And what it is not.
Over the years I have come to be known as a Yoga teacher, even though I do not teach asanas and pranayama. So I thought it would be a good idea to write an article on my understanding of Yoga, what I do and how the two are related to each other.
The first time I noticed people practicing Yoga was in Rishikesh. I had gone there to study Vedanta at Swami Dayananda Ashram. I saw a group of people, mostly foreigners, doing asanas in a small hall. They moved, twisted and flexed their bodies to get the right pose. Watching them from behind I wondered what was the purpose of doing this? I saw myself as a sincere spiritual seeker. I believed I would get self-knowledge by studying the scriptures. How would moving my body into different positions help me attain self-realization?
And that’s where Yoga stayed in my mind for a long time. As a physical practice. More like an exercise. I wasn’t alone in that perception of Yoga. Most people see Yoga as a form of exercise. Some people do running, some go to the gym, some like to swim and some do Yoga. It was something you do for some time during the day, just like other exercises.
My understanding of Yoga underwent a transformation when I did my teacher training course at The Yoga Institute. I would give credit to both the Institute and my past experience, that prepared me to see the true essence of Yoga.
As I absorbed the philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga, through the Eight Fold Path of Yoga elucidated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I realised Yoga is a science of mind management. It provided a systematic approach to train the mind and consciously cultivate healthy samskaras, neural pathways.
For the first time I understood how the mind functioned, and what practices could help me to regulate its impulsive behaviour and channelise its energy towards purposeful goals. It was literally a life project to recreate the mind through self-discipline. And I did. I rewired my brain through new routines, habits and practices. I moved my energy from tamas lethargy and rajas feverishness to sattva harmony.
Then something traumatic happened. It plunged me into a depression. My mind crumbled. It no longer listened to me. I could not follow my routines and practices. I who had prided myself, on the exercise of my will power, could no longer use it. Even though it was one of the scariest phase of my life, it was a blessing in disguise. It transformed my understanding of Yoga from the science of mind management to a practice of transcendence.
Let me explain.
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which means to unite. Most people interpret this as union of the individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. But no one seems to have an understanding of when it happens, how it happens or whether it happens. Like a spiritual fable we believe it has happened to some humans — Buddha, Christ, Ramana, Ramakrishna and few others — and it may happen to us if we diligently do our Yoga practice.
So what is this union Yoga is talking about?
Yoga is merging our attention with Life.
What is Life?
Life is the experience I am having in the present moment. If I am seeing a sunset, then that seeing is life. If I am hearing the twittering of birds, then that hearing is life. If I am eating a cucumber, then that taste is life. If I am smelling the burning toast, then that smell is life. If I am feeling the warmth of the water on my skin then that touch is life.
Life is an experience of being alive. Being Conscious. Being Present. Being Aware. Being Mindful.
Different words referring to the same thing. In order to be alive, what does one need to do? Nothing. Or simply to bring our attention into the present moment, where life is happening. And that, is the practice of Yoga.
Practice is the goal. The goal is practice.
The first step is the last step.
Means is the end.
If you understood any of the above statements, you have understood Yoga.
As soon as we come into the Now, we disassociate from the past, the future and become Timeless. We dissolve our separate identity as a person and become Presence. We become one with the Universe. We become one with Life. The wave becomes Water. Yuj, union happens.
This is the true understanding and practice of Yoga.
Based on what I have shared, and for the sake of simplicity the understanding of Yoga can be classified into three categories.
This is the common understanding of Yoga. It is primarily physical. It is the Yoga taught in most Yoga studios. It is the Yoga of trying to look good. Improve flexibility, tone the body and enhance agility. It includes regulating your breath and meditation, but they are just seen as tools to manage stress. Nothing more. This is the Yoga practiced by corporations on International Yoga Day.
This is the Yoga taught in recognised schools of Yoga. Yoga is seen as a holistic science of living a well-balanced life. It stresses on the importance of correct diet, life purpose, daily routines and positive thinking. It includes an understanding of the philosophy of Yoga. It involves ethical behaviour, faith, self-regulation, introspection and selfless action. The goal is to develop a concentrated mind that can contemplate on the higher reality. This is the Yoga practiced by most spiritual seekers for evolution and enlightenment.
Yoga of Consciousness
I have coined this term, since there is no recognised nomenclature for this form of Yoga. This is the practice of mindfulness every waking moment of our life. This is the Yoga I practice. This is the Yoga I teach.
There are very few spiritual teachers that teach this form of Yoga. It requires the discipline of not getting seduced by spiritual techniques with a future goal in mind. Amongst the spiritual teachers I know Eckhart Tolle and Jiddu Krishnamurti best exemplify the Yoga of Consciousness.
The essence of this teaching is to realize our true self as Consciousness by being Conscious.
I hope this article brings greater clarity to your understanding of Yoga and what I do. I help people realise their True Self as the Witness of every occurrence. And a consequential realisation into the natural unfoldment of the Universe & Life.
Yoga is the realisation there is no doer. Life happens.