What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science, which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. It is an art and science of healthy living. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. So what yoga unites? As per Yogic texts the practice of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man & Nature, matter and spirit. And that is why it used to be called a discipline, a technique of self realisation. Because the whole effort is directed to go inward deeper and deeper until you are established in your soul. How it is done?
By making your mind one pointed, avoiding all distractions and directing all your attention, your awareness, your consciousness to your goal- the soul just by going deeper and deeper inward. Why was it considered to go inward and attain your self? Almost all scriptures point out the importance of our inner light, inner consciousness; in Indian tradition it has been known as Atman, the Soul. Indian tradition believes and rightly so that our soul is our true identity and the nature of soul is pure bliss, pure love, abiding peace and whatever good we can think of. It contains all the knowledge. We will now appreciate that we are looking for all these things only in our life- Love, Peace and Knowledge. We can now understand why ancient sages thought of the concepts of universal brotherhood, love for all( Vashudheva Kutambakama- this is how you attain peace), Sarve bhavanti Sukhinr- May all beings attain happiness- when we are happy we are always at peace and Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya- May God lead us from darkness to light) and this moving towards light is attaining knowledge.
So yoga is the technique, the discipline of realising your highest potential. But you may say I have no such ambition (of self realisation), then in what way yoga is beneficial for me.
Yes most people have no such goal in their life , that’s true but that possibility is there when your field is spiritualism. As mentioned earlier it is just a technique, a Mind management technique, which can be used in any field/ direction. It is like a vehicle, the direction which it takes depends on the user. When a painter directs all his attention to the theme he is creating, he creates a wonderful masterpiece of art, when a musician directs his complete attention to his field he creates a symphony of melodious music, a scientist makes new invention, a doctor performs successful operation and a unique gift is made to the world whether it is a field of art, culture, literature or science. All is the product of one pointedness of mind. So for modern man yoga should be taken as your ability to concentrate on any field of your choice. The key is concentrated state of mind. Yogis didn’t stop at attaining these things only they went still farther and meditated intensely and reached a state where they could merge their own identity with the one who is the cause of this universe, who is almighty, who is supreme , who is cause of all the causes , the Divine, the God. This is the highest potential to which man can rise. And therefore in Indian tradition this has been considered to be the ultimate goal of life- self realisation, liberation, freedom from unending cycles of birth and death, by whatever name you call. Definition of yoga
Patanjali yoga sutra , an authentic and ancient text on yoga has defined yoga as “ Yogah Chitta vritti nirodhah. योग: चित्त वृत्ति निरोध:” Cessation or stoppage of all mental fluctuations (thoughts etc) is yoga. Same thing we discussed above avoiding all distractions and making the mind one pointed.
Another text which describes yoga is Bhagwad Gita. In Gita, Lord has given two definitions of yoga. First Yogashu karma kaushalam योगाषु कर्म कौशलम. This means doing anything in the best possible manner is yoga. When you give your 100% in anything, what you are doing is yoga. You can imagine what sort of work will it be turned out when we give our 100%. The noble laureates, the scientists who make new inventions, the sculptor, the musician and the painter when put their soul into work a magnificent work they bring to the world. This is a work done in the state of yoga, of which Lord is talking about.
Another definition of yoga in Bhagwad Gita is Samatvam yoga uchayate समत्वम योग उच्यते meaning thereby that when we are in a balanced state, in the midst of extreme circumstances like birth and death, pleasure and pain, profit and loss, respect and disrespect, heat and cold nothing disturbs us, and we are able to maintain our balance that state of mind is called Yoga. This also means same thing when we are able to protect our mind from all disturbances from outside.
How can we understand it in practical terms?
We can understand it by way of an example. When someone appreciate us, we are elated, we are on the top of the world and similarly when someone criticises we are down and out. So in essence our life is driven by others, someone else is making me happy and someone else is also making me cry. What sort of life it is- driven by others? It is my life- I should be the driver of my life but the fact is we have given the key to our life to others and thus they are making us happy and making us cry. Same is with other incidents in life- when we happened to make some profit we are happy; losses make us sad; birth in family makes us happy, death sad. These are the dualities of the world. This world is made up of dualities- here of birth happens so is death; if sun rises it sets too, heat and cold; pleasure and pain are realities of the world. We cannot avoid them. At best we can stop reacting to them. This is what Lord is talking about. We should be undisturbed by all these incidents. And that is the state of concentrated ness.
So all these definitions talk about concentration of mind. Aims & objectives of yoga
Ultimate aim of yoga is to unite with the Divine, the Higher Reality. But it is not that all the practitioners have the same aims and objectives. Yoga affords multiple other benefits too.
1. It increases strength stamina and endurance. 2. Improves flexibility of the joints and muscles and increases their range of motion. 3. It strengthens the immune system and detoxifies the body. 4. It brings balance in life.
1. Mind becomes cool, calm and stable. 2. Increases span of attention and focus. 3. Sharpens intellect and memory
1. Keeps negative emotions under control 2. Changes your nature, personality (svabhav) if done regularly Spiritual
1) Unites the spirit with supreme spirit, Atman with Parmatma.