I’ve recently started a regular Yoga practice again. Up at 06:00 for the 06:45 class. I feel totally reborn. I think it was the chanting that did it. It reinvigorated my interest. I love Yoga. For the past few days i’ve been feeling focused, relaxed and sleeping really well. I’ve been practicing on and off for many years now and have tried a few different flavours in that time. As I’m sure some of you will already know, there are many definitions of Yoga. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which essentially means to join or unite. The union referred to is that of the individual self uniting with Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Spirit or God. Yoga is a means to achieving this goal; Samadhi or ‘Divine Union’.
“Who am I who speaks, walks, stands and functions on this elaborate stage we call the world? I should find this out”.
The postures or asanas (there are literally hundreds) are chosen by a teacher for a student to improve this mind body balance. These days a teacher will normally take a whole class of students through a set of postures one after the other (depending on the style of Yoga). However this is only one aspect of the ‘Eightfold path’ – it’s more than just mastering postures and increasing your flexibility and strength.
“The traditional purpose of Yoga, however, has always been to bring about a profound transformation in the person through the transcendence of the ego”
In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism the word actually means “spiritual discipline” hinting at the wider philosophy. People often only associate yoga with the postures and stances (Asana) that make up the physical activity but there are other aspects of yoga including Pranayama (control of life-force or Prana) and Pratayahara (interiorisation of the mind). Essentially the Yoga we practise is not for ourselves alone but for the Divine. It’s aim is to work out the aim of the Divine in the world and to effect a spiritual transformation. It’s been practiced for thousands of years, and it’s something that’s evolved and changed overtime of course and now (like religion) different factions have developed with Bikram or ‘Hot Yoga’ being the latest and possibly most controversial (for the copyrighting of asanas in a sequence not the girls in bikinis).
Most scholars believe that Yoga originated in India thousands of years BCE (Before the Common Era apparently). However there is also some evidence that in fact Yoga was practiced in Ancient Egypt for a very long time. Some research has indicated that the philosophy of ‘personality integration’, was in fact practiced in North East Africa for about 10,000 years. Apparently this teaching of ‘yoga’ was derived from the meditations and insights of the early sage priests and priestesses. The original inhabitants of the country called it Kemet, meaning black or the black land, because of the yearly flooding of the Nile which caused the rich silt to overflow its banks. In the Kemetic teachings this process of yoga is called Smai Tawi which means union of the two lands, this doesn’t refer to Israel and Palestine of course, but the higher and lower nature within the human entity.
Whatever style or definition of the word you use, the physical practise of Yoga is all about the breath. In the asanas it’s the focus on the breathing that helps one improve by ignoring the resistance of the grasping ego mind and it’s the breath that energises the body and deepens the practice. In this way one doesn’t do Yoga, in the same way that one doesn’t do Meditation…Yoga is a way of being.
I have found that this is also a pretty great tool outside of the yoga studio. On how many occasions do I just need to breathe (or remember to breathe)? The more you do it, the easier it becomes. This is the mindfulness meditation at work throughout the day that the Buddha spoke about. There have been many occasions where the outcome would have been very different if I had simply been able to count my breath and work through the unpleasant feelings. Progress not perfection. What being conscious of the breath is really doing of course is bringing me back to the now, it simply connects me with what is really important right now, the mind at rest. In this way Yoga is like a physical or moving meditation. Chanting works the same way. Studies have found that the rhythm of mantras are similar to the heart rhythms, helping the practitioner to tune the mind to the frequency and beating of the heart whether resting or hard at work. The breath controls the heart.
A lifetime of unconscious living can lead to a lot of deterioration in the body, while a life of conscious living means we are actually able to learn to control certain aspects of our bodily functions. One of the other amazing benefits of Yoga is improved posture. I think i’ve literally grown about an inch taller over the last few years…
In fact the union between mind and body is so strong (why do we even think of them as separate anyway) that recent studies have shown that just by standing in powerful postures (hands on hips, hands raised for example) we can in fact increase testosterone and decrease anxiety hormones like Cortizol. Try it next time you have a job interview or important event; stand with your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman (I would suggest doing this somewhere private) and see how your attitude changes. It really works. It’s all about tricking or training the mind and it’s simpler than you think.
Or is that just because my mind is so simple?