Yoga Introductory :101 (I wrote this in 1997 for a local magazine.)
Yoga is everywhere these days. Even Oprah Winfrey is on the bandwagon, and Deepak Chopra makes a fortune teaching elements of yoga to the Western Hemisphere. Yoga studios are popping up like donut stores. What’s it all about?
New levels of awareness can be realized through the practice of yoga. Doors which are otherwise closed to ordinary consciousness can open within. One comes to understand the habits of the meandering mind and heart.
Whether living 2,000 years ago or in the 20th century, people have always battled with desire and aversion, love and hate, pleasure and pain, fear and anger. The mind is never at peace. We are never satisfied, always want more of this or that, thinking we’ll be happy if only we can get this car or that mate. The Western world is totally caught up in outer realities.
Unfortunately, these realities are not true and are the basis of much pain and suffering in people’s lives. We are being led down the garden path. The yogis ask how something of impermanence can give lasting peace, love, serenity, tranquility, bliss, wisdom. It cannot.
Knowing this, the yogis developed various methods of yoga as a means to attain true peace. Birth, growth, decay, and death are the destiny of every living organism. Ancient yogis have given humanity the science of yoga to go beyond the five senses, into a state of Beingness, a higher consciousness.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning to yoke or unite. Patanjali, the first seer or yogi to codify the science of yoga, stated approximately 2,500 years ago that “Control of the thought waves in the mind is yoga.”
For many of us, stopping thoughts is a new concept and we might ask: “Why bother?” The yogis discovered that by learning to control thoughts, an inner peace can be realized. A higher consciousness is free to shine once the “monkey mind” is at peace.
Yoga means two things at the same time; it is the path or the method, as well as the end state of realization. Yoga is the practice and process itself. The result being a disciplined mind/body complex and a shift of awareness into a deeper reality.
The yogis developed tools or tricks to help focus the mind, body, and breath, in order to realize a state of inner peace and alignment with Spirit. Baba Hari Dass, an enlightened yogi from India, writes that:
“When body, breath and mind, work together in harmony, to achieve a spiritual goal, that is yoga.”
“From the unreal, lead me to the real,” this is what all yogic disciplines aim to achieve. Yoga helps a person identify with a reality which is eternal, that which is immortal, beyond the mind and senses. The yogis held that everything of this world, as we normally see it, is always changing, nothing stays the same. One of the great causes of pain for humanity is the identification and attachment to that which is impermanent. Richard Hittleman, an American yoga teacher since the forties, states: “We tend to believe that what we see about us is not only real but permanent. This is not true. Through yogic study we become acutely aware that everything is in a state of continual flux and change, of continually becoming.”
Verses 23 and 24 of chapter five in the Bhagavad Gita, one of India’s great epic poems states this problem very clearly:
“For the pleasures that come from the world bear in them sorrows to come. They come and they go, they are transient: not in them do the wise find joy. But he who on this earth, before his departure, can endure the storms of desire and wrath, this man is a Yogi, this man has joy.”
By practicing any form of yoga regularly, one can begin to get glimpses of ‘That’ which is beyond the mind and its attachments. The reason so many paths of yoga were developed was because not any one path is the only way. The person interested in a healthy body might be drawn to hatha yoga. An emotional oriented person may be drawn to the practices of Bhakti yoga – the path of devotion. The intellectual might be attracted to the path of jnana yoga- the path of discrimination. One wanting to have an all encompassing experience of yoga might be drawn to the path of classical ashtanga yoga – the eight fold path of Patanjali, which incorporates right living, postures (asanas), pranayama(breathing exercises which teach how to control and expand the breath), concentration and meditation.The person who loves to work can practise Karma yoga – the path of selfless service. A musican might be attracted to Mantra yoga or Nad yoga, the yoga of sound or the yoga of unstruck sound.
Traditionally, there are four main reasons why people start yoga practice.
2. Desire for wealth and power
3. Desire to know God
4. One is born with dispassion
In the West, most people start yoga practice for purely physical reasons, such as wanting to enhance creativity and performance, eliminate body pain, gain more flexibility, or learn to relax deeply. Baby boomers are discovering the world of yoga as a valid alternative to the pounding of aerobics of running. They want out of the physical pain.
In America, many yoga studios are teaching hatha yoga, but with different names. Hatha yoga is the ‘science of the body’. Whether it is called:Iyengar, Kripalu, hatha, power, Pattabhis Jois, Bikram, Scaravelli, etc., they are all essentially hatha yoga with different teaching styles, emphasis, and modes of practising.
Often, once a person has been physically helped by the regular practise of hatha yoga they want to learn more about the deeper aspects of yoga,to help them understand the workings of their minds and hearts. There are many elements of yoga which can be incorporated into a person’s life to make it more harmonious and fulfilling. What eventually happens is that the various paths of yoga all lead and blend into each other. After years of yoga one is often practicing a number of forms throughout the day. For example, my daily practice has developed to include Classical Ashtanga yoga, plus Bhakti yoga, Mantra yoga, Jnana yoga and Karma yoga.
The beauty of yoga is that anyone and everyone can practise it, regardless of age. It keeps the body, mind and spirit young, flexible, and strong. You start from where you are at now and work from there. You learn about yourself, the habits of mind, body, and heart, and watch your life change for the better!
Essentially, yoga is a science that probes aspects of mind, body, and alignment with spirit. If you are working on discovering and becoming who you truly are then yoga has powerful tools to help you.