What is yoga?
I had written about this earlier, but as my own journey progresses, I find some more answers on the way. Here are some of them.
What is Yoga?
This seemingly simple question is quite difficult to answer actually. Answers differ – it depends on who is asking the question, and who is being asked.
Put this question to a traditionalist…and he would surely mention the ‘union’, the melting of consciousness, and a lot more. As a Neo-teacher of yoga, and the most likely answer would involve a lot of ‘posturing’, with a bit of pop spirituality in between. But ask Google, and that’s when it hits the pits. Beer yoga, wine yoga, rage yoga, lamb(??) yoga…the list of quirks is endless.
So what is yoga?
Is it Hatha yoga, which by some is interpreted as a symphony of asanas, strung together so as to deliver the tunes of fine health (sometimes, in 20 days, or your money back). Of course, there exist many serious practitioners of Hatha Yoga, but most of them are lost in the cacophony of downward dogs and fire breaths.
Then there is Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and many many more.
The last one (yes, Kundalini) has been abused to almost comical proportions, with ‘masters’ claiming to ‘raise your kundalini’ in six days, and articles written on ’15 ways to raise your kundalini today’. Well, its a pity that the sages of yore were blissfully (yes, pun intended) unaware of these superquick and failsafe methods; they must have been pretty stupid to spend years and years trying to achieve what is now ‘guaranteed in 6 days flat’. Ancient inefficiency?
And yes, do throw a liberal dash of chakra mumbo-jumbo into the mix. Phrases such as ‘chakra balancing’ are popular, probably among auto-enthusiasts who must surely see this as a logical and organic extension of wheel-balancing their Mustang Shelbys.
There are claims of activating, correcting and aligning these mystical chakras, processes that can solve all your problems and take you from the mundane sufferings of this world, to transcendental experiences…all in 432 Hz on You Tube. After all, the Universe does send you back gifts, based on your karma and now enraged kundalinis. Satisfied? Satiated? Enlightened?
I have been asked on how my yoga is different from what’s being offered by existing yoga studios – do I have a new set of āsanās, or a new `vinyāsā flow sequence’, or new breathing techniques? My answer is simple:
The yoga studio teaches you for one hour. My yoga, is for the other twenty-three.
If twisting yourself into a pretzel is your ultimate goal, then by all means, go ahead. In fact, there are much better ways to ‘exercise’, like HIIT workouts, pilates, aerobics and weight training – yoga is not merely for physical exercise. Nor is it a crash course, with a few postures, stretching and breathing methods thrown in. You cannot experience yoga in ‘pay-as-you-go’ classes. Yoga is a way of living, a sustained and disciplined process towards a goal – that goal being realisation.
To be a sādhakā, you have to live yoga. From the time you wake till the time you sleep, and even beyond.
Your way of interaction with the outside world, you interaction with your own emotions, how you sit, how and what you eat, how you go about your daily tasks – every bit of it.
Let me steer clear of the standard definitions of yoga, and merely state – Yoga is a journey of the self, to the Self, through the self. While this phrase has been pasted all over yoga studios and yogi blogs everywhere, the actual origin of this phase may be attributed to a loose translation of Verse 20, Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita, that states:
यत्रोपरमते चित्तं निरुद्धं योगसेवया |
यत्र चैवात्मनात्मानं पश्यन्नात्मनि तुष्यति || 20||
The stage of perfection is called samadhi, when one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This is characterized by one’s ability to see the Self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the Self.
Here is a small exercise for you.
Do this with utmost sincerity – involve yourself in this for the next couple of minutes. No notifications, no noises…just read, and experience. The exercise is of two parts, first, read through the following paragraph, as a set of instructions. Then, find a comfortable position to sit in, keep your spine straight, your eyes gently closed, and the tip of your tongue resting behind your upper teeth, or gently touching your soft palate. Take in a couple of deep inhalations and exhalations, until you find your breath slowing down naturally. And then visualise as per the instructions below.
Think of the last time you heard a really great piece of music. No, not the one blaring away on your car speakers…the other one. The one that made you close your eyes and forget the world when it played. The one that possibly brought back memories of a loved one..of a friend..of a time that you probably consider the golden part of your life, the music that you strongly identified with in college, those times when you loved being yourself..that music….hear it play in your head…and relive that moment…those moments…take your time..experience it…
Now..think of the last time you had some really great food. Food that made you set aside your phone, take a spoonful in your mouth, and lose yourself in pure taste…maybe something that your mother made for you…or your spouse…or a loved one…maybe that one course you had at the Michelin Star restaurant that made you go ummmmmm…visualise…how it looked on your plate…the smells…and then how heavenly it tasted…savour each bite….take your time now…relish it..
And think of the last time you had a beautiful conversation with your loved one. An intimate conversation…over dinner…maybe the time you proposed…or were proposed to…that moment when she saw the ring…that expression on her face…that feeling you had when she said yes, those moments afterwards when your dreams soared and every moment was cherished…take your time…relive it…
Was that just the best two minutes that you had in a while? Didn’t these moments make you forget yourself, the world, your troubles, maybe even the smaller joys…no thoughts, no thought of time, nothing.
And, at the peak of that experience…when all that existed, even if it was for a few moments, that bliss…wasn’t that wonderful?
Now try to imagine how you would feel, if this is all that you would feel every day of your life, every moment- eternal bliss.
Yoga is the journey towards this state of eternal bliss – one that cannot be achieved, or even perceived, by mere exercise. One that requires you to practice the other twenty-three hours also:)
My feathered friends on the other hand – are born yogis. For they do not complicate life – they merely go with the flow and melt with nature. As always, I did spy on them, and had a bit of satori myself. Maybe you would too!