Abhilasha unravels the many secrets of yoga. She explains how it is being repackaged to suit the needs of other religions too. Atheists too find meaning in it. Yoga is not merely religious. It’s spiritual, answering the essential needs of humanity.
Yoga is not only what you do on a mat, it’s about how you live, eat and think once you are off it. Each breath is renewal of life.
For the past eight years, at the very least, there has been something in my life I have tried to deny. I have hidden it from others, or at least I thought I had – they would tell a different story – and I have tried to deny it to myself. But if I’m honest, it has always been there in one way or another, born in my adolescence and nurtured to strength by middle age and by motherhood. I can say two things with equal certainty: the first is that it is very difficult for me to accept change and second, like most of us, contrary to being a hypochondriac; I was quite nonchalant about my health. My father-in-law, a yoga practitioner, probably understood this and kept giving me literature on yoga, sometimes quite obsessively, hoping I would someday find it a useful read.
Quite ironically, I did! An excruciating pain running down my right leg was diagnosed as sciatica and high power painkillers were prescribed by the orthopaedics, which, to my horror numbed the sensation in my entire leg leading to a limp when I walked. I panicked! Read content available on the Net and found a mention of asanas specific to sciatica.
Then, I picked up the literature my father-in-law gave me long time back.
In a matter of few days, yoga became a part of my daily routine. It weaned me off the painkillers and helped me cure my sciatica only with the help of these asanas. Sciatica is history now and Yoga, my present.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word ‘yuj’, which means ‘to join’. The original definition of yoga is ‘yujyateanenitiyogah‘, meaning what joins or connects is yoga.
Yoga, in simple language, is a technique of aligning our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual personality. It is more than a simple workout session. It’s a spiritual journey to self-discovery and to the present moment – the only moment that truly exists. There is full body and breath awareness in that very moment.
In today’s world of information and inter planetary voyages most of the people find it difficult to devote time towards their health and fitness. This has led to drastic increase in health problems and health-related stress —the number one killer in modern days. Unlike the early part of the century, when infectious diseases were the leading killers, today’s health problems are mostly related to lifestyle.
The essence of yoga is to make the process of life as efficient and enjoyable as possible. In the beginning it is essential that we learn not only what the stretches are, but how to stretch, how to relax and how to breathe etc. Then we will be ready to work out safely, yoga does not bring away the qualities of genuinity, wholesomeness, compassion, but rather instils them within us. It teaches us that love heals the giver at least as much as it does the recipient.
Yoga is no less magical than the power of life itself. It unlocks life’s wonder and unleashes hidden energies.
The whole essence of yoga is to be aware of your body’s strengths and capabilities and slowly accept it while pushing yourself a little further, only as much as comfortable. So no one expects you to twist and turn into a pretzel without breaking a sweat, in the first go. Just do whatever feels good for you. It’s not a team activity.
It has taken time for us to wind ourselves up in a knot. Naturally, it takes time to unravel. If we are still breathing, it is never too soon or late to start yoga.
Yoga also involves focusing attention on the breath, bringing the ordinary, irregular, and unconscious process of breathing into the realm of consciousness. The breath itself becomes an object of sustained meditation, reining in and stabilising the mind’s stream of thoughts and associations, so strikingly compared to a pack of unruly monkeys.
Patanjali puts it simply, “Yoga is stopping the whirlpools of the mind.” Both the disciplines of body and breath bring the mind to ‘one-pointedness.’
A food for thought – all of yoga asana is actually imitation of birds, animals and just anything that inspires you in nature.
I stumbled upon an interesting piece of information. A study conducted by a Harvard affiliated team out of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) came across surprising conclusions. This most recent study found that an average of 27 minutes of a daily practice of mindfulness exercises stimulated a significant boost in gray matter density, specifically in the hippocampus; the area of the brain in which self-awareness, compassion, and introspection are associated.
For many people, the main concern in a yoga class is whether they are breathing correctly or their legs are aligned. But for others, there are lingering doubts about whether they should be there at all, or whether they are betraying their religion.
One answer to the question of whether yoga really is a religious activity will soon be given by the Supreme Court in the country of its birth, India.
Last month, a pro-yoga group petitioned the court to make it a compulsory part of the school syllabus on health grounds, but state schools in India are avowedly secular. The court said it was uncomfortable with the idea, and will gather the views of minority groups in the coming weeks.
Sometime back a BBC article triggered a thought in my mind. Something that is interesting about yoga is that whilst it is spiritual, it doesn’t stipulate a specific religion. Even in the devotional forms of yoga, it says you can use any object of devotion you like, be it Ganesh, Krishna, Jesus or Allah.
I feel atheists may also perform yoga. They may fix their attention on the ‘wonder of the universe’ or perhaps the complexity of the ‘DNA helix’!
Farida Hamza, a Muslim woman born in India but raised in Oman and living in the US now, had been doing yoga for two or three years when she decided she wanted to teach it.When she told her family and a few friends, they did not react positively. They were very confused as to why she wanted to do it and that it might be going against Islam.
Hamza states that in yoga you are told the whole time to ‘Empty your mind! Empty your mind!’ And what you do instead is fill your mind with the word of God.
“The way we pray as Muslims, each pose that we do is a yoga pose,” she adds. “So Muslims, who hate yoga are probably doing yoga without realising it.” Muslims even join their middle finger and thumb together during prayer, similar to a yoga mudra.
Last year, the newspapers reported that a yoga class was banned from a church hall in the UK. “Yoga is a Hindu spiritual exercise,” said the priest, Father John Chandler. “Being a Catholic church we have to promote the gospel, and that’s what we use our premises for.”
As a result of such incidents, yoga has been repackaged in the US as well. So, for American Christians, who don’t like the idea of yoga, there are alternatives, including Praise Moves. This exercise regime combines Christian worship with stretching exercises. As the class adopts a posture, they recite a verse from the Bible. In this way, Bhujang-asana or the cobra pose becomes the vine posture.
An Iranian yoga teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the BBC that her religious students sometimes report that they pray with more concentration after practising yoga.
While people generally accept what’s good for them, it’s funny how they need to sometimes disguise it to fit into their belief systems.
Pix from author and net