Yoga for beginners

by Harsh Thakkar

When we grow up, as humans we start taking things for granted. Small miracles which power our everyday life are still happening with the same frequency and un-mindfulness at which they used to happen when one is born. For instance, you still are involuntarily breathing – without really thinking about it or giving it a second thought. You still eat food, and in a few hours, it provides you with ample energy to engage in activities you love and strengthens your overall body, or simply put “it becomes your body”. Yes, there is a scientific explanation to all this, but nobody thinks about it while doing it. Nobody has the time.

Actions and milestones which used to be groundbreaking when you were 1 year old – the first eye contact, the first step, the first solid meal, the first word that comes out of your mouth, all these happen daily now in your adult life, but they have stopped being miraculous. When I convinced myself to sign up for a yoga teaching course, I didn’t know why I did it. The teacher asked everyone in one of the first few classes – do you want to become a teacher? My answer was maybe, at certain point in my life if I get good at it (still far from it).

I am now in that phase of my yoga journey when I’ve become physically capable of doing most asanas (I must add not perfect yet) but still wondering “What is Yoga really? ”

Recently I started teaching basic yoga to some of my friends and family – they were the only ones who were brave enough to take the risk. And during these sessions I found myself explaining to them – “Yoga is not an exercise regime, it’s about wellness. A way of life.” Essentially the word means “Union”, the union of mind, body and soul – some would say. Or the “Union of oneself with the nature”. Easier said than done, one of my friends chimed. I couldn’t find myself to deny that and just smiled in response.

I read somewhere on the Internet of all things that Yoga is “a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.” Well that sounds amazing, apart from the fact that the religion of Hinduism has nothing to do with it! Yes, it was written about and established by saints at the time when Hindu religion was going strong in India. But that would be the equivalent of saying that Pilates is a “Nazi system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness.” Although Pilates was developed during the first world war, Nazism was not even coined at the time even though Hitler was serving in the German army, he had not yet taken control of Germany. Pilates has nothing to do with Nazism, just like Yoga has no religious link – plain and simple.

Living in the moment has become hip these days, but how many people are doing it? If you actively start doing it, that would mean just enjoying the present and not thinking about the future. You earn 3000$ a month, you spend it all, have a great time and live from month to month. Not sure if that’s a good idea. But does it have to be financial all the time?

Living in the moment could also mean, enjoying small mercies in life, that great cup of coffee; the sweet taste of fresh fruit in your mouth; spending time with your loved ones. And then the more basic stuff – you’re still alive and kicking; still able to breath and enjoy the sunrise and sunset, able to walk and get around.

If I were to quote Sadhguru, founder of Isha foundation his definition of Yoga is “that which brings you to reality. Literally, it means “union.” Union means it brings you to the ultimate reality, where individual manifestations of life are surface bubbles in the process of creation. Right now, a coconut tree and a mango tree have popped up from the same earth. From the same earth, the human body and so many creatures have popped up. It is all the same earth.”

When one is practicing Yoga, your mind is focusing on getting that asana right, getting the breathing right, that pain in your thighs during Utkatasana, the rhythm of movement during Suryanamaskara. You’re at that time living in the moment 🙂 So one could say that Yoga teaches you and trains your mind to live in the moment.

What is Yoga?

What is Yoga?
 Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga
 Is Yoga a religion?
In the traditional yoga sutras text, ‘yoga’ means union and ‘sutra’ means thread. Simply put, ‘Yoga’ means union of the parts of ourselves, which were never divided in the first place. Yoga literally means to yoke, from the foot yuj, which means to join; it is the same as the absorption in the state of samadhi. Sutra means thread, and this thread, or multiple threads weave a tapestry of insight and direct experience.
Therefore, the practice of yoga can be considered both an art and a science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.
Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga
The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding. In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:
1. Yama : Universal morality
2. Niyama : Personal observances
3. Asanas : Body postures
4. Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
5. Pratyahara : Control of the senses
6. Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
7. Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine
The first two limbs that Patanjali describes are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. These can also be looked at as universal morality and personal observances. Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given on how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.
The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics.” Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, “they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.”
Yoga Philosophy and Everyday Living
 Is Yoga a religious practice with an affinity to Hinduism?
 How can Yoga be applied to everyday living?
After having gone through the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra on the eight limbs of yoga, I reflected on these and how they may relate to my belief (Catholicism) and way of life. Many people out there still perceive yoga as a religious practice related to Hinduism and they generally ‘disapprove’ of yoga. I remember asking a friend to join me for a yoga class and he responded that he was “Christian” and that it was not appropriate to do yoga for him (and his family). Yoga is often linked to Hinduism because it originated from India and the founders tend to make comparison with Hindu beliefs but Yoga is definitely not a religion.
I always kept an open mind when reviewing the 8 limbs of the so-called Yoga Sutras and I look upon these as a philosophy – a way of life – not so much a religion or belief. In comparing the yamas and niyamas to my Catholic belief, these are very similar to the ‘ten commandments’ in the Christian faith. In my opinion, all religion that teaches good are similar and perhaps, there’s only one God or Divine, in whichever form or name that he/ she is known by. Yoga philosophy takes this one more step further in encouraging us to be more aware of our bodies and to keep healthy and fit, both in mind and body. Pratyahara, dharana and dhyana are vehicles and tools to help us relax and find peace within ourselves. And, finally, Samadhi is like finding oneself.
Yes, the sutras talked about past lives, karmas and reincarnations, and many Christians feel that this is not right, but I tend to differ. There is no concrete sentence in the bible to indicate that past lives do not exist. It just highlights the fact that all Christians should follow the ten commandments, follow God’s will and eventually aim to go to heaven at the time of death. What about those who did not make it to Heaven and those who are banished to Hell or somewhere in between (purgatory, perhaps) – what happens to their souls? Finally I reckon that going to heaven in the Christian faith is equivalent to achieving Samadhi in the Yoga sutras  that is the state of the Divine.
All religions teach one to be good and do good – to be pure in heart and mind. Applying the yoga philosophy of the eight limbs to everyday life, I become more conscious of my own thinking and behavior, and even perspectives in life. Most importantly, I have become even more composed, calm and relaxed; and I find that I am able to think even more clearly and logically than before.
I hope that everyone will eventually find inner peace and calmness and discover your true self.