When you think of Yoga, what comes to your mind?
A bearded monk meditating in India ? A flexible woman who is in an Instagrammable pose? Or a fashionable lifestyle practiced by celebrities in Hollywood ?
Yes, these are the typical stereotypes about Yoga. But these stereotypes are often misleading. Yoga is not all about poses.
Yoga in our modern society has been commercialized to a large extent and it has lost some of its originality and tradition.
The purpose of practicing Yoga in the modern context is “to attain good physical health”, however, originally it was “to attain peace of mind”. In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, the word “Yoga” means “connection”, where the mind, body and soul are in perfect harmony.
The basis of Yoga is “the ability to control your thought fluctuations” as mentioned in Yoga Sutra, a widely regarded primary text on yoga, and the best way to achieve this is through meditation. Fundamentally, meditation requires one to close out all other senses and to concentrate or apply single focus on one particular objective. Being in a meditative state is Yoga itself.
In Sanskrit, these poses are referred to as “Asana”, and the root meaning of the term Asana is to be in the sitting position. Contrary to popular belief, the numerous Asanas practiced in yoga serve as building blocks to build a strong foundation for one to meditate which often lasts for hours.
It might seem illogical but Asana in its original form, which is the sitting position is far more difficult than the other forms and positions of Asanas which are practiced today. This is because sitting asana requires a long sustained combination of controlled and steady breathing, upright posture of the torso and most importantly, which happens to be the most difficult, a fully-focused mind.
The Yoga Sutras refers to eight limbs (Ashtanga) of yoga, each of which offers guidance on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
- YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
- NIYAMA– Positive duties or observances
- ASANA – Posture
- PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques
- PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
- DHARANA – Focused concentration
- DHYANA – Meditative absorption
- SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment
The first five of eight limbs including Asana which is the third limb, serve as a preparation for the last three limbs which are forms of meditation.
Modern practitioners have lost their ways by coming up with versions of yoga such as “Dog Yoga”, “Beer Yoga” and the like and have deviated from the true form and meaning of yoga.
While it is great that people are starting to take care of their health through yoga, I sincerely hope that the original meaning, practice and art of yoga will never be diminished and always be kept intact in its truest and original form.