What Yoga Offers
by A.G. Mohan
Yoga is a multifaceted science, rich in tools, universal in application, ancient in tradition and timeless in relevance. It has much to offer any individual at any stage in life. The core of yoga is the process of transforming the mind from a seeking and wandering one to a centered and tranquil one. In this process, we have to address the needs of the body, keep it healthy and heal the illnesses that ail it, for there is no greater barrier to mental tranquility than ill health. Further, it is not only our body that affects our mind; our lifestyles, actions and--very importantly--the food we eat all influence the mind as well.Thus, yoga has evolved into a comprehensive and systematic approach that addresses all these areas of our life and offers practical, non-dogmatic and effective tools to work towards greater tranquility in mind and wellness in body.
The most well known of the practices offered by yoga is that of asana body movement and position. This is the entry point for many practitioners into the path of yoga. Asanas should be practiced in a manner appropriately personalized for the individual, taking into account his or her age, health status and practical, realistic goals. Further, asanas should be combined with sound breathing. Done in this manner, they can bestow strength, flexibility and alignment of body structure and assist in restoring or enhancing the functioning of body systems.
From the practice of asanas follows the practice of pranayama (breathing techniques), where the flow of the breath is modified, with attention to controlling the mind. The practice of pranayama is an art as well as a science. The breath is an important link between the body and the mind, and hence pranayama is a powerful tool in therapeutic situations as well as in focusing the mind.
Apart from these specific practices involving the body and breathing are other equally important internal and external disciplines known as the yamas [things to abstain from: violence, falsehood, theft, lust and greed] and niyamas [things to observe: purity, contentment, disciplines, self-study and devotion to God]. These form the cornerstone of any practice that is directed towards controlling the mind. It is important to note that these disciplines, like adherence to non-violence and speaking the truth, suggested on the path of yoga are not merely moral or ethical principles. Rather, they are a critical part of the effort that one has to make in clearing a clouded mind and bringing undisturbed silence and powerful steadiness to it.
Finally, with the practice of all the other tools of yoga being mastered, as appropriate, one is able to reach the pinnacle of the path—the state of progressively deeper contemplation, culminating in the state of mind known as samadhi. In this state, one's mind is capable of absolute concentration; even awareness of oneself is lost, and only awareness of the object being concentrated upon remains. When such mastery over the mind is attained, the individual will have found his ultimate goal in life--complete and permanent freedom from all unhappiness, unbounded fulfillment, and undisturbed tranquility.
Thus yoga is the psychological path to self-gain. It offers us the greatest of all prizes--to know ourselves in the deep stillness that lies beyond the clutter of our habitually clouded mind.
Published with the authors consent.