Yoga Lost in Translation

Like many arts and sciences that are compelling, beautiful, and deep, yoga has suffered from the spiritual starvation of the modern world. Over the years Yoga has been translated, modernised, westernised and watered down. In many countries the profound and eternal essence of yoga has been mainly misrepresented as a fitness culture or even promoting Hinduism. Unfortunately such a cloud of confusion has masked the true concept of yoga.

Yoga is a way of life, the uniting of the body, mind and spirit. Its real purpose is not just to become physically fit or mentally relaxed but also to deepen our own spiritual journey, enabling and guiding us to be more aware of ourselves, ultimately leading to self-realization. It is about making a connection with our world and having a clear mind that is free from delusion.

Patanjali, known as “the father of yoga”, said in a very simple way what he thought yoga is for him; “Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind”. To give meaning to those simple words, continuous practice and discipline are required to attain Yoga. Yoga means “union”, to unite mind, body and spirit. There are many descriptions long and short among books and websites on explaining the concept of yoga. However theorizing and describing yoga, would be just the same as trying to define love. During my first week in Tirisula’s YTTC Master Paalu asked the class “how do you know when you are in love?” and many of us were stummped in describing the full essence of love. Like Yoga the dictionary and books can define the term, but in order to truly understand we have to experience yoga by living the practice.

For me yoga provides me a safe space and an opportunity to connect with the inner silence and peace within. During asana practices it stretches and bend me in more ways than one, both physically and mentally. Yoga has taught me awareness, awareness of my body, mental state and my breath. It is about returning to my breath and realizing that I am blessed with everything that I have at this very moment. As Master Paalu said “ We are living in Heaven, what more do we want?”

Master the Breath, Master the Mind

Often when we attend any asana class, we will be reminded to “breathe consciously” when we are entering and exiting a pose or simply just holding a pose. It is through the breath that we are able to navigate through different levels of consciousness. Breathing consciously also has an organic effect on our mental, emotional, and physical state.

Being fully aware of our breath is a method for being present. When we bring our focus to the breath; we let go of the past and future and in turn we are focused on the moment. For this reason, breathing consciously is its own meditation.

When we breathe consciously we activate a different part of our brain. The autonomic function of unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more developed areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex. Activating the cerebral cortex has a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions. By bringing our attention to the breath, we are able to control aspects of the mind, causing our consciousness to rise from instinctual to awareness.

Conscious alteration of our breathing pattern, can produce different states of mind. For example, deliberately slowing down the breath has an impact on our emotional state. When the cerebral cortex is activated through consciously controlling the exhalation, it sends inhibitory impulses to the respiratory centre in the midbrain. These inhibitory impulses from the cortex activates the hypothalamus, which is concerned with emotions, and relaxes this area. Conscious deep inhalation and especially exhalation has a soothing effect on our emotional state.

In the early stages of my yoga journey, whenever I got into a pose that challenged me a great deal, I would subconsciously hold my breath, clench my teeth and tense my shoulders, accompanied with emotions of stress, annoyance along with a voice that told me it was too hard and I should give up. Yet, when I focused on my breath, backed off a little and worked through it patiently, it created a space for my mind; it becomes quieter and a sense of calm awareness washes over me. It is in that moment that the breath has allowed me to delve deeper into the pose and appreciate the stillness and awareness from within.

We are all truly one

Today it seems that almost everyone is aware of how human activity is harming our planet. We are probably already consciously trying to reduce our impact by recycling, driving less, and making an effort to choose the “green” products at the supermarket. To take a step further, we can begin a practice of cultivating gratitude and appreciation for the Earth. When our actions are ignited by a heart-centered consciousness, we can affect the larger world in limitless positive ways.

In many circumstances the habits of our daily lives cut us off from the natural world, where we are constantly cooped up within the four walls of an office, with our eyes perpetually fixated to screens of a mobile, desktop or television. Yet the reality is that we are intimately joined to nature. Similar to our planet Earth, our bodies are made up of seventy five percent water.

Focusing our attention on the everyday gifts that nature provides, will encourage us to cultivate a sense of admiration and gratitude.In my own life, just placing my feet on the floor to connect with the earth first thing in the morning fills me with gratitude. Splashing water on my face connects me to the water that flows all over and through the planet. Breathing oxygenated air into my lungs as I feel the rays of the sun envelope me brings a sense of joy, because fire, air, and prana have united in me. In those first moments of waking, I feel a deep connection to the Earth. When we take time to appreciate and be aware of these connections, we can experience a sense of grounding, abundant well-being, and a sense of belonging.

We are all truly one.

We are what we eat

Most of us will consider the food choices we make as a reflection of our internal state – if we are stressed out, our eating style will be affected by it. Conversely the food we consume affects our bodies as well as the mind. Each and every cellular molecule in our body is created from the food we put into our body, including the water we drink and the air we breathe. Besides nourishing our bodies, food affects the quality of our lives, our moods, energy and our overall physical and mental health.

It is also too easy to lose our connection to the food we eat, and how we eat it. How many times have we felt pressed for time and we eat on the go, consuming what’s convenient and fast, rather than adequately nourishing our body. We have learn to block out signals from the stomach, suppress our cravings, rather than trying to really understand and determine what our body requires.  Often many of us have eaten something simply because “it’s there,” rather than because we’re actually hungry for it.

Yoga teaches us to be mindful of all our lifestyle choices and how they impact us. When your life is balanced and relaxed, your diet routine is set right. When I turned to yoga, I never imagined how it could transform my eating habits. I was going through a difficult phase and started experiencing symptoms like a high heart rate, a racing mind, and complete inability to stop and calm down. These, in turn, affected my eating habits and my body was experiencing a lack of nourishment.

Through consistent meditation and asana practice, I could find myself making small changes to my food choices. My mind was calmer, more focused and aware, I gave more importance and respect to food as it was the source of energy for my body.

Practicing awareness and mindfulness has made me question where my food comes from and it extends beyond going to the supermarket to purchase, say an apple. It helps me gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of the apple from seed, to photosynthesis, to plant, to farmer’s hand, to transportation, and finally to me.

The mindfulness of yoga has taught me to listen to my body, make nutritious choices, and consume enough food to fill my stomach. I had a newfound relationship with food, where I began feeling it was my responsibility to supply my body and mind with the right energy sources.