“Breath is central to yoga because it is central to life, and yoga is about life.”~T.Krishnamacharya.
At times people come and ask me if they can practice yoga or not, to which I reply as long as you are breathing you can practice yoga!
Yoga is not limited to some physical regime or body contortions, it’s a practice of awareness, reflection and stillness in action – whether during asana practice or in life.
So what is yoga ?
One of the definition of yoga given in Bhagwad Gita is~
Yoga is the journey of the self;
Through the self;
To the self.”
This describes yoga as the goal, means to reach the goal, the process and the tool all at the same time. It is a very broad definition and to a large extent gathers the essence of Yoga. Body mind and breath are the means through which we reach the unchangeable self. This definition gives a sense of it being a goal oriented activity and at the same time upon deeper reflection it looks like a conundrum where the means , the process and the goal all appear as one. This is where the importance of practice comes. A theoretical understanding makes it look like a conundrum but a true experience sheds light on its real meaning.
Yoga as a practice!
Life is diverse. Different life forms have different attributes and characteristics and what may suit to one may not suit to another. We human beings are also different . We all have our own individuality ~ different personalities/ temperaments/ likes and dislikes, but in the depth of our beings, we all are essentially same!
And yoga as a system acknowledges that.
Beauty of this system is the diversity in its approach, yet unity when it comes to the ultimate goal.
It has a path suited for differnt individuals according to their basic nature.
Individuals, depending on their personality may choose either of the four paths of yoga.
Some may prefer path of selfless service through karma yoga ,others may prefer path of devotion and unconditional love through bhakti yoga, some may choose intellectual approach through the path of knowledge or jnana yoga, while some may choose scientific and practical approach through raja yoga and hatha yoga.
Even though we may start on a particular path but we all have seeds and qualities of other paths too,hence regardless of our initial interest, we slowly start imbibing the qualities of other paths too.
For example – Phyisical practice of hatha yoga (at times described under raja yoga) which essentially emphasize practice of postures(asanas) and breathing exercises(pranayama) as a means to achieve healthy body and mind, can’t be practiced without the qualities of selfless service, devotion and proper knowledge.
Importance of yoga in life.
In modern times, where desires, expectations and competition are becoming our key motivations in life, we end up depriving ourselves of the attention which is important for our well being. When this continues for long, it can result into ill health – excessive weight gain or weight loss, injuries, diseases, emotional and mental turmoil and dissatisfaction. This can further develop into anger , rage , mental instability, giving rise to lack of tolerance, lack of empathy, lack of compassion, violent behaviour etc . If we are not happy and content inside, we can’t really spread happiness outside.
Yoga’s holistic approach sees an individual’s health (body, mind and breath), happiness and peace as interconnected. In simple words, yoga can be described as caring and nourishing. That caring and nourishing refers to, taking care and nourishing ourselves physically, psychologically and also, taking care and nourishing a more subtle part of our existence commonly referred to as soul spirit or the self.
Yogic teachings suggest guidelines and codes which when practised by an individual create harmony within oneself and with life.
So at a individual level it creates harmony within ones body, mind and sprit, and at a broader level it also creates harmony between an individual and its environment :- with other beings, with nature and with universe. Needless to say our inner environment also affects our external environment.
With so many useful practical application of yoga in our lives it no longer remains an an external modality of cosmetic change but a deeper revolution inside us.
Yoga provides a support system to individuals whereby life becomes a joyful experience rather than a task, a challenge or something to cope up with.
And ‘JOY’ is exactly what life is meant to be.