With the International Yoga Day round the corner, posters pop out from every street corners and there is a buzz in the air, even the unlikeliest people suddenly joining the discussion to break a few myths associated with yoga. Of course, there will be controversies galore as yoga may seem threatening to the perceived identities of certain belief systems. But how much do we really understand the various concepts and ideas associated with yoga?
Contrary to the often propagated concept that yoga is all about creating contorted body postures and holding on to them, it has a broader connotation encompassing all areas of life.
While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras expounds the basic philosophy of yoga, each chapter name of the Bhagavat Gita ends with yoga, Arjuna Bishada Yoga, Gyana Yoga and so on. Interestingly these two popular scriptures do not give any description about the body postures which are so passionately propagated as yoga. Sri Krishna – the Lord of yoga did not teach even a single asana to his foremost disciple Arjuna during the entire length and breadth of the Bhagavat Gita. Nor did Arjuna had to do a Sirsashana (head stand) on a yoga mat amid the battle cries of Kurukshetra to a get a distorted view of the prevailing state affairs so as to fall into such depression that Sri Krishna took eighteen chapters with 700 verses to bring him to his senses.
By the way, references to various body postures and other physical yogic techniques can be found in Hathayoga Pradipika. However, Many of the asanas have been handed over to us in master-disciple tradition, some of them refined and some distorted, in their long passage through 5000 years of the yogic history.
The meaning the word yoga is to join, to connect. So purpose of yoga is to connect all the loose ends of life. At a basic level it is to connect with oneself. Surprisingly, the first chapter of the Bhagavat Gita is Arjunabishada yoga – the yoga of Arjuna falling into depression and the last chapter is Mokshasannyas Yoga- the yoga of enlightenment . When one is happy, one spreads out and forgets oneself. But it is during the times of misery and depression that one starts to remember oneself. But that is only the starting point. As it happened in Bhagavat Gita, through the guidance of a master of yoga like Lord Sri Krishna, Arjun was led from the state of depression and dismay to the state of ultimate awareness- from Arjunabishada Yoga to Mokshasannyas Yoga. In the Gita, Lord Sri Krishna is referred as Yogeshwara – the lord of yoga. At one place He says – Samatwam Yoga uchyate – to be in a state of equanimity is yoga. So, the scripture is full of description of the yogic state and how to attain that state.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as yogaschttabritih nirodhah. Even though different authors translate it in different ways, keeping in view the spirit of the book, I feel the nearest would be – Yoga is all about mastery over the modes of consciousness. Unlike Bhagavat Gita, the Yoga Sutras start with Samadhi pada – the state of ultimate bliss and equanimity. With scientific precision it describes, explores and categorises the inner world of a human being.
Different religions and scriptures use different symbols and techniques. When one goes beyond those symbols or when one tries to decipher the real indications of those symbols, I feel, one may find those things touching upon some concept of yoga, even though they may not be using the word.
Anything that you do, whether it is religious activity or secular activity, whether it is dictated by tradition or something new, if it gives you a glimpse into your real nature, if it brings you bliss, peace calmness and contentment, that is your yogic path.
If at the basic level yoga joins you with yourself, in a larger context yoga is being in harmony with your surroundings and the humanity at large. Thus, it starts with the well being of oneself but, ultimately it must spread to the society.
Do not all religions claim it to be their basic purpose in spite of the disagreements as to the methods to be followed to do this?