From being an ancient spiritual pursuit for those seeking enlightenment, yoga has been absorbed into mainstream lifestyle by people from all cultures and backgrounds across the globe.
Yoga became popular in the West as a solution to lose weight or as a physical exercise and people also found relief from many ills such as stress, anxiety, professional burnout, addictions and insomnia. In additions to its remedial properties, yoga is also a path to realize and harness your deepest potential.
It has a profound impact on multiple levels of our existence. While stretches and postures make the body supple, pranayama and meditation take the mind deep within. An unknown dimension opens up within our being that enriches the experience of life in many ways. There are several benefits of yoga — it enhances health, improves memory and concentration, sharpens the intellect, de-stresses the system and increases energy levels. It also unveils an intuitive ability within us, which is much needed for creative pursuits and in overcoming obstacles like the writers’ block.
According to Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the oldest known text on the subject, yoga is freedom from all the distortions of the mind. If we observe the mind, we will realize that it is always engaged in one of five things:
1. Seeking proof or answers
2. Forming conclusions
3. Imagining or fantasising
4. Remembering past events or memories
Yoga or union with the Higher Self happens when the mind is not engaged in any of the above. You usually identify with the activity in the mind. In the waking state, you are caught up in all that you see, smell, hear, touch, taste. If not, you return to sleep or to the state of dreaming where you are completely cut off from the world. None of these really give that deep rest that the system needs to totally recover from the stress that it gathers.
In the physical realm, it takes effort to get results. In the realm of the mind, what is needed is effortlessness. For instance, you cannot relax or go to sleep by putting effort; in fact, putting effort is counterproductive. It takes a certain kind of skill to become effortless. The ability to deeply relax renews your ability to be dynamic in action. Passion is like the in-breath but you cannot just breathe in; you need to breathe out as well and that is dispassion. Life becomes a harmony when we have all three — passion, dispassion and compassion.
Often one has to sacrifice personal freedom to some degree to observe discipline. But yoga is a discipline that opens the door to inner freedom, contradictory as it seems. With practice, you acquire the knack of switching between different modes of the mind, from engaging with the outside world to withdrawing from it and going within; between passion and dispassion. This skill of moving outward or inward at will makes you the master of your own mind, and when you win over the mind, you win over the world.