Before Proceeding with topic, I bow my head at the feet of all those GURUs who ensured that this Knowledge of Yoga is preserved and Transferred to next generations.
My Salutations to Shri Rajkamal ji and Shri Devatma ji of YOGA WELLNESS CENTER , Bengaluru, from whom this ancient knowledge of Yoga has flown to me.
We often hear people conversing
“ I do yoga”
“ start doing yoga “
looking at people doing difficult postures like Shirshasana, people say “he is a good Yoga practitioner”
Can I also do Yoga, I have fatty body , My body is not flexible..
In all these conversations yoga word is used as a synonym to asana.
Is this correct ? What did our ancestors meant by the word Yoga ?
How do we correct ourselves ?
To know this we need to refer and understand a few scriptures on yoga.
We need to know what our ancestors meant when they referred to yoga
There are many texts on Yoga which has flown through generations from many centuries.
Let’s understand from 2 of such great texts what does real yoga means.
´ Patanjali Yoga Sutras
´ Hata Yoga Pradeepika
The word Yoga is derived from the root word ‘Yuj’,
Which means to get united .
What is that we are trying to unite by Yoga?
Although there are many definitions for this unity like, “body and mind”; “Soul and God” etc.
The most appropriate one would be Uniting one self with his/her own real self.
Because we don’t know who we are, we believe that we are the body which appears to our eyes. Yoga shastra says we have many more layers beyond this physical body.
In yoga Tradition our existence is described to be having 5 levels. Annamaya Kosha – Physical body / Sheath. Pranamaya Kosha – Sheath of Prana ( Energy Sheath ) Manomaya Kosha -- The mental Sheath Vijnanamaya Kosha – Sheath of Higher Intellect Anandamaya Kosha – Sheath of Bliss These levels are mutually interlinked and any disturbance at one of the level it will have impact on other . Its essential to understand this and create a Harmony at these different levels of body. Yoga Texts talk about this approach.
Patanjali Yoga Sutras
The Patanjali yoga sutras describe yoga as a state where the mind’s virtues or the patterns of mind is harmonised.
To achieve this Patanjali offered the 8 limb approach which is also called the ASHTANGA YOGA
It comprises of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
In this, asana is just one of the limbs and practicing asana alone cannot be said as yoga
Patanjali has written 196 verses and only 3 of them are meant for describing Asana. But today Asana is everything of Yoga
The purpose of yoga according to him is to attain purity in body and mind. Which then helps to raise our knowledge to a higher level where awareness of reality is obtained.
Awareness of reality cannot be attained with just practice of asana or meditation in one day, it requires the following of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and so on until we reach samadhi. Each of these steps has its own importance and we cannot neglect them and focus only on Asana. By practicing niyama itself one can obtain so many benefits. For example, by practicing one of the niyama, i.e.. Santosha, unexcelled happiness comes. These steps prepare the Practitioner stage by stage to progressively advance. Otherwise, there is a risk of Yoga practitioner getting in to doing wrong things in his life and impacting to society even. The asana practice may give a good physical shape and size but what's the use of such personality where good body is there but it’s a burden to society. That's why Patanjali starts his approach of yoga by Yama and Niyama which are personal and social code of conduct.
Patanjali gives further dimensions to Yoga and says that Samadhi (final stage of eight limbs )can be attained with intense devotion to Ishwara also.
Its important statement to understand in this modern world. Its this approach which has given birth to so many saints in this country and was called as Bhakti Yoga. examples can be ranging from Shiva sharanas of 12th century, Haridasas of 16th century to modern day Ramana Maharshi. Did they do asanas to reach that level? No, rather their intense devotion took them to such higher realms. The person practicing asanas and having feeling that he is practicing yoga, may not be able to believe that Shri Bharathi Theerta Swamiji of Sringeri is a yogi. But the above statement of Patanjali gives us the indication that yoga is beyond body. We cannot judge a person as Yogi or not by external looks. Pathanjali who is the oldest compiler of Yoga Vidya has narrated yoga in this way and is definitely beyond asanas . Its important that every yoga practitioner understands this and puts in to practice.
Hatha Yoga Pradeepika Hatha Yoga Pradeepika written by Swatmarama gives more details about asanas And this is one of the most authentic reference which many yoga schools have referred and developed upon. However he doesn’t stop at asana and describes Shatkarma , Pranayama, Mudra and Bandha. Also there is clear mention in this book that Hatha Yoga is the stairway towards Raja Yoga ( i.e.. yoga of meditation ) Thus its very clear that Purpose of yoga is beyond body. And modern day man limiting yoga to Asanas is definitely not correct.
Let’s get in to little more detail about what is said in Hatha Yoga Pradeepika . Purpose of asana as per this text is to get steadiness and Flexibility of the body so that practitioner can sit in a meditative posture undisturbed. With this statement it’s clear that asana is a step to go beyond body and not staying at body level. This Text narrates important asanas and method of doing it in detail. But gives most importance to what subtle impact each asana is having on Pranic flow .
This is an indicator how even asana was perceived in the path of yoga. Siddhasana is discussed in detail in this text as it’s the most important of all asanas , all other asanas will help the practitioner to become perfect in siddhasana. Sitting in Siddhasana helps in achieving the Correct pranic flow, and spontaneous Bandhas and in turn eases the process of meditating. Does this mean asana alone helps in going beyond body and meditating?
No, this text also talks about food as an important aspect for yoga practice.
Food and Yoga Practicing Yoga and consuming food whatever our taste buds ask for is definitely not a sign of Yoga Practitioner. In today’s world doing asanas has become a right to have the desired food, because the practitioner feels that he has the better ability to digest as he is practicing yoga. Just food getting digested alone is not the symptom of health ,rather understanding what impact this digested food creates at subtle levels is important. Our ancestors understood this and they gave extreme importance for food in yoga practice.
It’s important to have optimum quantity of right food ( nourishing to body) at right time to prepare the body for Yoga practice. Swatmarama describes this as mitahara.
Food that Yoga practitioner takes should nourish the Sapta Dhatus.( basic body structures ) About quantity its said that we should never fill our stomach fully, rather leave ¼th of it free even after having consumed food and water. The most important statement comes here “ a yogi should always consider food as a nourishing fuel for his body maintenance so that he can make progress in his sadhana” Thus integrating food in to yoga practice is an important aspect.
Concept of Prana and Chakras Important factor which differentiates between Yoga and other Physical exercising activities is this concept of Prana. If a practitioner does asanas without understanding this concept can he be termed as yoga practitioner? Prana is the vital force which is constantly moving and giving life to this body. Although modern science is yet to recognise this energy, it flows in entire body through Nadis – energy channels. These energy channels form clusters at few important locations in our body which are termed as Chakras ( 7 chakras are recognised Predominantly ). In yoga practice we need to ensure that these energy channels are purified and pathway for prana movement is kept free and balanced.
Yoga scriptures describe 72000 Nadis and three of them are considered as most important. i.e. IDA, PINGALA, SUSHUMNA.
As a Primary step the energy ( Prana ) flow has to be balanced in Ida and Pingala Nadis. This creates a greater impact on balancing of Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous system and Pranamaya Kosha harmonising. For this Hatha Yoga Pradeepika mentions that shatkarma and Nadi Shodhana Pranayama should be practiced. Shatkarma as name itself says is a set of 6 practices aiming at cleansing in Physical and Pranic level. ( Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Trataka,Nouli,KaphalaBhati ) Nadi shodhana Pranayama ( Alternate nostril breathing )as the name indicates is another important practice for cleansing these Nadis.
Once purification of Nadis and Chakras happen, further, practices of Kumbhaka and Mudra Bandha to be taken up to make Prana flow thru Sushumna Nadi. (The centre one at Spinal Cord) Kumbhaka practice is narrated with eight types of Pranayama, namely surya bheda, ujjayi,Sheetkari, Sheetali,Bhastrika,Moorcha and Plavini. When these are practiced along with Bandhas and Mudras ( Maha Mudra, Maha Bandha, Maha Veda Mudra, Moola, Uddiyana, Jalandhara, Kechari, Vipareeta Karani, Vajroli and Shakthi Chalana) appropriately, Prana flows through sushumna Nadi. Once the Prana passes through Sushumna it gives trigger for Kundalini to raise from Mooladhara Chakra and Journey should continue for raising up kundalini till ajna chakra.
This is the essence from Hatha Yoga Pradeepika.
We understood from this text that asana is a stairway towards going to higher levels in Yoga practice and the journey has many more steps to climb even after asana. Thus asana alone cannot give a practitioner the required benefits of YOGA. Does this mean Asana is not important ? Can one skip asana and just get in to other practices directly ? Does our ancient texts on Yoga underly the importance of asana ?
Each yoga practitioner should realise that there is a fundamental difference between other physical practices and Yoga, Asana is one of the step in whole yoga practice.
Asanas should be practiced with awareness of prana, and the impact its creating at subtle levels should be felt.
The awareness that I am practicing asana so that I can make progress in yoga is required.
When asana is done with only physical awareness it does not constitute for yoga
Importance and impact of asana practice cannot be neglected.
It is very important step in Yoga practice.
But what is required is,
Along with asana the life style changes by means of adapting YAMA and NIYAMA and Food Control will influence the practitioner in changing the individual’s personality.
With this society will have not only physically healthy but also psychologically balanced people , there by a healthy society is constituted.
*Based on the learnings at Teacher Training Course at YOGA WELNESS CENTER , Kasturi Ngar, Bengaluru.