Yoga improves our body and mind to propel us towards perfection, says RAMESH BIJLANI.Yoga evokes a host of contrasting and apparently irreconcilable images. The commonest of these are that of techniques such as asanas, pranayamas and meditation. The other is of yogis who have renounced life and meditate in isolated spots in the icy Himalayas. But these days, it is also quite trendy to describe yoga as a ‘way of life’.The simplest way of looking at yoga is as a process of Self-improvement, a process that affects both body and mind. In other words, yoga makes a person physically fit, emotionally more stable and intellectually more agile.
Further, in yoga, the process of improvement is carried to a logical conclusion. Improvement is not as simple a word as it sounds. After some improvement has been achieved, one finds that there is scope for further improvement. Since there is always room for improvement, the process of self-improvement can become a life-long journey. If a journey is long, one way to make it easier is to move faster by using the best available technology, and yoga does exactly that. Over thousands of years, yoga has worked out techniques such as asanas, pranayamas and meditation, which do far better to exercise the body-mind complex than simply jogging, cycling or swimming. Techniques are the most visible part of yoga, but these techniques are not enough to stay physically and mentally fit. Eating the right kinds of food in just the right quantity, not putting into the body any substance which might harm the body, and adequate sleep are also necessary for staying healthy, and are a part of what is called ‘physical culture’ in yoga.
But the path of total physical renunciation by giving up all sense pleasures is a path that suits only a select few. For the rest of us, detachment or inner renunciation is all that is feasible, and is in fact necessary on the path of yoga.
Way Of Life
The goal of yoga is self-perfection. However, man is, by definition, imperfect; only God is perfect. Therefore, when we talk of self-perfection, it would mean identity or union with God.
Thus, God is our beacon light on the journey called yoga, and His force may work through a guru. However, it is possible to practise yoga even without believing in God. An atheist can look upon yoga as an endless process of self-improvement that will take him towards self-perfection. But he might often get impatient because he chooses not to believe in God’s grace; he is on his own in the long journey. He finds himself vulnerable to emotional upheavals because instead of surrendering to God, he searches for a mental explanation for every inexplicable event and setback in his journey towards self-perfection.
But how does yoga become a way of life, if we only practise it for an hour a day? It is called a spiritual discipline because it not only improves the body-mind complex, but also tells us how to use this equipment. It may take us 60 minutes to improve our mind-body complex, but it gives us guidelines to use it for the remaining 23 hours of the day as well. It is only if we bring yoga into whatever we do during these 23 hours that it becomes a way of life. It means doing our work as instruments of God and offering the work to God. Making choices from the deepest Self is a part of yoga. When Sri Aurobindo said, “All life is yoga”, he meant that all life gives us an opportunity for the practice of yoga. We can make use of the opportunities that we get every day by making the right choices, choices that emanate from our deepest Self; these choices take us closer to God. Our deepest Self is God. How can we hope to unite with God if we do not listen to him, although He is always available to us for consultation without an appointment!
The Right Choice
Yoga is, therefore, a full-time activity, a journey that engages us 24 X 7 for a whole lifetime. We may still not reach the goal, but we will become healthier and happier, for yoga brings out the best in us. Look at it this way — just as every stone is a potential statue, yoga is the chisel by which we can chip ourselves, bit by bit, to manifest the divinity that we hide.
Yoga involves methodised effort, not a haphazard one. Effort becomes fruitful only if guided by a method, discipline and clear vision. For example, steam escaping from a pot of boiling rice serves no purpose, but if the same steam is subjected to the method and discipline of a pressure cooker, it can cook the rice much faster. In yoga, the underlying spiritual philosophy and well-established techniques guide the effort.
The effort takes the seeker towards self-perfection. Through the process of yoga, more of the existence (God) gets expressed in man, and consequently less remains hidden. Complete expression of the Divinity inherent in man is the goal of yoga, and also of life. All life truly becomes yoga if the goal is pursued consciously. It makes the journey faster, and the path easier.