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What is Yoga beyond Physical Fitness?


If you google “yoga”, you will find many colorful pictures with pretty, fit women and men, dressed in revealing attire, adopting some sort of complicated physical and often gymnastic postures. If one isn’t familiar with yoga poses, many would assume these fit folks are advanced contortionists!  Other pictures of people sitting cross-legged with eyes closed, looking blissful and relaxed. This is how most of you probably think about yoga. It is commonly known as a fitness regime or a relaxation tool.

I’ve started practicing yoga as a physical fitness as well. Ten years later, the practice of yoga proved to be much more then just physical fitness and relaxation. Yoga is a science and practical philosophy with concepts and guidelines described in ancient texts. Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra are a few texts I’ve been focusing my attention on. These are not your typical text books. The texts require you to experience, question and put the ideas to work in daily life. To cover some basics:

Yoga explained in Bhagavad Gita as:

  • Karma Yoga – the path of action
  • Jnana Yoga – the path of knowledge
  • Bhakti yoga – the path of devotion
  • Dhyana yoga – the path of meditation

The the path of meditation  is the subject of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. According to this textYoga is a path of meditation or a means to sustain attention.  As the result of sustained attention, we learn know to know ourselves and consequently understand the world.

In our social and economic twitter culture of instant texts, our minds are always jumping from one thing to the next. This means we get distracted and confused. Our natural rhythms get muddied and out of sync and we’re driven by our senses – emptying the cookie jar, filling another liquor glass, adding yet another charge to that already maxed-out credit card. By contrast, yoga is a means of refocusing and ceasing the endless jumping of the mind. It offers a variety of tools to achieve a much more preferable state of mind.

What does correct yoga practice entails?

The practice of yoga is about eliminating impurities. This not necessarily means toxins from the body, which is a part of it. It mostly means removing toxic pattern and behaviors. Imagine a perfect diamond, covered with dirt. You are just like this diamond, whole, perfect but the dirt is preventing you from truly shining. Tapas is about removing what’s not shining.  This does not mean to heat the body or head in any random manner but tapas in this context, means adopting the correct and appropriate discipline. We should not weaken the body by inappropriate practices such as rigorous exercise. These things are the exact opposite of the goal of yoga, which is to clear the mind.

It can be tricky to stay on the path of correct practice. We tend to head towards familiar territory, reinforcing existing and not-so-helpful tendencies. For example, some of us, who are already “hot-headed,” tending to overload ourselves with activities, are drawn toward a very active practice – even hot yoga – that make us sweat and generate more heat. What we really need is more cooling, centering practice.

Others, the slow-moving types, are drawn to a very gentle and relaxing practice. These people can really benefit from more active and stimulating practice.

Another very important element of yoga is reflection or self-understanding (Svadhyaya). You can think of it as the inner antenna. It develops with an ongoing reflection.  Instead of going through life on auto-pilot, we stop and ask ourselves, “Where I am now?” and “What is the direction I am heading towards?” Eventually, we can understand our patterns and why we are really doing what we are doing. Personal inquiry traditionally involves the study and recitation of the sacred text, which acts as a mirror; it also requires an on-going self-reflection to understand and to know oneself. We can also see how important it is to link self-reflection (svadhyaya) with practice ( tapas). A mindless application of practice is not only useless but can even be dangerous, leading to injuries and unnecessary stress.   As we progress in our journey, we can see that self-knowledge is a step to discovery of the bigger “diamond-Self.”

You need to understand yourself to properly understand the world.

Another element of practice is gratitude of acceptance (Isvara Pranidhanai) – to surrender to the supreme force is to understand that there is a higher power beyond us. Even though we participate in shaping our reality, we are not the complete masters of what we do.We need to accept and honor what is beyond us, cultivating love and generosity. Don’t become attached to the results of your actions. Don’t do actions in order to get results.

Do an action simply because it is the right action.

We are the part of a bigger picture that our mind can’t even perceive. For example, you might be a manager whose job involves firing a really good person because of the budget cuts. If you focus on the results as you see them, you might feel bad and refuse. But what if in following through with your responsibility, the person you fire is faced with a whole new world of possibilities. They might become a great artist or take the time to face up to their own life’s questions that got buried in the endless routine of the day job.  Our knee-jerk reactions tend to be based on the ‘obvious’ values of the world around us; the bigger picture, beyond our control, contains a re-freshly difference wisdom. As your mind becomes more refined, with practice, you know what is the right action and this is the practice of yoga.

As you can see from this brief article, yoga is beyond physical fitness and all of our actions and thoughts can be yogic in nature. With correct practice, reflection, with focus on action surrendering results you can cultivate sustained attention and have better quality of life.

Thanks for reading.

What can you implement today to bring your mind to the state of equanimity?

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2016 at 10:18 am and is filed under practice yoga, Yoga, Yoga Asana, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Sutra. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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