The International Yoga Day on June 21 is a reminder to the whole world of the vital role Yoga, if practiced daily, can play in an individual’s, and a nation’s life. A voluntary discipline, tailored to an individual’s needs, Yoga aims at the total growth – physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual – of a person.
As the opening prayer above, a salutation to Sage Pathanjali who compiled the Yoga Sutra, indicates Yoga helps remove the impurities from a practitioner’s mind (thoughts), speech (words) and body (deeds). The daily practice of Yoga helps remove the internal and external impurities and bring in an order, balance and calm in an individual practitioner.
As Lord Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavath Geeta, Yoga is dexterity, balance and coolness combined. Rife with tension, anxieties and lifestyle diseases, living today has become a terrible rat race. A peaceful, happy and contented existence has become almost a thing of the past. It’s here Yoga comes to our rescue.
Our forefathers, over centuries, have figured out the unique relation between nature and man and have thought up a very simple system of physical, mental and spiritual discipline which we call Yoga today. Yoga aims at overall ‘swasthya,’ disease-free health of a practitioner. In 196 sutras (aphorisms), Sage Pathanjali’s Yoga Sutra, guides us through a series of physical, mental and spiritual practices that has mainly three parts, namely, pranayama, asanas and meditation. Breath is the bridge between our body and mind. Our entire life is conceived and planned first at the mental level. Body just executes the directive from the mind.
Our forefathers knew this long time ago that the human body is but only an aide to the mind. Everything in our life happens first at the mental level. Without the mind, body is helpless. This awareness is central to the entire Yoga discipline. In that sense, Yoga is not just a physical exercise alone. It’s physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual. If practiced daily, the pranayama, asana and dhyana, will put the practitioner onto the right path of Swasthya. The practitioner has to take care of his/her food and rest too. He/she may not indulge in too much of either.
So, our forefathers had thought up a perfect system that guaranteed our physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual growth. A daily yoga practitioner is ready to tackle any adversity. Nothing scares him/her. Yea, he/she will always be cool and active. And, most importantly, a daily Yoga practitioner will always be contented. He/she will have no interest in the daily rat race going on around.
Yoga is especially a great health tool to our young ones. Living in often volatile and violent environments, many of our young ones are crying for help. The help these young ones need first and foremost is awareness about themselves, their surroundings, their potentialities and possibilities. A young person, practicing Yoga daily, will be completely at ease with his surroundings because nothing scares him/her. He/she can always find a solution through cool and bold thinking. He/she is aware of himself/herself. A daily Yoga/pranayama practitioner slowly gets steadiness of mind by restraining respiration and asana practices. When one learns to control breathing, one learns to control one’s mind, and through the mind, one’s body. It’s that simple. Daily pranayama and Yoga helps keep one’s youthfulness even when one hits 70.
Yoga/Pranayama practitioners must be disciplined in their eating, sleeping and recreational activities, too. They must eat right, sleep/rest right and play right. Too much of any of these can cut their achievements from the daily Yoga/Pranayama/dhyana practices. As the United Nation’s World Health Organization says overeating is more dangerous than starvation.
Remember what Lord Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad Geetha:
yogo bhavati duhkha-ha
At a time, harmful fast-foods are the “in thing” for the youth; satvik vegetarian food can keep a person healthier in the long run. Satvik food also helps one improve one’s emotional health. Clean eating guarantees a clean body and a clearer mind.
Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo and several others were well known for promoting the daily practice of Yoga and satvik lifestyle. Who can forget that famous picture of a smiling Gandhiji, sitting in Gomukha Asana and turning the charka wheel. Similarly there are several asanas, Padma Asana, for instance, one can use in their daily life, whether they are watching a television or doing some household chores. The famous Yoga Vasishta contains Sage Vasishta’s advice and counseling to Lord Rama when he was young. Bhagavad Geetha, too, is a counseling treatise containing advices Lord Krishna gave to his dear disciple Arjuna.
One needs hardly an hour for the daily practice of Yoga/pranayama/dhyana. That is not too much for one’s self-improvement and a contented, happy living. An individual’s overall growth is what daily Yoga and pranayama practices, one of the greatest contributions from India to the world. Air, health and contentment have no caste or creed or religion. Yoga is secular in the sense it helps all people living anywhere in the world. A healthy individual contributes to a healthy family, society, nation and a world. Everybody, irrespective of religion and other man-made divisions benefit from practicing Yoga and Pranayama. Who doesn’t want peace and happiness in this world?
- Bhagavad Geetha
- Yoga Sutra by Sage Patanjali
- Hatha yoga Pradipika (trans. by Pancham Sinh, 1914)
- Yoga Vasistha by Sage Vasishta
The Writer is an:
DEPARTMENT OF SANSKRIT
UNIVERSITY OF KERALA