What I talk about when I talk about Yoga
“For every complex question, there is a simple answer… and it is wrong.”
Today, technology has made many things simpler, but, to access the complexity of our inner beings, the art and science of Yoga has yet to be surpassed. Close to a billion people are practicing it all over the planet to not only overcome the travails of life but transcend and transform the fabric of their lives into a richer material. It is that rich substrate which is sought after by its core practitioners – a body which has the beauty of form, gracefulness, strength and the hardness and brilliance of a diamond; a mind which can overcome dualities and a generous spirit.
Let us now turn to talking about its subtleties.
1.Yogic practices are the vital apps to manoeuvre on unfamiliar terrain within
As anyone living on our planet well knows, apps have become more important and indispensable to our lives than even tools like the Swiss army knife. When you are navigating in unknown terrains, the one indispensable tool is a navigator or an app like GoogleMaps. The path of Yoga gives a similar kind of support system like GoogleMaps in an unknown land. Our internal world is an unknown mass, very difficult to find and understand new pathways or live in different mental or breath channels. Normally an average person exists in three positions: standing, sitting and lying down. We merely operate and live in and through these three positions. Now just imagine if we can expand the scope of these positions, what could or would happen. Through the hundreds of yogasanas, we learn to wire and rewire our internal nervous and muscular connections, so that stress doesn’t build up. We learn to create apps (leg apps, arm apps, spinal muscles apps, breath apps) for ourselves to touch our whole embodiment.
The practices of yoga help to familiarise the practitioner with these internal pathways, and more vitally, discover and connect to the junctions of body, mind, breath, senses and speech, where further new possibilities open out.
2.Our outer social gates are always open but yogic practices will help us to be open to the inner social culture within us
The human being is essentially a social creature, a gossipy animal. Social media is replete with antics of our movie stars and celebrities. In this era, we are naturally more selfie-conscious than Self-conscious. We have the technology to capture our surface appearance but we fail to develop more vital tools to sense our ever-changing nature within. Let us stop and reflect: can I sense which spinal muscles I access in different positions, sitting, standing or bending? Can I tell if I am breathing equally from both my nostrils, can I enhance my rib cage action sufficiently in my breathing process?
We have so much information about the world around us but very little about ourselves. Am I using my joints and muscles evenly while walking or is my weight only on my knee joint? Do I have access to my back thighs? Can I use my breath cycles to filter the mind stuff?
Our minds are channeled to the world outside and sometimes in the process become disproportionately dependent on its feedback. This makes us easily prone to wildly swinging positive or negative conditions.
Yogic practices open out the inner gates. One starts looking at the processes and impulsions behind one’s actions. A deep observation and education of our inner culture will open out new possibilities.
3.A unique condition, wherein our body, mind and breath support each other
The practice of Yoga bestows a unique gift on its practitioner: associated body, mind, senses and breath. Come to think of it, all our endeavours, sports and educative explorations develop exclusive body awareness or mind awareness. Most of our athletes develop the physical side at the cost of their mental faculties. The practice of yogasanas and pranayama uniquely help to associate the body, mind and breath with each other and create a synergy of sorts in the altogether unique entity.
When one starts accessing the body through the yogasanas, the body-mind-breath complex develops a symbiotic relationship in the expanse of the consciousness. The different aspects of mind like intelligence, emotions and intuition can reverberate in the whole psyche and the body slowly gets the vital support of the mental and pranic elements. There is unique synergy which the practice of yoga creates.
Like missiles can be fitted with nuclear war-heads, similarly the body actions can be headed and aided by breath dynamics which will transform the capabilities of that instrument. And with less catastrophic and more beneficial effects on the human race.
4.Our embodiment has the potentials to be read like a book with the same benefits
Normally, one would read or learn anatomy and physiology text books for knowledge and understanding about the different aspects of our body. The same goes for the way we have explored the mind – an entity apart from our physical processes. But we increasingly come to see that the body-mind is a fused entity.
The practitioner assumes different asanas to read the skill-set and disposition of the different parts of the body. When I am in Trikonasana or Parsvakonasana, is my inner and outer surface parallel? What about the length of my frontal leg and the back leg, is it the same? How can I make it the same and so on. Sometimes let me start with my body, but not end in the physical dynamics alone, let me see how I can balance my emotional self by creating new memories through my breath patterns.
In Yogasanas, the whole embodiment complex is read like a book. The same book will be read for not only physical skill but also to develop mental and emotional fibres like will, volition, adaptive potentials and reasoning. Whenever one hears the word Yogasana, one imagines sweaty bodies exercising; that is just one aspect of their dynamics; they also have other potentials like healing potentials, remedials and corrections.
5.Merely Doing in the body parts Vs learning its Usages
When a person cycles, or swims, one is using different parts of the body to propel oneself forward. In due course of time, one will develop certain muscles and strengths.
Now compare this to the education imbibed in the asanas. In standing asanas, one not only uses the legs, but starts learning the usages of the legs, for example, on the back, the spine; this education will come in handy later when one practices asanas of different depths like backbends, balancing or twisting postures; one will begin to identify the contribution of the legs to the overall assembly. The practitioner will imbibe the knowledge of what connections the legs make with the different body parts, even the eyes and ears.
We use our minds on different parts of our bodies; why can’t we, with proper application, learn the usages of how to use our arms for our backs, our legs for our spine, our breath for our body and mind and so on.
6.Memory building and not muscle building more important
In the first chapter of his foundational yoga philosophy book, sage Patanjali enumerates the qualities to be developed: shraddha, virya, smriti, samadhi, pragnya, that is faith, courage, memory, absorption and keen awareness. Our gymnasiums are replete with the one-dimensional perspective of building muscles but it is more dynamic to develop lasting memory in our cells.
Take any skill that you may have picked up: say cycling. It is a memory imbibed at the cellular level by your body and mind. In asanas, you are developing and sometimes re-transforming the memory of the cells to respond. And since we are talking at the cellular level, this will sensitise us to another important aspect.
We pay so much attention to what and how much we ingest, our nutrition; but how much do we think about emptying or excreting at the cellular level. An empty vessel has more uses and hence asanas work tremendously to help you to exhale deeply in certain zones and regions, thus accelerating the emptying process. The next time you are on your head in Shirsasana, see it as a deep inter-penetration (and ultimately exhalation) in those passages of the head, face and skull region.
7.Linear Vs Concomitant forces
Yoga philosophy includes the eight steps enumerated by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. It is assumed that they are linear, that they are to be climbed like steps; and in this scheme, asana precedes pratyahara, that is the withdrawal of the senses.
But life is never a linear process. One lives with so many relationships and at so many different levels. In the same way, in Yoga, one starts with the asana to feel the rhythm, and gradually try to play out all the notes, the entire scheme of Astanga Yoga, as one goes along. This movement from an effortful effort to an effortless effort is the only linear progression Patanjali prescribes.
8.A long-term investment not a short-term plan
Imagine if you were to give a young, strapping lad a walking stick as a birthday gift. It would be deemed worthless and impractical of course.
So when we are talking about long-term, we don’t mean so far out as to be deemed worthless. We are talking about doing a little prospective practice to compensate for our short-sighted approaches to our own health and wellbeing.
If we are having a problem, what we can’t see are the problems that will emanate from that root problem. So our practice has to be a little prospective to also build up the immunity for a later onslaught.
Mere repetition will not get us to that space. It is constant experimentation and trying to educate different parts of our being that will propel us to that associated, absorbent state.
9.Trainers Vs real Teachers
Coaches and body trainers have become ubiquitous. The problem is their very little and shallow knowledge of our embodiment. Take for example a trainer preparing someone for the marathon. Making a person orient to an act is one thing, and making that person orient to the whole range of life that the person will face is another. Say there will be upheavals in life; the person’s body, mind and breath have to be taught to cope in all such situations.
What is the end you are aspiring for; Patanjali speaks of kaivalya and dharmamegha samadhi, that is supreme aloneness and a downpour of wisdom and enlightenment. Trainers can take you so far. But a philosopher-teacher or a poet or a grammarian, ayurvedachar and a yogacharya like Patanjali all rolled into one, can help you transcend your limitations at every stage.
10.Goal is not the exclusive fitness of the body or mind but a unified condition
‘Holics’ of any shape or size are deranged personalities. Workaholics were seen as extremely productive but it came at a high cost of their physical and mental breakdown. Hence ultimate fitness is never about exclusively building up your body or mental aspects but rather associated conditions to be engendered. The modern person should be aware of marketing spiel designed to trap him or her into buying their products. Energy drinks have no lasting energy, only a shot of extra sugar. A yogic deep breath in fact, will change the status of your body and mind.
So last but not the least, the human being has to give a deep thought and reflect on their act and behaviour, not of becoming but of being. A human ‘being’ is the end sought after and not a human ‘becoming’ all the time.
Spend one whole season with these potent thoughts. They have the potential to help you transcend the many ills which have befallen you or will strike you in future time and space.
If I ask you, “Tell me, till what point can your eyes see?” Most probably, and reasonably, your answer would be: until the horizon. But with a powerful instrument, one can stretch that horizon to far-off stars.
A discerning yoga practitioner, with the fine instrument of Yog, can learn the usages of our rich embodiment and look within and beyond the surface horizon, to see the marvellous world of associated body, mind and breath.
Just as an astronomer would peer through a powerful telescope to see and explore our expansive universe, use these ten themes to explore the universe of your own embodiment.