I hear that June 21st, the longest day, is declared as the ‘International yoga day’. I understand that our PM is leading a big group of 40,000 people performing yoga exercises on Rajpath, New Delhi. There is also a move to have mass yoga performances all over the country and create a Guinness record by synchronising the performances. The orthodox among the practitioners of yoga say that yoga is a private, personal and spiritual performance, like personal worship and it should not be dragged on to the streets. But nothing is private these days and we will surely drag anything and everything on to the streets. Both real streets and IT streets.
So, yoga is in limelight and I am trying to make some of this light fall on me through this post.
I am a self taught practitioner of ‘yoga’ and have been one for more than forty years. My ‘yoga’ involves just bending the body and no attempt is made to straighten the mind. I perform yoga just as another physical exercise, like walking or swimming, and there is no spirituality involved in it. Same dirty thoughts which flood my mind during other times, also flood my mind while performing yoga. I did try concentration and meditation but ended up concentrating on things which disturbed my mind more. I gave up. Still, since I have been sincerely practicing all the physical postures that you see here and many more, for nearly half a century, I assume it gives me some authority to say something about Yoga.
‘AshTaanga Yoga’, as a tool to achieve oneness with the soul, super soul, god or whatever is supposed to exist above us, is said to have eight stages. One has to start at the bottom, master the stage, go to the next and continue till the goal is reached. I don’t know how many practitioners/ masters/ gurus have managed to reach the final stage. After decades of practice, I am not perfect in any, but am doing fairly well in few of the stages. As per my own assessment, a very vague evaluation of my standing in different stages of Ashtaanga yoga - on a scale of 1 - 10, would be like this.
1. Yama - Practice of morality/ethics in daily life - 5
2. Niyama - Discipline (in anything that matters?)- 8
3. Aasana - Achieving Yogic postures - 8
4. PraaNaayaama - Breath control - 6
5. Pratyaahaara - Withdrawal of the senses from the organs into the purified mind (mind purified by the first four steps?) - I do not even clearly know what it means let alone practice/experience it - 0
6. Dhaarana - Concentration (on an idea? Goal?) - 3
7. Dhyaana - Meditation - 2
8. Samaaadhi - Enlightenment/being one with the God or super soul - 0
The term ‘Yoga’, for most of us, means just the asanaas and praNayaama. Probably because these are the two stages on which those who teach/preach/advertise yoga lay the stress upon. There may be a reason for it. Most of the gurus/teachers themselves are not likely to pass the first two stages of yama - niyama (morals and descipline) and since none of us like to go anywhere near them (yama - niyama I mean) would certainly not get desciples if they insist on following these steps. Hence, these two troublesome stages are conveniently ignored. Since more than ninety percent of those who start learning Yoga, give up after few days or months - depending up on their tolerance limits - there is no chance of anyone going through the last four. So, that leaves just Asanas and Pranayaama. Even these two supposedly easier steps among the eight, are themselves daunting for a beginner.
As I said earlier, I have been practicing Yoga for more than forty years but I have nothing to show for it. I do not have blood pressure or diabetes or so called stress induced/ lifestyle associated ailments. Nor did my parents, who never practiced yoga. My cholesterol level is kept in control by ‘Atorec 10’ and not by ‘kapaalbhati’. But I have general sense of well being and recover from aches and pains faster. Even though I do not have much to show for my decades of practice of yoga, I continue practicing it. It has become a way of life for me. And I feel that is how it is intended to be practiced. Like praying. If you believe in it, practice it. All it takes is a bit of your time and nothing else. Do it for the sake of doing it, without any expectation or anticipation and it may make you feel better.
Yoga is good for everybody and is a good adjutant to a healthy life. Lot of misunderstanding has been created by people (with vested interests ?) projecting Yoga and PraaNaayaama as a cure for everything from common cold to cancer. It makes people start the practice with lot of hope and check their blood pressure and blood sugar after bending their knees and elbows for two weeks. The readings adamantly remain the same and the ‘faith’ in Yoga dives downwards. Also, even the simplest of postures are not easy to keep long enough to make a difference. You lie on your back, lift both your legs up, say 30-40 degrees, and remain in the position for 30 seconds. You will understand what I mean. Half a minute seems like half an hour.
I have attended at least half a dozen training camps. The first day the hall is full and people spread their mats even in the corridor. By the fourth day the hall seems larger than what it was. By the end of the session only the first few rows are full but they take a vow to continue the practice for the remaining of their lives. By the end of the month only the coordinator and two of his friends remain.
My opinion (for anyone who needs it - because all of us have enough of our own) is that it is the first two stages, ‘Yama’ - ‘Niyama’ which help in living a stress free life and it is better to start there. If it is too much to hope for, go for the next two as the majority of us do. If practiced regularly they are really helpful in maintaining a healthy body. (If you are not sure where to start, ask a guru. I suggest any self proclaimed one with few decades of experience, preferably living in Goa!) Adapt the stages of yoga as a way of life. It is never too late to start and it is sure to help you. You have the international yoga day just in front of you to help you make a beginning!