The world is celebrating International Yoga Day today.
Yoga is popularly known by Asana i.e. physical movements and Prayanama, breathing exercise performed by practitioners. Asana and Prayanama are what the Yoga means is the belief of most practitioners when most think about the Yoga.
Now, since the Yoga has gained international acceptance and popularity, it is pertinent to know what the Yoga means.
Yoga is a way of life and not limited to Asana and Prayanama. Sage Patanjali had about 2000 years ago, prescribed Yoga in sutras in his treatises known as Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Even before Patanjali Yoga was practiced and considered a way of life in India. However the oldest Sutras, we have in written format is by Sage Patanjali.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which means ‘to join, to unite’. Joining or union of the self with the supreme.
Yoga has eight limbs and is known as Ashtang-yoga (Ashtang = Eight Limbs). Asana and Prayanama are only two of them. This is considered a way of life to achieve the highest objective of human life. The highest objective is known as Samadhi, union with the object of meditation or enlightenment. Therefore, in broader sense Yoga is a road map to attain enlightenment.
In order to achieve this higher state, we need a moral code of conduct and self-purification. These are known as Yama and Niyama, two of the limbs.
Yama means a moral code of conduct. There are five Yamas.
Niyama means acts of self-purification. There are five Niyamas.
Next two limbs are what have commonly known Yoga with; Asana and Prayanama.
Asana is physical movements designed to keep the body functioning in proper order. There are various such movements and practices covering the entire body and all body parts / systems.
Unless the body is fit the person can’t focus on the higher purpose. Therefore, fit body is necessary for higher pursuit and Asana helps in achieving and maintaining a healthy body.
Pranayama is about breathing exercise. Prana means life force i.e. our breath. Controlling the breath is what Pranayama is. But why do we need to control the breath?
There is a sutra in Yoga Sutras which says;
‘Chale vate chale chitta, nishacle nishal bhavatu’ which means;
Our mind is wavering as our breath is not under our control so in order to keep the mind fixated and concentrate on one thing, controlling of the breath is necessary. Pranayama helps us with that.
All these four limbs i.e. Yama, Niyama, Asana & Prayanama are known as Bahirang i.e. external limbs of Yoga. These prepare us for the higher pursuit which the next level of limbs aims to take us.
The next four limbs are known as Antarang i.e. Internal.
These are Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Pratyahara means moving inward from our senses to our internal world. This is the withdrawal of senses. We experience the external world through our senses; our senses are our doors to the external world. Now we are moving inward so withdrawal of the senses in order to experience the internal non-physical world. Just closing of eyes and ignoring all the signals of the senses can help us focus inward.
The next is Dharana. That is focussing on just one thing i.e. concentration on one thing.
The meditation has become very famous and popular the world over. This meditation is known as Dhyana and this is the 7th limb of Yoga. Continues focus on one thing for a longer period is known as Dhyana. Continues Dharana is Dhyana. We focus on breath once is Dharana and continues focus for a long time is Dhyana or Meditation.
One can realise why Asana and Pranayama are important and precedes internal limbs? If the body is not healthy and fit one can’t sit in meditation for a long time and if our breath is not under our control our mind wavers during Dhyana. Asana and Prayanama prepare us to practice Dhyana.
One sitting for a longer period in Dhyana, focussing only on one object or even not on any object but absorption with the self, achieves Samadhi i.e. enlightenment. The ultimate objective of the human being i.e. to become one with the self i.e. Soul.
Therefore, Yoga is a complete road map till one achieves enlightenment. All the preceding limbs prepare the practitioners to practice the successive limbs. However, most of us are using this rich and elaborate roadmap for merely achieving a very low aim of physical fitness by practicing Asana and Pranayama. Yes, this is a starting point, but we should not stop at this. On this International Yoga Day, we should expand our understanding to know more about these aspects of Yoga and pursue it as and when time permits or the time is right.
For those who is only practicing Yoga for healthy a living, there are a few cautions:
Hathapradapika, one of the texts on Yoga which was written between 14 to 16th century says;
Yoga fails by six causes: Over-eating, over exertion, talkativeness, undisciplined life, promiscuous company and unsteadiness.
Gherandsahita says; the one who practices Yoga without control on diet will attract many diseases and will not get success in Yoga.
The point is Diet plays very important role in our health and even Yoga i.e. Asana and Prayanama practitioners will not get success if one is not disciplined about the diet.
For more curious readers the book on Yoga Light on Patanjali Yogasutras by BKS Iyengar is quite in detail about Sutras.