Yoga is explained by one of my most favorite and admired yogis, the late scholar, and Yogi Dr. Georg Feurestein, “All spiritual traditions regard our ordinary human condition as somehow flawed or corrupt, as falling short of the unsurpassable perfection or wholeness or Reality. As a process of transformation, yoga endeavors to re-form or even “ super-form” the spiritual practitioner. The old Adam has to die before the new super-formed being can emerge – the being who is reintegrated with the Whole.”
Yoga started over 6500 years ago, written in a language called Sanskrit. The word Yoga means to yoke or union, alignment. It is a discipline that includes breathing exercises, physical poses, focused attention, meditation, social etiquette and responsibility, personal self-care, self-study, and the study of yogic texts. It encompasses the mind, body, soul, breath, emotions, and actions. In Yoga thought, we are the energy of consciousness and awareness. We are forever functioning in relationship with one another and with the universal cosmic energy. It is a non-religious lifestyle change that includes daily practices of yoga. Yoga never dictates what we must practice or believe. It is a beautiful experience to choose any part of yoga practice that resonates with our hearts; We are encouraged to practice with joy and comfort. We must be steadfast in our yoga practice.
According to Yoga, we are not merely biology of flesh and blood; we are energy bodies in a human body connecting to all of life. We are connected to all elements — earth, sun, moon, air, vegetation, animals, stars, cosmos, and to one another. All these relationships are being held in the cosmic field of consciousness. The universe consists of aspects of love, light, and life. Through yogic practices, we experience our true nature, which is nothing other than the three universal energies of love, light, and life. Yoga is controlling the egotistical mind to raise our consciousness, the art of right living, and our spiritual path to transformation and transcendence.
“The restraint of the modification of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” second verse is in the translation and commentary book by Sri Swami Satchidananda of Yoga Sutras. Yoga Sutras is indeed one of the most important yoga texts dating back to 2500 B. C. Besides the first two verses, remaining of the verses are directions, instructions, and secrets for controlling our minds. The first verse, according to the same author in the same translation, is “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” It refers to the stage in a person’s life when she/he is “on his/her Knees.” The verse points to the condition of human beings upon facing a point in our lives that we would be willing to do whatever it takes to find peace and calm, and this is indeed when Yoga begins.
We all contribute to our own problems. We tend to be at the mercy of our egotistical minds, which forever is demanding, loud, judgmental, and negative. We confuse our egotistical minds with being our true selves. Yoga is examining our thoughts. When we change our thoughts, we change our brains. When we change our brains, we change our bodies. Our bodies directly respond to our thoughts; yoga is the alchemy of the mind to cultivate the skill to remain calm in the midst of stressful situations and to focus on what is present.
The conscious mind or the egotistical mind is the programmed part of the mind. The conscious mind is the least evolved part of our minds. It is the part of the mind that has inherited what it has seen, heard, and experienced. Those events create impressions in the mind that become our belief system. All of our decisions and daily choices stem from our belief systems. Our beliefs are no more than our stubborn, strong, and repeated thoughts. Samaskara is the Sanskrit word used to describe such a process of the mind.
Once observing our minds becomes easier and we distinguish truth from falsehood, we are capable of correcting our thought patterns. We ease into resting in the present moment. We start to live our lives and no longer solve our lives. Life becomes a fascinating experience and not merely preventing negative consequences. In this case, we breathe more deeply and fully. We are no longer at the mercy of our emotions because we do not mistakeably take those irrational negative thoughts which cause negative emotions. Having the capacity to be non-reacting is one of the trademarks of yogic life. Our yoga practice allows us to feel a sense of relief from the loudness of our minds that causes stress and pressure. It creates space within us so that we can think clearly and rationally. We quiet our minds at will.
When we learn to correct our minds, our lives change for the better, and we experience an immediate sense of happiness and relief. Changes that occur by controlling the mind raise the level of our consciousness. (The purpose of our Yoga is ultimately expanding and increasing our consciousness.). The American yogi scholar and my Teacher, Dr. David Frawley, writes:
“Yoga, as defined in key Yoga texts like the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, is first of all a “Yoga of Consciousness”, requiring a deepening and expansion of an inner awareness. It is not a mere Yoga of outer action or bodily movements, but a Yoga of meditative inquiry. Its primary approach is to develop a direct change of consciousness within us, not simply to adjust the body, senses or mind externally.”
The art of right living starts with the right mindset and higher levels of consciousness: ethical values towards others and all things in existence. The art of right living is not limited to but treating everything and everyone, as well as our only home, the earth, with the utmost respect. As yogis (male yoga practitioners) and yogins (female yoga practitioners), we consider giving more than we receive.
Living a life of service is referred to as karma yoga. The Great Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi exemplifies a karma yoga practitioner. He lived his life serving his people. As conscious beings who choose the yogic life, we are never to harm another or anything; we strive to live a truthful and purposeful life infused with strong ethics — a healthy vegetarian diet, proper self-care routine, and open hearts are standards of yogic life.
Yoga is a spiritual path to transformation and transcendence. Transformation means expanding our inner awareness and consciousness, for we may burn off old ways of being and thinking. Yoga is self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is the act of transcending oneself beyond our physical levels. This is followed by much healing and peace within. It is in that level of experience that we rise above our daily problems, conflicts, and sufferings. This is the ultimate intention of Yoga; liberation from suffering.
I have used Yoga as my spiritual path that transformed me. The self-discipline that we acquire by living a yogic life transforms our entire life. Therefore, we engage in healthy, loving relationships with our own selves and others. We gain emotional health and happiness along the way. All transformation takes place within us and around us in such a subtle way that is peaceful and kind. Yoga has been a trusted friend and travel companion for me. I have always relied on my yoga practice to bring awareness to the areas of my life where I have been blinded to the truth.
Yoga has helped me relax and breathe easily, even during stressful times. I have felt comforted and supported, knowing that my yoga mat was my refuge from the rest of the world. I felt this relief right after my very first yoga and meditation practice. I did not have much confidence in who I was. I had no clear direction in my life, and I had no idea who I really was. Yoga has helped me become a very strong, powerful leader within myself. I am now, 25 years later, a very healthy, happy, and confident person living my life with intention. I serve people by helping them find the yoga within themselves.
Science has finally caught up with yogis and now researching and experimenting the ancient yogic principles. Yoga research has proven the transformative powers of yoga in numerous studies already. Yoga allows the body to create profound healing shifts at the physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, psychological, energetical, and spiritual levels. It is the promise of yoga that we can transform and transcend into a Self that we never dreamed possible. Millions of yoga practitioners and the state of their well-being, vitality, and health prove yoga to be still the complete mind-body healing disciple in the world. Yoga works!
So, what is yoga? I have yet to find one complete answer to this simple question, nor is it even possible. This simple yet profound question must be answered by the individual practitioner alone, and only the practitioner, for Yoga, is a very personal inner practice and experience. It must be felt inside. Yoga must be tasted. Yoga must be experienced. It is what we become. Yoga is not what we do. Here, the questions that I ask of you are: Are you ready to find out for yourself? Are you willing to find out? Do you dare to go deep? When did yoga start for you? What is your personal reason for letting yoga begin? What is your definition of yoga? Tell me!