Yoga is more than a series of movements, postures and exercises. It is a path to self-knowledge and self-realisation. A path that connects us to our inner self and true state of being. A state of wholeness, balance, peace, and happiness. A state that gives us inner contentment and enjoyment in life.
When people talk about yoga, they often reference the physiological benefits of the practice, such as increased flexibility, decreased muscle stiffness, toned muscles etc. These are all wonderful benefits, however, not enough is mentioned about the mental, psychological, and cognitive benefits of yoga and its real purpose.
One of the very first statements in the ancient philosophical text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is ‘Yoga chitta vritti nerodha’. Though there are various translations of this statement, one common one is ‘Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’. In other words, you are doing yoga in order to achieve a stillness and clarity of mind, and return you to that true state of being.
The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit, the ancient classical language of India. The word is interpreted as meaning Union. Yoga is said to be for the purpose of uniting the mind, body and spirit.
The union of mind, body and spirit, and returning to this state of connectedness, wholeness and balance takes time, patience and dedication. In our current world we are constantly bombarded with events, issues and a sensory overload which disturb the mind. The major culprits are stress and demands from work, managing relationships, meeting deadlines; a build-up of bills and financial issues; fear propagated by the media; disease; and a constant stimulation from modern technology. Our focus is forever outward and frantic and we find it hard to turn our gaze inward to find stillness. These disturbances of the mind are like a veil. A veil that distorts our view of reality and blocks us from regularly connecting to that inner state of bliss, ultimately causing a larger disconnect between mind, body and spirit.
Once these veils are present, our perceptions of the world are skewed. A common example used is if you’re driving to an appointment and are running late, you’re far more likely to see a world full of red lights and people driving at a ridiculously slow speed. But if you set out for an appointment and you’ve got plenty of time to get there, you’ll probably enjoy the trip. But of course the world hasn’t changed, only your take on it. When you’re running late you see the world through the “veil” of haste, and when you’ve got plenty of time, you see the world through the “veil” of enjoyment.
The truth you perceive will be conditioned by the veils. These veils are literally embedded in our physical, energetic and mental bodies and are continually influencing which mindset you happen to be in.
Perceiving the world as it actually is, free from veils: this is the state that Patanjali refers to as Yoga. The path of Yoga has eight limbs that nourish mind, body and spirit. These include the physical exercises of asana; Vedic meditation; methods of self-enquiry, and moral codes to live by.
So how can yoga create this union and lift those veils? At the heart of Yogic philosophy, one that is also shared with Ayurveda, is the understanding that everything exists in relationship to everything else, not in isolation. Body affects mind, and vice versa, mind affects body; feelings and thoughts have physical effects, just as disorders of the body affect our psychological state.
Our energy level, thoughts and emotions affect our perceptions and experience of day to day life – the myriad of things that change from day to day and over the course of our lives. We are in an ever changing universe. Only the level of pure Being, pure Intelligence, pure potentiality remains unchanged, constant, deep within.
A regular yoga practice gradually removes our imbalances, our fears, our worries, our desires, and our sense of separateness that keeps our mind in a state of flux, and in the unsettled state of chaotic thought. During a yoga session you create the right space for your mind to turn inward, to settle, and to lift away those veils. The precise movements and coordination with breath and attention in each yoga posture and sequence has a strengthening and balancing influence on the physical body, and deeply and intimately strengthens and balances the mind and its connection with the deeper level of inner pure Being.
Only when the veil has been lifted, can you begin to genuinely perceive reality, and yourself. This experience can totally change your life, allowing you to live more in accord with your deep values of unity and oneness.
Freeing ourselves of the disturbances that alter our consciousness and build veils takes time and requires the discipline of a daily yoga routine.
We all have the capacity and knowledge to attain this state of pure Being, the state Patanjali refers to as Yoga, and we can do this through the path of a regular practice.