What is Yoga
Today around the world yoga is practiced as a format of physical fitness with an added feature of mental relaxation. The scientific studies about Yoga have further promoted it as a substitute to various physical cultures like gym or aerobics for its fascinating health benefits. Yoga has also been attested as a system of alternative medicine with its ability to manage diseases like hypertension, diabetes, asthma etc. No doubt yoga does it all, but it is much more than that. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ meaning union and connotes to ‘Yujyate Anena Iti Yogaḥ’ i.e. that which unites is yoga. Than what is united to what? It is the union of the narrow, individualistic and egoistic consciousness of an individual with the all pervasive universal Consciousness. This is known as Self-Realization.
In technical terminology, it is the union of ‘jīvātmā’ (individual self) with ‘paramātmā’ (universal self). This simply means that yoga is a process of expansion of an individual personality to cosmic dimensions, making an ordinary man divine. In practice, yoga is about calming of the mind. At the more apparent level it is about harmonizing the body with the mind through the means of various yoga techniques like postures (āsana), breathing practices (prānāyāma) and meditation (dhyāna). In the state of harmonious integration of personality, a person is said to be in yoga.
Yoga is search for the highest within, i.e. Self Discovery, which is awakening of human potential. This search for the Self has made yoga a holistic art and science of living, encompassing all aspects of human personality i.e. physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual. As an art yoga leads to the harmony – inner (body, mind and emotion) and outer (social, professional). As science yoga leads to the systematic and scientific process of corroborating all the changes occurring at all levels of personality to be experienced by all, at all times and places, irrespective of gender, creed, race or religion. Therefore, Yoga is a conscious process for complete physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development of human being, towards the realization of his full potential.
Definition of Yoga
Swami Vivekananda captured the grandeur of yoga in a simple definition with profound meaning- “Yoga is a means of compressing one’s evolution into a single life or a few years or even a few months of the bodily existence”. Thus yoga is a system of overcoming one’s limitations and unfolding latent potentialities.
With its base in spirituality, yoga has a comprehensive understanding of human existence in its totality, as an integrated system of mind, body, intellect and emotions. When yoga boldly says that it is a process of knowing our Self, the process goes through the detailed scrutiny of each layer of our existence before reaching the goal of Self Realization. This forms the vast knowledge base for yoga and this is the reason why yoga is a one-stop solution to man’s all present day problems occurring at various levels of body, mind, intellect or emotion.
In practice yoga is essentially a discipline of calming down the mind. The calming effect ranges from reduced number of thoughts in the mind to reduced sympathetic activity in body. It brings about a balance among all the reciprocal activities of the body leading to a state of Samatva or evenness. Studies have shown that yoga works phenomenally well for overall health and well being. Yoga not only brings us health and vigor but also sharpens the inner faculties of judgment and analysis and harnesses the power of mind, intellect, will and emotion. A little practice of yoga infuses deep relaxation into the system and rejuvenates the body and mind.
Yoga is skill to calm down the mind
Why calming of the mind is so important? It is because only in the states of mental calmness and serenity we can be aware of our true nature. Inner stillness illuminates our entire being. Just as a single flame removes the darkness and illuminates the entire cave, a single moment of absolute inner silence (thoughtlessness) removes the inner darkness and the Self illuminates.
Not many of us are aware that we only know how to generate thoughts or think quickly. When it comes to not to think we are completely clueless, because we don’t know how to calm down the mind or simply to relax. Here Yoga comes into the picture and strengthens this second dimension where we can choose not to generate thoughts and stay calm within. A mind with a single thought is far more powerful than a mind filled with hundreds of thoughts.