Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of the mind stuff, so the seer can see their true and original selves.
—Patajali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2, 1.3
Many Westerners come to yoga hoping for a workout that will give us toned arms and relief from some of our stress.
But once your practice progresses, you discover how yoga’s gifts extend beyond the mat....
You start noticing the peace and serenity you experience in Savasana (Corpse Pose) lingering long after you’ve left the yoga studio.
That feeling that has you humming for no reason, letting the other car go first, and really soaking in the warmth of the sun’s rays on your face.
And that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen….
By opening your body through asana (poses) and regulating your efforts and energy through pranayama (breath), your mind stills naturally — and the real benefits of yoga become apparent.
Steady energy. A clear mind. A feeling of centeredness deep within. Greater ease in your all of your efforts. A more open heart and mind. And an effortless connection with the world around you.
“Yoga is not what you do; yoga is what you are,” says H.H. Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, spiritual leader of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India. “Your whole life changes when you think in a yoga way. Your whole perception changes. Your whole lifestyle changes.”
“When done correctly,” he continues, “yoga gives you perfect health, a sound mind, and a balanced way of living.”
So what is the “correct” way to do yoga?
Traditional yogis, especially in India, yoga’s birthplace, are baffled by the West’s focus on yoga as a physical exercise to the exclusion of the other equally beneficial aspects.
You need only to look to the definition of yoga to understand their confusion….
In simplest terms, yoga means union, or to yoke, from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to join or to integrate.
In yoga, we join breath and movement in vinyasa (flow) yoga; and the “self” we identify as separate, unites with all of existence.
Yoga is the joining. It shows us we are NOT fragmented bodies — we are WHOLE, and we are in union with the larger cosmo and the Divine.
The Yoga Sutra, the preeminent treatise on yoga by the Indian sage Patajali, outlined an 8-limbed path of practices and behaviors (known as ashtanga), which lead to this ultimate union:
1. Yama: Behaviors that deal with personal integrity and ethical standards and how to conduct yourself in life (nonviolence and truthfulness, for example)
2. Niyama: Behaviors that deal with self-discipline and spiritual observances (cleanliness, the study of spiritual teachings, etc.)
3. Asana: Physical postures that develop discipline and focus, and thus help still the mind
4. Pranayama: Breathing techniques
5. Pratyhara: Withdrawal from sensory experience and going within
6. Dharana: Focusing the mind on a single thought or object
7. Dhyana: Meditation or the uninterrupted flow of awareness without focus
8. Samadhi: The completely absorbed “still mind” in which you transcend the self and merge with everything that is
This is what’s known as the science of yoga — and many believe that today more than ever we need its teachings.
Visionary and bestselling author Deepak Chopra calls yoga “the science of consciousness,” and a vehicle for healing:
“[The] fragmented mind has given rise to all kinds of problems in the world. We need to go back to the whole mind — our true self and the self of the universe. When we have this memory, we are healed.”
And healing, say yoga masters, is personal and global.
Once you realize that there is nothing between you and everything else, you act from this place of wholeness.
And EVERYTHING changes — from your interactions with family and co-workers to your relationship to the Earth.
“Yoga is not only about the practice, the discipline of a healthy mind and healthy body. It's recognition that a healthy body and a healthy mind is a product of our union with the Earth, with nature, in society,” says Vandana Shiva, PhD, Indian scholar and environmental activist.
She encourages us “to get out of the box of the self defined by a physical body, and realize we are a dynamic flux of energy connected to all else.”
Though often overlooked in the West, this realization is ultimate purpose and possibly the greatest personal and collective benefit off the mat. In the meantime, it can also clear your mind, relieve your tension and improve your physical fitness.
PS - Enjoyed the insights included above? If so, you're invited to download a free, hour-long audio with yogic master teacher Anand Mehrotra, 7 Foundational Teachings of Yoga from the Himalayas: