by Acharya Mo Quanten
Many people are first drawn to yoga as a way to keep their bodies fit and supple - good to look at and to live in. Others come to seek help or relief for a specific complaint, like tension or backache. Some are merely impelled by a sense that they are not getting as much out of life as they could be. Whatever your reason, yoga can be a tool, an instrument for you - giving you both what you came for, and more. To understand what yoga is all about you need to experience it for yourself. At first glance it seems to be little more than a series of strange physical postures, which keep the body lean and flexible. But in time, anyone who continues with regular practice becomes aware of subtle change in their approach to life - for, through persistently toning and relaxing the body and stilling the mind, you begin to glimpse a state of inner peace which is your true nature. It is this that constitutes the essence of yoga - this self-realisation that we are all seeking, consciously or unconsciously, and towards which we are all gradually evolving.
Yoga is a life of self discipline based on "simple living and high thinking".
In Yoga, the physical exercises, called asanas, are non-violent and provide a gentle stretching that acts to lubricate the joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other parts of the body. Asanas help to tone the nervous system, improve circulation, release tension, and increase flexibility. When performed in a slow and relaxed manner, they are designed to develop more than just the physical body. They also broaden the mental faculties and enhance the spiritual capabilities.
Deep breathing helps to cleanse and nourish the physical body. As you inhale fully, you are supplying an abundance of oxygen, an element that is essential to every cell in the body. As you exhale, the waste products are being expelled. Breathing also helps to connect the body to the solar plexus, where tremendous potential energy is stored.
When the body and mind are continually overworked and stressed, their natural efficiency diminishes. Rest and relaxation are Nature's ways of giving the body a chance to recharge.
A meat-free diet enables the body to obtain the maximum benefit from food, air, water, and sunlight. The Yogic diet consists of foods that are easily digested, and that promote good health. As well as being simple, natural, and wholesome, it takes into account the subtle effect that food has on the mind.
Just as any vehicle requires an intelligent driver, so the body needs a balanced mind that can stay in control. Regular meditation will help you to achieve this; your mind will become clearer and more focused, and your ability to concentrate will improve. Positive thinking will purify the intellect, and you will begin to experience wisdom and inner peace.
Yogic practices aim at developing and strengthening immunity to those influences, from within and without, that might contribute to any sort of disintegration. They achieve this by bringing about an altered adaptability of the tissues forming the various organs and systems of the body. Yoga exercises, in short, recondition mind and body.
Yoga has an integrated approach to attaining and maintaining good health. You can therefore expect better results from regular yoga practice than you can from any system that places emphasis only on the signs and symptoms of disease, rather than on the less evident, but very important, underlying causes.
Yoga's stretching, strengthening and meditative exercises are effective because they encourage full focusing on the movements and the body parts involved. Used as a door into your body-mind awareness, yoga can teach you many useful lessons for practical application to everyday living: how to conserve rather than squander energy; how to be alert to early symptoms of any departure from good health; how to detect habitual faulty postures and movements that may, in time, compromise optimum functioning; what your physical limitations are and how best to work with them.
Used as a therapy, Yoga is individually tailored to work from within each personality. The limitations of a particular body, a specific mind is taken into account, and is used as the basis for the development. The whole person - heart, intellect, and hand - should be developed simultaneously, as to prevent this leading to an imbalance in the personality.
Yoga is a practical aid, not a religion, and its techniques may be practised by Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists alike. Yoga is union with all.
Acharya Mo Quanten
Yoga, Mind & Body - Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre
Yoga Therapy - Stella Weller