Introduction to Yoga
Definition of Yoga
The word yoga originates from the sanskrit root yuj, meaning to join or unite, or integrate. Yoga is a scientifically structured system that uses different techniques and methods to enable the practitioner to harmonize and integrate the expressions of head, heart and hands, of one’s intellect, emotions and actions in life. Yoga is science that evolved in different civilisations of the Indian subcontinent over a period of several thousand years. It is the outcome of study and insight of human inner nature. It recognizes the need to fine tune the body, mind, emotions and spirit, in order to enable one to move from limiting conditioned state of being toward the experience of expansiveness and harmony. It provides tools for the practitioner to live in harmony and peace with himself and the environment, to live harmonious life in which one can express one’s full potential, creativity and positivity. In the words of Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati: “Yoga is a lifestyle to regulate the behaviour of body, mind and emotions. It is a lifestyle to cultivate the qualities or the faculties of the head, heart and hands.1)”
Progression of yoga
Yoga can be experienced progressively in terms of how it can become useful in the long run of life, not just as an hour’s practice in a day. From this perspective, yoga can be seen as a practice, a sadhana (disciplined effort), a lifestyle, and a culture. The first stage is yoga practice in which yoga is done to satisfy personal aims and needs, weather for improvement of health, or relaxation or some other. Here yoga is done to manage a particular condition of life. The effects of this kind of approach are limited and temporary, and it can be likened to a kindergarten of yoga.
The second stage is yoga sadhana, in which yoga is done in order to experience the aspirations of different branches of yoga as they have been outlined in classical texts. Here yoga is practiced for its prescribed purpose, leading to the mastery of various aspects of personality and lasting positive change. There is adherence to the principles of yoga, and it requires sincerity, seriousness and commitment. This stage can be likened to the primary school of yoga.
The third stage is yogic lifestyle, in which one starts to incorporate yogic principles in life and yoga is reflected in one’s behaviour and interactions. With more disciplined, positive and awakened personality one is of much more use to oneself, to others and to the society. Yogic lifestyle is like a college subject of yoga.
When yogic principles become inseparable part of one’s nature, thinking and behaviour, then this marks the beginning of the fourth stage of yoga, the yogic culture. Yoga spontaneously flows through the person and is natural and evolving expression of life.
Three aspects of yogic experience
At the first level, yoga is often done as a physical practice, in order to experience the body, the pose, the inside of the body, release stiffness and tensions and make one feel more energetic and relaxed. The benefits of this process of deepening physical awareness remain to the largest extent confined to the body only.
At the second level of yoga experience one begins to connect with oneself by combining different practices and systems of yoga that help deepen the awareness. When awareness deepens, one becomes aware of one’s conditionings, habits, nature traits and abilities. Through this process one connects with the body, mind and with life, and is able to nourish one’s strengths and positive qualities and improve the quality of life.
The third experience of yoga is psychic and spiritual and it leads to increased receptivity and creativity, and awakening of dormant faculties and potential of the individual. It leads to the experience of completeness and wholeness.
Yoga as a system of living – the role of discipline
From yogic perspective, in order to reach the state of balance and harmony, one needs to cultivate discipline and restraint in life. Through discipline and restraint, helped by different techniques and tools of yoga, one can transform negative and limiting conditions of life into harmonious and uplifting existence. Techniques and tools of yoga are necessary but they are not enough, one’s effort needs to be based on discipline and restraint.
Yogic discipline or anushasana means creation of a system in normal routine of life, a structure in one’s day-to-day activities. Discipline needs to be practised with respect to body, mind, diet and sleep in order to acquire physical, mental and emotional health. There needs to be regularity in life, a system and specified time for when one sleeps, when one wakes up in the morning, when and what one eats, when one works and relaxes, when one does yoga practice, and when one goes to bed in the evening. Not to follow the whims of the mind, but structured routine of life. This kind of approach ensures optimal functioning of all bodily systems, including hormonal and nervous system that are the two main regulators of the body.
In the words of Sw Niranjanananda, “The method which yogis discovered for attaining discipline is yoga. With the help of yoga one can attain holistic wellbeing. The imabalances of the body are removed and physical health is acquired; the tensions of the mind are removed and mental peace is attained; the agitation of the emotions is quietened and the emotions are purified; the dissipation of the pranas is checked and they are focussed on one point. In this way, when the body, mind, emotions and pranas are controlled with the help of the method, the imbalances and diseases in all these areas are removed and one attains optimum health.2)”
Sanskrit word anushasana is composed of two roots: “anu” meaning subtle and “shasana” meaning to govern or rule. Therefore, yogic discipline or anushasana represents acquiring ability to control the subtle behaviours of one’s nature, character or personality. Uncontrolled whims of the mind distort the mind, cloud the intellect and destroy peace. They cause tension, a subtle manifestation of the mind over which one does not have any control. Once there is tension, peace and happiness disappear from life. By creating a system and a structure of life through discipline or anushasana, causes of tension are eliminated and harmonious character is cultivated. Then one can begin do discover the inner dimension of one’s personality.
In the words of Sw Niranjanananda Saraswati, “Elimination of tension is yoga; learning how to manage subtle tensions is another definition of yoga.3)”
When subtle tensions are managed, then one is able to rule and govern one’s nature and personality, and becomes the master of one’s life. Becoming the master of one’s life means “Tadah drasthuh swaroope awasthanam” – “Then one is established in one’s own nature” (Yoga Sutras, 1:3), and this represents the outcome of yoga.
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2011)The Paths of Pravritti & Nivritti, page37, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2011)The Paths of Pravritti & Nivritti, page32, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2015), 1st edition, Yoga Chakra, The Wheel of Yoga, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, ISBN 978-93-84753-20-7
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2015), 1st edition, Yoga Chakra 2, Cultivating Spiritual Samskara, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, ISBN 978-93-84753-28-3
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2016), 1st edition, Yoga Chakra 3, The Seven Foundations of Jnana Yoga, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, ISBN 978-93-84753-56-6
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2017), 1st edition, Yoga Chakra 4, Cultivating Sadgunas, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, ISBN 978-93-84753-58-0
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2017), 1st edition, Yoga Chakra 5, Hatha Yoga Complements Karma Yoga, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, ISBN 978-93-84753-61-0
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (2016), 1st edition, Yoga: 2nd Chapter, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, ISBN 978-93-84753-40-5