Yoga: Free Health Insurance For All!
"International day of yoga will encourage the growth of a sustainable pattern of consumption and lead to a balance between man and nature. Here in New York we believe that it will be celebrated in the way all other international days are celebrated,"
- Asoke Kumar Mukerji, India's envoy to the UN
Yoga Means Peace And Harmony
When the United Nations declared June 21 as the global Yoga Day in 2014 it was only acknowledging the urgency of peace and harmony as a new global order!
In the post WW2 era, the global order was determined by the rivalry between the communist block and the democratic world. This cold war ended in 1991 but not the mindset that needs adversaries to appear powerful. So, the remaining superpower US found enemies in Islamic terrorists in 2001 and has been waging its ‘war on terror’ ever since – and no one knows how long it will go on.
Yoga is the antidote of what promote conflicts and wars – greed, hate and wrong world view. It is the only hope for the world beseeched by violence, selfishness and consumerism and threatened by climatic disasters. If people grow up learning that peace is something that comes for a short-while after war, Yoga is an eye opener!
In a world where terrorists find guns easier than the poor get food, Yoga offers the message of sanity. Yoga is all the more relevant today when the collective avarice of humanity is devouring the limited resources of the planet. If schools and colleges today run like factories churning out robotic human products for the businesses to grow their bottom line, Yoga Yoga tells them how to live and grow like human beings. Now that the kids are growing up as loners glued to the smartphones and parents are mere food providers, only Yoga can integrate them into families. If the healthcare is hijacked by the rich, Yoga assures sound health to even the poorest soul.
The Yoga Day also gives an excuse to the media to highlight the positive side of humanity, at least once in 365 days! People are already tired with the eternal bombardment by ‘news’ of violence, terrorism, rape, conflicts, wars, climatic disasters and silly celebrity gossips.
Yogic lifestyle revolves around recognizing and strengthening inner peace – contrary to the restless or stressful life that companies want us to take as ‘normal’. Yoga helps you create a more meaningful ‘normal’ in your life. Practicing Yoga makes it clear that your life as human being is far too valuable to be wasted living as mere human consumers.
"Yoga is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change."
- Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
What Is Yoga?
Most people know Yoga as physical postures and breathing techniques that relieve stress. But it is only a superficial understanding – just tip of the iceberg. Yet, it is wonderful to see people wake up early to exercise their body and talk about toning muscles, improving oxygen intake and feeling relaxed.
In reality, Yoga is the complete art and science of human evolution – far more profound than the current fashion allows it. For the literalists, the word ‘Yoga’ means to unite or join. It comes from a Sanskrit root yuj. For instance, uniting or merging individual energy with the universal cosmic energy. Knowing this certainly enlightens you intellectually, but fruits in life come with practice and assimilating the ‘essence’ of Yoga.
As opposed to faiths and religions that tie people into rigid rites and dogmas, Yoga demands an open rational mind ready to explore the inner universe - objectively. It is all about learning from personal experience, steering clear of imposed beliefs and concepts. Yoga aims to help you discover ‘You’ – the person as a mind-body complex, through do-it-yourself approach. The so-called religions can only give a ‘concept’ of who ‘You’ are. Anyone can create a concept but only Yoga can connect you with Yourself! You can practice Yoga even if you are a cocky theist or self-declared proud atheist. Yoga will help you shed the burden of your conceited mind!!
When your mind and body are connected in harmony, you are at peace; you are in Yoga. Simple! What connects your mind and body is the mindfulness – the faculty of awareness. It helps you feel what is going on inside the body; it is also healing. This awareness is the most important element of Yoga; everything should revolve around it, if you are really practicing Yoga. It also reduces mental wonderings; it is Yoga again.
When you are honest, again you feel at One with yourself; this is Yoga. Dishonesty creates a disconnection, a division in you, which is a state of restlessness, fear and anxiety. You are no longer grounded in yourself and your mind will be spinning in all directions. Cultivating the attitude of honesty is an important aspect of Yoga ‘practice’. It reduces mental wavering and helps you ‘rest in peace! You feel at ease, confident and strong. This is the state of Yoga.
Like honesty, non-greediness is another essential attitude involved in Yoga training. There are other essential elements in the Yoga philosophy aiming to cultivate the right mental attitudes. You need to be ready for mental transformation if you really want to adopt Yogic lifestyle. Yoga is all about mind; filling it with ‘right’ things and getting rid of ‘wrong’ stuff that cause suffering and pain. In short, Yoga teaches you ‘right actions’ and helps you avoid ‘wrong actions’ and ‘reactions’.
In order to keep things in perspective, it helps to learn a little about how the science of Yoga evolves.
UN Declares June 21 World Yoga Day
An Ancient Art of Personal Evolution
Yoga is an ancient philosophy of life that evolved in ancient India through the efforts of sages (rishis) who were looking for a systematic way of spiritual evolution leading to what is called self-realization and final liberation (from the endless cycle of life and death). Incidentally, achieving liberation (Moksha or Nirvana) was seen as the primary goal of human life by the sages who lived much before the Christ (2000 years) or even the Buddha (2500 years). They compiled their knowledge in the scriptures called Vedas and other books and commentaries.
This philosophy of life mutated to be known as Hinduism which is still more evolutionary than binding at its core. Faulty English translation connected it with the word ‘religion’. Today, if Yoga is also reduced to the status of physical acrobatics and exotic breathing exercises designed for stress reduction, it is not surprising. That’s the demand of the modern society, so stressed that stress-relief is nothing less than heavenly bliss or Nirvana!
However, there is nothing that prevents you from exploring the ‘essence’ of Yoga and going deeper into it. But always remember that Yoga practice is all about cultivating a disciplined mind. Body is certainly a useful vehicle that needs to be kept healthy so that it can support a healthy mind.
Patanjali’s Eight-fold System
This is the most practical method for any beginner but don’t assume that sage Patanjali ‘invented’ or ‘discovered’ Yoga. He did a wonderful job of compiling an 8-fold system of Yoga which is both comprehensive and simple. If you are merely ‘dragging along’ in life, this system gives you a detailed prescription to lead a meaningful life! Your progressively cultivate the mind so as to get rid of its wavering tendencies. What we take as ‘normal’ habitual wondering of mind is a weak mind. A strong mind by nature doesn’t waver; it has lost its habit of jumping from one thing to another. It is something like a big rock unaffected by any extreme weather. It’s a state where you live on another mental plain, never experienced before! Even if you have experienced such as state just for few moments, it’s a life transforming event!
Patanjali has laid down the philosophy of yogic living that anyone can practice. The whole idea is to have such a good physical health and a rather unwavering mind that you can devote yourself fully for meditation and reach the final goal of ‘liberation’. Your faith, religion or whatever you believe or don’t believe has no relevance because they are all man-made concepts. The only thing that is needed is that you believe in yourself and are ready to undertake an inward journey with full objectivity!
The various components are: 1. Yama (don’ts), 2. Niyama (do’s), 3. Aasan (physical postures), 4. Pranayama (breathing exercises), 5.Pratyahar (turning inwards), 6.Dharana (momentary concentration), 7.Dhyana (prolonged concentration) and 8.Samadhi (absorption concentration).
For Yogis, the first five practices are considered preparatory. They prepare the physical and mental foundation for the most important last three steps leading to perfect sustained concentration of mind (Samadhi). In the final stage of Samadhi the yogi experiences profound bliss – with the sense of oneness with everything around and the universe. He feels as if living on another plain altogether. Such a state is conducive to appearance of unusual capabilities, but don’t make them the aim of Yoga.
The first two steps are concerned with your conduct; they prescribe some dos and don’ts. Yama prescribes 5 don’ts – you relinquish indulging in violence, telling lies, stealing, sexual misconduct, and accumulating too much comforts or adopt. Why are they important? Because they weaken your mind.
Then Niayama advice you 5 things to do: keeping clean or pure, cultivating contentment, cultivating tolerance and patience, learning and exploring good things, and surrendering before the Teacher and Supreme cosmic power (no harm if you want to call it ‘god’). These virtues make your mind firm – unwavering. [Today, you need to be cautious with Yoga Teachers masquerading as ‘inventors’ of Yoga! Check how many of these virtues he/she has.]
These dos and don’ts of personal conduct are universal and anyone from any faith or philosophy can practice. They are designed to develop the right attitudes helpful for quietening the mind. You tend to think in a manner conducive to peaceful and harmony. This is what the world needs today!
Next, the physical postures and breathing exercises promote over all well being. You not only feel physically supple but also energized and confident. They open blocked energy channels and bring balance among various physiological phenomena. This, in turn, helps you practice Yama and Niyama better. It starts a cycle of positive feedback. As a result, you move on firmly on the path of Yoga.
Within few months you develop sufficient control on your body and mind and you begin to feel in-charge of yourself. ‘In-charge’ means you are no longer carried away by pleasurable things and don’t lose your mental poise when things go wrong. As you go on, you become rather indifferent to what is happening around you. It is like turning inwards. You observe things more meticulously taking care that you are not developing attachments or aversion to what comes you way. You make conscious effort to stay neutral. Now when you do things with such a mind, you are working like a Karma-Yogi. You do things without craving for results.
This introverted state of mind withdrawn from the outside world is ripe for the practice of last three stages of meditation – ultimately leading to the experience of oneness with the universe, the final Yoga (union). While not everyone will be able to achieve such highest stages of tranquillity but the path is well laid down for anyone to walk on. Your own habits and willingness to change will dictate how far you go.
For me, Yoga is not just a workout – it’s about working on myself. – Mary Glover
Yoga is all about purifying the mind. But since humans are mind-body complex both need purification. - Anonymous
How to Get The Best From Daily Yoga Session
Feeling is healing!
Yoga postures and breathing exercises lay foundation of good health. What separates Yoga postures and movements from other exercises is the manner you do them. Your aim is to feel the body, everywhere, as continuously as possible. Different postures manipulate different sets of muscles. Try maintaining the continuity of feeling; hold every posture remaining aware of how the intensity of feeling is changing. The same goes about the breathing exercises. You lose benefits if you are not noticing what is going on inside. You need your mind where your body is right now! If the mind wonders too much try maintaining balancing postures.
When you mould and fold the body mechanically, where the mind is habitually roaming in all directions, you benefit only superficially – a little bit improved blood circulation and somewhat better oxygen intake. Therefore, resolve to be mindful of body posture and breathing for the entire Yoga session. The more intently and the more continuously you feel the body muscles, the more you are healing yourself.
Breathing Goes Beyond Inhaling and Exhaling
While breathing is certainly meant to provide oxygen for metabolic processes and remove carbon dioxide from the body, there is much more to breathing than this stereotype knowledge. It is intimately connected with your feelings and emotions. For example, when you are relaxed, it is slow and easy. Just watch your breathing when you are scared, excited or in panic.
When you practice Yoga regularly you become quite sensitive to what is happening in the body and mind. You can sense even the slightest discomfort before they precipitate into what we call dis-ease! A well advanced Yogi is also continuously aware of what the mind is doing. This awareness itself is sufficient to keep the mind in control!
Combine Yoga with Healthy Diet and Ayurveda
Don’t make Yoga a 30 minute routine and lead a life of indulgence. Eat healthy, hygienic and easily digestible meals at regular hours – fighting the temptation to eat at unscheduled times. It is best to fight dis-comforts and dis-eases with Ayurvedic or herbal medicines. Naturopathy, acupressure and acupuncture also go well with Yoga.
The more you practice, the more you discover yourself. It is all possible without going to costly ‘Yoga inventors’ or high-tech diagnostic instruments. Sparing 30-45 minutes daily for Yoga is the best health insurance that costs no money!
Useful Yoga Links
- About Bihar School of Yoga - Bihar Yoga
The Bihar School of Yoga was founded in 1964 by Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati to impart yogic training to householders and sannyasins alike. Same courses are also available at Satyananda Yoga Academies in Australia and Colombia.
- Ramdev's Patanjali International Yoga Foundation
Swami Ramdev has brought yoga revolution around the world. The PIYF offers 200, 300 and 500-hour residential hatha yoga teacher training in India.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and Ashrams
International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. Founded by Swami Vishnudevananda over 50 years ago, we have over 60 yoga centres and ashrams around the world. We offer yoga vacations, retreats and training courses.