On the occasion of  International Day of Yoga, the writer explains what yoga is all about

Man searches. It is in his nature to seek that which gives joy, peace and happiness. Sometimes, he easily finds what he looks for and is content. Often, he does not know where to look; or what is it that he should look for. He is on the right path, if he turns to earlier seekers whose wisdom and direction is outlined in philosophy.

Fascinating, profound, practical and popular is the path of Yoga. The system originated in India over 5,000 years ago as one of the six orthodox philosophical systems. To the common man, Yoga is synonymous with mystery, as the discipline was practised by a select few in the isolation of forests, caves and mountains. For generations, the knowledge was passed down orally as a well-guarded secret. 

Juliet Dsouza

Individual interpretation led to various schools of thought and several texts, each advocating a particular yogic culture with the singular aim of spiritual fulfilment. Karma Yoga is based on selfless action and duty done in absolute purity. Bhakti Yoga is for those with strong emotions and an attitude of devotion. Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. Raja Yoga is for self-realisation through mind-control and meditation. Hatha Yoga offers basic preparatory practices, which address the physical and mental preparation essential for all Yoga aspirants.

The focus in Hatha Yoga is on cleansing the body as a means to achieve a pure mind. There are defined processes for this internal cleansing of the nasal cavities and the alimentary canal. This prepares the individual for the practice of psychosomatic body postures and yogic breathing. Ha represents the life force and tha represents the flow of mental energy. The practices are aimed at body-mind coordination and awareness through a balance achieved at the various levels of our existence. Consistent practice and a disciplined lifestyle lead to clear thinking, harmony, attitude change, increased immunity and a sense of well-being.

There are various body postures that have evolved. These are not mere physical exercises.  They are practices that lead to the stillness and calm essential for meditation. Though there are different styles and methods, all Yoga practices relieve stress, develop strength and flexibility and lead to an efficient working of all body systems. Yoga has no bar with regard to age, sex, nationality or religion. The practices should, however, be chosen keeping in mind age and physical condition. 

Yoga is not a competitive sport. Individual capacity and limits should never be strained. The end result should always be harmony in body and mind. Disharmony manifests in the form of disease.  At the mental level, yogic breathing and relaxation techniques work wonders in stress management. A balanced attitude is developed and the individual can handle situations effectively.

Socially, man must adhere to moral and ethical disciplines. The great Sage Patanjali, who systematised Yoga as an eight-fold path, lists these as the first two essential steps, each with five distinct disciplines. The rules for social conduct are non-violence, truth, honesty, continence, and non-hoarding. For individuals, the rules are cleanliness, contentment, penance, study of scriptures and surrender.

Yoga was used by the early sages to prepare for meditation. This original spiritual purpose is often forgotten. Yet, inspite of the modern focus on physical culture, an individual develops the calm and direction important to his daily living.

People the world over have accepted the power of this philosophical science which addresses the ‘whole’ man. Ascertained by observation and experiment, Yoga is an effective tool for health promotion and prevention of disease. 

“Health”, according to the World Health Organisation, “is not a mere absence of disease. It is a state of well-being at the physical, mental, social and spiritual levels.” Yoga is the only complete science known to address all these levels with tried and tested techniques.

Visions and goals for a better world sometimes remain concealed in fancy folders. Much time is spent in conferences and conclaves, discussing and formulating a blue-print for achieving the peace and joy man so longs for, day after day. But looking around, one wonders what is choking this universal search.

Very simply, it could be that the paths to these ideals are polluted with egocentric selfishness, greed and individualism. And unable to contain the ghastly effects of these base instincts, man finds himself in situations beyond his control.

He desperately needs to break free from the bonds of corruption, greed, crime, drug abuse, human trafficking, war and many more modern evils. Distressing is the fact that advances in technology place within easy reach weapons.

The problems are indeed global and call for an effective global solution. And from the manner in which Yoga has become popular, it is evident that there is immense power in this scientific philosophy to transform the world. 

Juliet Dsouza is a trained and experienced Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist