Yoga is considered a form of exercise by those who follow it and those who want to. But the ancient practice goes beyond just physical well-being
Photographs: Nico Aguilera/Creative Commons
Three things you didn't know about yoga
Yoga means union
Yoga is not a practice -- the word yoga means union. It does not mean standing on your head, twisting your body or holding your breath. Yoga means to know the union of life. When you experience everything as a part of yourself, you are in yoga.
Asanas are only a small part of yoga
Among the Yoga Sutras that form the bedrock of today's yoga, only one sutra is dedicated to asanas. All Patanjali said was, "Sthiram sukham asanam" -- a posture that is comfortable and firm is your asana. It is a very preparatory step, but unfortunately, it is being propagated as the whole of yoga.
There are four basic paths of yoga
Experientially, there are only four realities for a person -- his body, mind, emotion and the energy that makes all this happen. For each of these four dimensions, there are four types of yoga.
If you use your intelligence and try to reach your ultimate nature, we call this jnana yoga.
If you use your emotions, we call this bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion.
If you use your physical body or action, we call this karma yoga.
If you transform your inner energies to reach your ultimate nature we call this kriya yoga.
These are the only four ways you can work with yourself.
What's on your plate is important
When there is a choice, it is best to eat live vegetarian food. "Live" means in its uncooked condition, because a live cell has everything in itself to sustain life. The idea is to take life into you. When we cook food, it destroys the life in it.
Eating food after it has been partially destroyed does not give the same amount of life energy to the system. But when you eat live foods, it brings a different level of aliveness in you.
If you consume food in its natural condition -- sprouts, fruit and vegetables -- you will see the sense of health in your system will be very different from anything that you have known.
If you bring at least 30 to 40 per cent live food into your diet, it will sustain the life within you very well.
Looking for guidance
A guru is like a live road map. If you want to walk uncharted terrain, I think it is sensible to walk with a road map. If you are the adventurous kind, then maybe you want to do it yourself, nothing wrong with that. It is just that to find what is next to you, you may go around the world and come back to the same spot. That is the risk.
Busting common myths
Yoga is a form of exercise
Hatha yoga is not an exercise. Asana means a posture. After a profound and thorough exploration of the human system, the yogic system identified 84 asanas as yogasanas, postures through which you can transform your body and mind into a great possibility for ultimate well-being. If hatha yoga is taught in a proper atmosphere, it is a fantastic process of shaping your system into a fabulous device to receive the divine.
Yoga and music
Music creates a pleasantness around us, but yoga means to turn inward. When you play music, you set up a situation that makes you focus outward, so the whole purpose is defeated. You are intentionally causing a disturbance to yourself.
You can listen to music another time. When you practise yoga, this is the time to really turn inward. Everything is right here.
Yoga is religious
Yoga is not a belief system -- it is not a new religion, philosophy or a teaching, but a technology. I call it a technology because you don't have to believe it, you just have to learn to use it. It does not matter what your religion is, what your colour is, what your race is or where you come from. If you learn to use yoga, it works for you.
One step at a time
Time of the day is important
When you practise yoga, the sandhya kalas -- sunrise, noon time and evening time -- are conducive and add to the benefits of yoga. But if this isn't possible, any time is a great time.
Clockwork precision is secondary
Yoga is not a particular practice. It is a certain way of being -- one must become yoga. You can use any aspect of life either to entangle yourself or liberate yourself. If you use it to entangle yourself, we call it karma. If you use it to liberate yourself, we call it yoga. If it's morning-evening yoga, the rest of the time entanglement -- this is not yoga, this is only yoga practice.
Committing yourself to a life of yoga
Do not be in a hurry to evaluate your spiritual process. Just allow it to sink in. It is always best to start a spiritual process with an unconditional commitment for a certain period of time -- just do it with commitment and focus for six months. No benefit needs to come to you -- simply do it. After that, evaluate yourself periodically and see how peaceful, joyous and calm you are.