Ah! I am not flexible enough for yoga, I cannot imagine touching my toes…is the most common reaction when people encounter yoga. Twisted bodies and painfully stretched limbs, is the stereotypical image of a yoga class in our mind. Do you really need a flexible body for yoga? Is yoga all about asanas? A toned body is an aim or oblivion on the path of yoga? You aren’t sure which of the above rationales hold. Let us find out if yoga is confined to the mat or does it have realms beyond the body.
A healthy body is at ease and when there is lack of ease, it is dis-ease. What is the actual cause of disease, does it all start in the body? We take a pause here to shift our focus from the body to the mind. An individual has over 50,000 thoughts in a day, and one finds himself attached to most of them. This is referred to as the monkey mind or fluctuations of the mind. Such conflicts prolonged over a duration hamper the vital functions of the body like digestion, blood circulation, secretion of hormones etc.
Patanjali Yoga Sutra is widely acknowledged as the classic text on yoga and the authentic narrator of yogic philosophy and practice. Surprisingly, only three of the 196 sutras mention asanas while the remaining text discusses other components of yoga-like breathing, meditation, conduct, and more. Many people identify yoga only with asanas, but physical postures are just one of the many tools on the path of yoga.
One of the definitions of Yoga, as described by Maharshi Patanjali in the authoritative text, is – Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha – “Yoga is stilling the mind waves or restricting the fluctuations of consciousness.”
By managing the mind and escaping the emotional roller coaster, we suffer less and this according to Patanjali is Yoga. Apart from defining Yoga, Patanjali outlines an eightfold path called Ashtanga, which translates to “eight limbs” comprising ethical principles for leading a purposeful life with self-discipline. Hatha yoga, one of the most widely practiced forms of yoga, implies the use of Asanas (physical poses) and Pranayama (breathing techniques) as tools to prepare the body and mind for meditation. This union of the body and breath releases blockages of the body and constraints in the mind. You are hence rendered with a flexible mind apart from the body.
Another evidence of Yogic philosophy embracing the mind over body is the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna tells Arjuna –
“Yoga is skill in action”
For many of us who practice yoga asanas, this is relatable to the experience of bringing awareness while practicing physical postures. While connecting the mind with the experience of the body is a challenging accomplishment, it is just the beginning. To walk the path of yoga and navigate gracefully through life we must learn to be present in the moment like a child. Children greet every moment with enthusiasm and joy, as their conscious is devoid of the stockpile of impressions and patterns formed from past experiences. Detaching the consciousness from what has gone by and what has not arrived yet, equips one to move through thoughts and emotions skillfully. Rising above the clouds of attachments, desires, and preconceived notions that surface and prevent us from realizing our true potential is the real skill in action.
Are we practicing yoga in its true sense today? The popular practice of postures is not the aim to thrive for; it is the harmony between the inner and outer layers of our existence that we must reach. Spiritual enlightenment is the destination of this nourishing science being prescribed for its add-ons of physical fitness and wellness. This is as sad and ignorant as savoring the skin of a banana!
“Like a flower bud, human life has the potential to blossom fully. Blossoming of human potential to fullness is yoga.”- Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The goal of yoga is to find equanimity and contentment and make peace with ourselves and others. A gentle reminder of the authentic purpose of this self-empowering way of life couldn’t be more relevant in the challenging times that we thrive in today. Yoga is the science of right living to be incorporated in all areas of life—physical, psychological, and spiritual. It is an art of discovering the essence of our existence.