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Is Yoga Just About Practicing Asanas or Body Postures

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Yoga is the latest buzzword in the health, fitness as well as spiritual space. Rishikesh, the Yoga Capital of the world attracts seekers from all over the world. 21st June is now celebrated as International Yoga Day when millions perform Yoga Asanas to stay physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. So, what exactly is Yoga and what has made it so popular? Let’s find out.

Yoga is an ancient philosophy expounded by a great Indian sage called Patanjali. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means Union. Yoga philosophy essentially aims to connect the person with his soul. Through a rigorous spiritual practice and body cleansing procedures, Yoga prepares the person for the ‘Samadhi’ which is the state of pure consciousness or bliss.

Yoga is a serious business and it is not just about performing Asanas unlike what most people generally think. Yoga demands total commitment from the individual and requires a rigorous and elaborate spiritual practice spreading over a long period of time. Without sincerity and commitment, Yoga will not yield the desired results and will only bring short-term benefits. To reap long-term benefits, it’s essential to understand the Yoga philosophy in its entirety and follow all the crucial teachings, and not just cherry pick only what is easy or important for you.

Basically, there are two categories of Yoga as discussed below:

1. Ashtanga Yoga: It is the form of Yoga which was originally propounded by the Indian sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It consists of eight parts or limbs which prepare you for the spiritual enlightenment or the state of supreme consciousness. The various parts are as follows:

1. Yama: These are defined as the moral codes that a Yogi needs to practice in order to cleanse his mind or chitta. The five Yama as listed by Patanjali in YogaSutras are: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity), Aparigraphah (nonpossessiveness).

2. Niyama: These are the various habits or behavior that you need to practice as a spiritual seeker. These are following: Sauca (cleanliness of mind, speech and body), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (Patience, perseverance, and austerity), Svadhyaya (self-study), IshwarPranidhana (contemplation of God/divinity).

3. Asanas: Asanas are the various postures that you can comfortably hold for a long period of time.

4. Paranayama: Paranayama is a Sanskrit word that means controlling the Prana (breath) consciously.

5. Pratyahara: It is a process of withdrawing one’s thoughts from external objects, things, person, and situation. It is turning one’s attention to one’s true Self, one’s inner world, experiencing and examining self.

6. Dharana: This means concentration, introspective focus of the mind. The mind (not sensory organ) is fixed on a mantra or one’s breath/navel/tip of tongue/any place, or an object one wants to observe, or a concept/idea in one’s mind.

7. Dhyana: Dhyana is contemplating, reflecting on whatever Dharana has focused on. If in the sixth limb of yoga one focused on a personal deity, Dhyana is its contemplation. If the concentration was on one object.

8. Samadhi: Samadhi is oneness with the subject of meditation. There is no distinction, during the eighth limb of yoga, between the actor of meditation, the act of meditation and the subject of meditation. Samadhi is that spiritual state when one’s mind is so absorbed in whatever it is contemplating on, that the mind loses the sense of its own identity. The thinker, the thought process and the thought fuse with the subject of thought. There is only oneness, Samadhi. This is the ultimate goal of Ashtanga Yoga.

Through these elaborate steps, one can achieve the supreme consciousness or pure state of ‘being’, also called as ‘Kevalya’, which is devoid of any attachment to the sensory or physical world. In a nutshell, Ashtanga Yoga is a path towards self-realization or spiritual enlightenment. Ashtanga Yoga, purifies your mind and body, and connects it with your soul. And it’s not just about practicing Asanas for physical fitness.

2. Hatha Yoga: Hatha Yoga emphasizes the importance of various physical exercises to prepare the body for the spiritual practice. This system believes that without physical fitness, it will be difficult to achieve the spiritual enlightenment. Through various Asanas or body postures, Hatha Yoga increases body flexibility, brings relief from various physical problems like joint pain or back pain, increases concentration and mental stability.

The Hatha Yoga practice also emphasizes the proper diet, processes to purify the body, proper breathing techniques. Hatha Yoga also lays a special focus on Surya Namaskara or salute to the Sun, which consists of twelve steps or Asanas performed in a sequential manner.

Hatha Yoga is neither inferior nor superior to the Ashtanga Yoga. Both the systems work together to achieve the final goal of ‘Kevalya’ or ‘nothingness’. So, it is essential to understand these two main forms of Yoga – Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga, to reap the maximum benefits. Only focusing on the physical aspects or Hatha Yoga, will improve your overall health and fitness – physical, emotional and spiritual, but will not help you achieve the ultimate goal of spiritual enlightenment.

Treading on the spiritual path is not very easy; hence generally, people overlook the spiritual part of Yoga, and only focus on the lighter or easier part. But, a sincere and focused seeker who is totally committed to his spiritual growth will definitely reap amazing results through a rigorous and intensive Yoga practice.

We, at Ayuryogpeeth Yoga School, understand the challenges you might overcome on your spiritual journey, and hence, will also provide a helping hand, so that you don’t give up midway. We will ensure that you achieve your spiritual goals, and make the most of the ancient Indian spiritual science.

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