Today, Yoga is popular globally as a form of exercise or as a part of daily workouts; but authentic Yoga has wider and deeper dimensions to it than what is commonly known.
It is known for a fact that the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body. But, the effect of the mind on the body is greater than one realizes. The role of Yoga in helping a person become resilient to face stress (a part of our modern lifestyle), without harming the body (remain healthy) is gaining new importance.
Genetics of Yoga –
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras is the oldest known text of Yoga. The word ‘Yoga’ is a Sanskrit word with 2 basic roots (origins):
- The meaning of Yoga derived from Yuj-yujjati is ‘anchoring’ or ‘integration’ of the whole human personality in terms of his ‘body’, ‘mind’ and ‘soul’.
- The meaning of Yoga derived from Yuj-samadhav is ‘Samadhi’ or deep concentration.
Hence, Yoga means the process (of integration/anchoring) as well as the state of concentration!
The Samkhya philosophy which is the basis of Patanjali’s Yoga, states that all the things that are visible on earth are made up of 2 eternal, uncompromising and metaphysical principles namely ‘purusha’ i.e. consciousness and ‘prakriti’ i.e. matter (similar to the Chinese Yin and Yang philosophy). Yoga is the process to realize the ‘Purusha’ in himself i.e. to achieve harmony in the body, mind and soul; it is also the end goal of ‘Samadhi’ i.e. concentration where the body and mind fade away and only the soul/purusha is realized.
Patanjali has prescribed an eight-limbed process of reaching the goal known as Ashtanga Yoga. The eight limbs are Yama, Niyama, Aasan, Pranayam, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyaan and Samadhi.
For many, Yoga is equal to Asanas; but this is only of the parts of authentic Yoga. When only Asana – the 3rd limb of Ashtanga Yoga is practiced, it would not be ‘Yoga’ by definition.
You might wonder, why do we need all the 8 limbs? Here is why.
The answer rests in the arrangement of these 8 limbs itself – these are in ascending hierarchal order which means each limb leads to the next. Every limb needs to be mastered before practicing the next one. Let us know them one by one.
Yama and Niyama
Just as we need to clear our primary, secondary school education before following higher studies, the same way the Yamas (1st anga of social attitude) and Niyamas (2nd anga of personal discipline) helps the person to become mentally and physically ready for the postures to be adopted in asanas.
The Asanas (3rd anga of physical postures) retrain our musculoskeletal system to be still and steady for prolonged time. To remain still in one posture, complete concentration is needed wherein the mind becomes so focused that the asanas can be performed slowly and effortlessly, one’s awareness becomes intensified and can experience infinity.
When one masters his musculoskeletal apparatus, he is now ready for Pranayama (4th anga of expanding the ‘prana’ or vital energy by controlling the breath). When the breath is controlled, one can control the mind. When the breath is extended and controlled, there is cessation of activity in the mind.
Hath Pradipika, a classic manual on yoga says ‘Chale vate chalam chittam nischale nischalam bhavet’, meaning when the mind gets steady and thoughtless, Pratyahara (5th anga of going inwards) begins where we shut off external sense organs and look inwards.
After focusing inwards, one comes to Dharana (6th anga of concentration on one object, in one place).
Dhyaan and Samadhi
As one becomes adept and Dharana intensifies, Dhyaan (7th anga) and Samadhi (8th anga) of meditation take place.
When we follow these 8 limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga, positive effects are perceived on the body, mind and soul;
- The body becomes supple, muscular coordination becomes smoother and lightness is felt.
- Mind becomes serene; known as samyama; there may be flashes of intuition.
- Soul i.e.chitta attains purusha i.e. consciousness and spiritual growth is seen.
Thus, to progress on the path of Yoga, all the steps are needed. Though reaching true Samadhi is difficult, when we progress from Dharana to Samadhi, there occurs a psychophysiological balance which restores the natural rhythm of the person and insulates him from the natural stress response of the body.
“Yoga is that art and science which is calculated to ensure an individual’s perfect health for the body and is infinite happiness for the mind and perfect spiritual development for the soul”