Yoga as a philosophy and a spiritual discipline dates back to more than 5,000 years ago. Over the past thousands of years, various streams of the philosophy and the practice of yoga evolved. For example, the Bhagavad Gita lays stress upon karma yoga. The Kathopanishad describes yoga as the steady control of the mind.
And over a period of time, especially, in the modern age, with mankind laying more stress on the material and the physical, yoga too became increasingly associated with these aspects of our lives. This is evident from the various styles and fancy names that yoga is being connected with, based on its physical practices and their derivations. Although, going by the actual meaning of the word "yog," yoga includes everything - the physical, mental and spiritual - it means the oneness of all the three.
Patanjali, the sage who collated and systematised the philosophy of yoga in his work Yoga Sutras, describes yoga as the elimination of the disturbances of the mind. Therefore, isn’t it remarkable that the “definition” of yoga by the father of yoga doesn’t mention the body? In the Sutras, he describes the “eight limbs” or the eight stages of yoga in mankind's quest for the Self - and calls it "Ashtanga." These 8 limbs include personal and social codes of conduct, asana, pranayama and so on, leading to the last limb - samadhi - the end goal of yoga.
Coming back to our times, nowadays, yoga "trends" around the world might make us believe that it is a purely physical practice. And "if" you want, you can explore its spiritual side too. Whereas, looking at yoga's history and the ancient texts and practices, we know that yoga is a spiritual discipline, with a physical component. To be precise, there is ⅛ part that deals with the physical - and is only a means, albeit an important one, to attain the spiritual. One can choose to focus exclusively on the physical and remain at that throughout one's life. But why aim for the mountain top when the stars have been promised. When we know that the physical is transient, and the soul, eternal.
To reiterate, the physical is only a means in yoga. Hatha Yogis believed that if we learnt and practised asanas the right way, the rest of the things follow. As you purify your body, become aware of your breath, the mind also becomes more focussed and still. Considering our times, this is a perfect way to start one's overall growth and well-being and, eventually embark on one's spiritual journey.
Every asana has a physical, mental, and psychic component. For example, when you do Bhujangasana, physically you stretch your spine backward and strengthen your lower back. On the mental plane, your mind experiences Aishwarya Bhava, which increases your confidence level. On a psychic plane, your body heat increases, which awakens the Kundalini that lies dormant in the Muladhara Chakra.
Even if you don’t know the mental and the psychic parts, just physically practising the asanas "with proper breathing and awareness" will reflect changes in all aspects of your life. If practised with mindfulness, yoga is the solution to most of our problems and needs. For example, a lot of people come to yoga assuming it as an alternative to gym to lose weight. All we tell them is that -- yoga can give you everything you need; don’t keep such a small goal. Ask for more.
We believe in traditional methods because they have stood the test of time and their effects are long-lasting, leading to well-being, inner peace, and joy. In the process of learning in a traditional style, you take baby steps in discovering your inner Being, your life’s purpose. You attain not just physical fitness but also mental clarity. The unraveling of the Self is a beautiful process, and if you’re mindful and aware, it can begin right on your mat. Notice, why you really look forward to doing some asanas and why you avoid some, how you feel when you’re just sitting in a moment of silence watching your breath, where does your mind wander when you’re meditating?
Don’t you think if you gave yourself this one hour everyday on your mat, just being fully present, understanding how your body moves, how your breath behaves, it would be a great learning of yourself and, therefore, the world around you? Make your practice mindful, keep the mat as your sacred space, forget about everything outside and just gift yourself the presence of your Being for that one hour and notice how the practice transforms you. Namaste!