Yoga for Humanity

On the occasion of International Yoga Day, it is propitious that the Swami Muktananda ji, of Anandashram, Kerala, shares with us various aspects of Yoga and its connection to daily life through the essay – Yoga for Humanity. It is the time of the year to  remember all venerable mahayogis, especially, revered Sage Patanjali, Swami Shivanandaji Maharaj, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Shri Yogananda Paramahansa, Shri T Krisnamacharya and Shri BKS Iyengar.  

The word Yoga implies union with the divine and the word ‘humanity’ describes human beings collectively’ sharing the ‘quality of being humane’. As you all know, the subject of Yoga is as vast and voluminous as the mighty ocean and what we perhaps know is as little as a palmful of water that we have gathered from there. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has put it succinctly in an essay titled ‘The Science of Yoga’, “Yoga is a process of continuous transformation. The inner perfection of self-realisation can only come to be revealed by experience….. Yoga is the search for truth. It raises a man to spiritual eminence.”  With this awareness, today we will explore the significance of Yoga in our physical, mental and spiritual transformation.

Generally, when we hear the word ‘YOGA’, the very first image that comes to our mind is that of our physical well-being, ie, various Asanas and Pranayama and some physical postures. It is believed that Yogic exercise will free our body from many ailments. We have been told that Maharishi Patanjali in his Sutras has explained that Yoga covers everything that is needed for the overall refinement of man and not merely to be limited to bodily exercise. Of course the body is the platform on which the sense of individuality exists. Moreover it is the residence of the indwelling Reality. So it has to be taken care of. So yogic exercise, as is prevalent now, should be done as perfectly as possible.

In Bhagavat Gita, Ch. 6:17, the Lord mentions the basic preparatory measures for those who practice Yoga.

युक्ताहारविहारस्य युक्तचेष्टस्य कर्मसु |

युक्तस्वप्नावबोधस्य योगो भवति दु:खहा 

`Yoga, which frees one from all misery, is attained only by him who is moderate in diet and recreation, regulated in performing actions, and in sleeping and waking.'

Yogic exercises directly and indirectly touch and kindle the following:

  1. Regularity
  2. Self-discipline
  3. Commitment
  4. Recognising the existence of different parts of the body and its harmonious functioning
  5. Aiming for perfection
  6. Becoming aware of the various gifts of Mother Nature
  7. Stimulating various parts of the body which otherwise remains inactive
  8. Regular upkeep of the body

It is also an act to bring in the spiritual dimension through a value-based life as taught in the Yoga Sutras. Students of philosophy know that Patanjali through the inspiring Sutras  has dwelt on the various steps to lead a yogic life.

  1. Yama helps us to have proper and harmonious relationship with others. Nonviolence, Truthfulness, Not stealing, Not wasting energy, Abstaining from greed are some of the things that help us to move from our present level of ‘me’ and ‘mine’
  2. Niyama gives thrust to individual refinement by holding on to Purity, Contentment, Spiritual observances, Study and Devotion.
  3. Asana: The seat of consciousness; the yogi’s seat and postures to prepare the body.
  4. Pranayama: Expanding the life force through breathing exercises.
  5. Pratyahara: Turning the senses inward to explore the inner universe.
  6. Dharana: Effortless focused attention; training the mind to meditate.
  7. Dhyana: A continuous flow, meditation perfected.
  8. Samadhi: Lost or found in the Divine; unity.

The yamas and niyamas are yoga’s ethical guidelines laid out in the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path. They’re like a map written to guide you on your life’s journey. Simply put, the yamas are things not to do, or restraints, while the niyamas are things to do, or observances. Together, they form a moral code of conduct. In fact, bereft of yamas & niyamas, the yogic quest may go astray as it lacks a solid moral foundation.

Yoga is the progressive settling of the mind into silence. When the mind is settled, we are established in our own essential state, which is unbounded Consciousness or Awareness. Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind. Thus Yoga is to become aware of the presence of the SELF or Ishvara, first within us and later in all creations.

Let us not be under the impression that the divine is present only in temples and other places of worship.

In Maithreya Upanishad, this theme has been brought beautifully.

देहो देवालयः प्रोक्तः जीवो देवस्सनातनः ।

त्यजेदज्ञाननिर्माल्यं सोऽहं भावेन पूजयेत् ॥

“The body is the temple. The life within is the Divine. Removing your ignorance and coming to an understanding that ‘I am That’ should be one’s worship.”

Our body is itself the temple and the in-dweller is God. So we do not need to go in search of God elsewhere. All that we have to do is to turn our vision inward. To revere and serve him means loving and serving the co-creation and for this, we have to maintain this temple-body in a healthy way. Yoga helps us turn inward to feel the Creator within so that we can turn towards our co-creations and serve them with a sense of gratitude to Him.

“The end and aim of Yoga is to realise Ishvara. Both the goal and the methods employed for reaching it are called Yoga.” Says revered Swami Vivekananda.  The in-dweller of the body that we call as God is not an entity. He is the subtle and mysterious Power who is expressing in the form of the entire universe including us. To move closer to this dimension we can define the Power as the Life Force, Awareness absolute, Intelligence absolute in everybody and everything. That is why Yoga is termed as union with God.

When we come to this world from the womb of our mother, we do not bring anything. Apart from giving us a human life, He also provided everything for our existence through His creations- Mother Nature and the Society. While Mother Nature provides the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth on which we exist, the space in which we move about, the body temperature because of which we exist, trees and plant kingdom, metals, minerals, pulses, fruits, vegetables and the like, all creature-comforts are provided by discovery, invention and innovation by the society. In fact bereft of the above two, nobody can exist by himself or herself. Therefore we owe everything to His creations.

In Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Yoga is also defined as dexterity in all actions and also as equanimity in all situations. Yoga is to transform all our thoughts, words and deeds to bear a Divine Touch - a touch of love, a touch of perfection, a touch of gratitude and a touch of dedication.

The life principle that activates all beings is the same. It will be helpful if we try to know our and the world’s origin. When we ask ourselves as to how we came into being, normally our answer would be our parents. However, our journey starts from the origin of the first Uncaused Cause - The First Seed, about which our intellect cannot comprehend.

In 5 shlokas, Lord Krishna explains in Shrimad Bhagavad Gita the word “Seed” which is the origin of all creation including us.

  1. In chapter 7, shloka No.10

बीजं मां सर्वभूतानां विद्धि पार्थ सनातनम् |

बुद्धिर्बुद्धिमतामस्मि तेजस्तेजस्विनामहम्

He says: “O Arjun, know that I am the eternal seed of all beings. I am the intellect of the intelligent, and the splendour of the glorious.”

  1. In chapter 9, Shloka 18

गतिर्भर्ता प्रभु: साक्षी निवास: शरणं सुहृत् |
प्रभव: प्रलय: स्थानं निधानं बीजमव्ययम्

He says: “I am the Supreme Goal of all living beings, and I am also their Sustainer, Master, Witness, which were not known to us till then. Abode, Shelter, and Friend. I am the Origin, End, and Resting Place of creation; I am the Repository and Eternal Seed.”

  1. In Chapter No.10, shloka 39

यच्चापि सर्वभूतानां बीजं तदहमर्जुन |
न तदस्ति विना यत्स्यान्मया भूतं चराचरम्

He says: “I am the generating seed of all living beings, O Arjun. No creature moving or non-moving can exist without Me.”

  1. In chapter No. 14 shloka 3

सर्वयोनिषु कौन्तेय मूर्तय: सम्भवन्ति या: |
तासां ब्रह्म महद्योनिरहं बीजप्रद: पिता

He says: “It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kuntī, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.”

  1. In Chapter 14, shloka 4

मम योनिर्महद् ब्रह्म तस्मिन्गर्भं दधाम्यहम् ।

सम्भवः सर्वभूतानां ततो भवति भारत

He says: “My womb is the real Brahman. In it I place the seed. From That Oh Bharata, is the birth of all beings.”

So we all owe our origin to God. We have forgotten this connection and feel that our sense of individuality with body, mind and intellect is the starting point of our life.

Now we, at least, know that we are not merely what we appear to be, a bundle of flesh, bones, blood and skin, nor a creature living and acting solely under the impulses and thoughts rising from the mind. We have to recognize that beyond the exterior dynamics of the body and mind, there is within everybody the Spirit which is immortal. It is by the power of the Spirit that our life is activated in its manifold expressions. God, Spirit, Atma all are synonyms. Yoga is to become aware that our body is a sanctified temple where Ishwara resides in all His glory.

We all breathe the same air, walk on the same earth, and are equally entitled to the enjoyment of the amenities which nature provides. The earth yields its rich gift to all alike. The differences between man and man on the material plane are, in truth unnatural and improper. For, the component parts and composition of human bodies and the qualities inherent in them are not diverse and conflicting. If we look with the pure vision that belongs to an enlightened mind, we do not see any clear-cut line of demarcation that isolates man from man, one set of people from another or one nation from another. Yoga makes us aware that each one of us is a tiny, but nevertheless, integral part of the stupendous whole. We are units that form the world-community or family. So we can live and act as members of a world-brotherhood or federation.

According to Sri. T. K. V. Desikachar, “the success of Yoga must not be measured by how flexible your body becomes, but rather by how much it opens your heart”. We all are inter-linked and inter-dependent.  We, being the recipient of the bounteous gifts of both Mother Nature and the Society should we not think in terms of paying back or are we to think only in terms of ‘me’ and ‘mine’? How do we pay back is the question.  By bringing in a touch of love, a touch of gratitude, a touch of perfection and a touch of dedication in all that we think, talk and do, to a great extent we can pay back.

So, to recap, here are the 5 key aspects of Yoga that we briefly explored today.

  1. Yoga is to become aware of His presence within us, among us, around us and in everywhere and everyone.
  2. Yoga helps us turn inward to feel the Creator within so that we can turn towards our co-creations and serve them with a sense of gratitude to Him.
  3. Yoga is to transform all our thoughts, words and deeds to bear a Divine Touch - a touch of love, a touch of perfection, a touch of gratitude and a touch of dedication.
  4. Yoga is to become aware that our body is a sanctified temple where the Almighty Lord resides in all His glory.
  5. Yoga makes us aware that each one of us is a tiny, but nevertheless, integral part of the stupendous whole.

May this occasion of the International Yoga Day be instrumental in initiating a series of steps in creating awareness on the need to integrate human values in our daily life with the yogic exercises.

Hari OM!