Yoga is a generic term for the various spiritual disciplines in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is practiced throughout South Asia. Its prime aim is to pave the way to higher consciousness through liberation from suffering, ignorance and rebirth. Vedic and Buddhist literature is strewn with stories of yogis who attained miraculous prowess by practicing various kinds of meditations and austerities. Today, yoga is usually practiced under the guidance of a guru or a spiritual guide.
The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from Sanskrit where it means ‘to unite’. Therefore yoga connotes an exercise in mental and moral cultivation that generates excellent health and contributes to longevity in life. The total and intrinsic discipline exercised by a yogi culminates in positive and perennial happiness. It is a science which affects the conscious as well as the subconscious aspect of the mind.
There are some misconceptions about Yoga. Yoga is NOT black magic, sorcery, white magic or mental or physical debauchery. Some consider yoga to be a dangerous practice that should be engaged by those who have renounced the world. Some even think of it as a kind of mental acrobatic that is fit to be practiced only by certain sections in the world.
Yoga is an all-encompassing science that depends on mental discipline. It ensures the purgation of the soul and removal of the ignoble which will bring forth what is most noble in man. Irrespective of caste, creed, sex and religion yoga embraces all of human life. The believer and the non-believer, the sick and the healthy, the literate and the ignorant, the young and the old – everyone can embrace yoga. One can begin practicing yoga at any age and continue doing so throughout life.
For a person practicing yoga, there is an emphasis on restraint from vice through observance of virtue, purity and controlling of uncontrolled desires. The main technique used in yoga is ‘asanas’ or postures. This along with ‘pranayama’ or breath control helps to calm the body and draw vital energy forces into the body. Detaching the mind from the external mind through the withdrawal of senses is done through ‘dhyana’ or meditation. A common feature of yoga is intense concentration on a single point, be it a diagram, a part of the body, the breath or even a mantra.
In the modern world, it is almost impossible for man to achieve the mental prowess of the ancient yogis. Therefore, yoga cannot be seen as an alternative to medicine. But when teamed with Western healing practices, yoga is amazingly effective. Yoga is very effective in helping patients overcome pain, and the anxiety or depression associated with pain.
Yoga is not just a medical science; it’s a complete way of life. It lays down strict dietary recommendations and lifestyle practices that helps one achieve and maintain good health. Yoga has been adopted by people for the treatment of various conditions like constipation, back pain, indigestion, diabetes and blood pressure. Exercises prescribed by yoga are excellent if you want to lose weight and gain control over your body. One of the greatest benefits of practicing yoga is that it makes you aware of the various muscles in your body and teaches you how to control any PARTICULAR set of muscles.
Thus Yoga as a way of life and as a holistic therapeutic science has gained a lot of acceptance in the world today. Even though a person practicing yoga may never reach the heights of a yogi, they can learn to live a richer and happier life by practicing these techniques.