and surrender to the divine. It focuses on treating the divine as one’s lover. Food, sleep, sex, attachments and everything else becomes absolutely unimportant for the ‘bhakta’ or the devotee. Only the divine and love for the divine is real for the bhakta. Karma yoga, on the other hand, concentrates on discharging of one’s duties and obligations or karma without attachment to the result. Moreover, the karma is performed without any desire for reward or acknowledgement. On the other hand, Jnana yoga is the yoga of truth. It focuses on the attainment of true knowledge about the world, life and oneself.
Ashtanga yoga and hatha yoga are what we are most familiar with in today’s times. The word ‘ashtanga’ literally translates into eight and Ashtanaga yoga is based upon eight basic principles. They are yama (control), niyama (perfect discipline), asana (yogic postures), pranayam (breath control and breath retention), pratyahar (withdrawal of the senses from the outside world while you perform meditation), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (a state of perfect equilibrium and effortless meditation).
All these principles may seem intimidating at first to follow. But yoga does not ask one to give up on pleasure. In fact, it seeks to heighten the pleasure one gets from the sensory world while keeping the connection with the cosmic consciousness alive. Besides, following a yogic lifestyle would help you become much healthier, more beautiful and happier than ever. This is because it calms the mind and takes it into a deep state of relaxation. The miracles it does to one’s health are almost unimaginable. It might even delay or stop the aging process upto a large extent. But then again, having a holistic approach to the practice of yoga is crucial.
‘Hatha’ yoga is a far more popular term in the western world. The word ‘hatha’ can be broken down into ‘ha’ and ‘tha’. ‘Ha’ stands for sun and ‘tha’ stands for the moon. The aim of hatha yoga is to bring all opposite forces in balance. It seeks for perfect harmony and union of all the forces. Hatha yoga is part of the tantric tradition of yoga practice. It concentrates on the practice of developing control over breathing (pranayam), the practice of physical postures (asanas) and deep meditative relaxation. It seeks to remove the hurdles for the practice of dharana, dhyana and Samadhi.
Developing control over breathing not only helps in curing diseases of the respiratory system but also strengthens the entire system. Moreover, it is believed that retention of breath helps generate fresh ‘prana’ into the body which might contribute to longevity.
The practice of asanas, on the other hand, not only tones and massages every organ of the body (including the internal ones) but also helps in developing more control over one’s body. It also helps calm the mind as a great deal of focus is required for practising yogic asanas. Thus, concentration and mind-body co-ordination automatically improve. Regular practice would keep your body disease free and full of vitality. You can also expect a surge in overall stamina and flexibility.
It is very important to understand the deep philosophy behind yoga if you wish to get maximum benefits from your practice. If you will practice yoga according to all the recommendations, you can hope to live a long and happy life along with a healthy and beautiful body. The physical fitness and beauty merely come as a by-product when you make yoga a way of life.
Besides, yoga should not be limited to a mere 60 or 90 minutes. Make it a state of consciousness. It would help in every aspect of your life. You would enjoy your work more, your relationships would become more fulfilling and loving, life in general would become relaxed and enjoyable. But yes, here again effort is the key. So do not limit yourself in your yoga practice. Go ahead and read as much as possible about the philosophies of yoga, maintain a sattvic lifestyle and diet and surrender to the divine. You would never have to complain about anything because as soon as you would allow yourself to transform into a true yogi, your life would change forever (guaranteed, it would be for the better).