Ashok Kumar Malhotra– Faculty Columnist
What is the real meaning of the type of yoga that is so popular in the West? This question was asked by a student who was taking my course on the Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga. He offered me an opportunity to go beyond the philosophical definition of yoga to present a more general understanding of the concept. I started thinking about how to talk about this very important topic in the most genuine way while still keeping its profundity intact.
The word “yoga” comes from the root “Yuj,” which means union, harmony or balance. Yoga can be understood as the union of the ordinary day-to-day (socially constructed) self with the real self. It can also be grasped as harmony in the three parts of the human being consisting of the bodily, emotional and mental-self. Furthermore, it can be construed as the balance brought about through the physical postures, harmony in the emotions through the breathing exercises and serenity of the mind through the meditation exercises.
Balance is a simple, as well as a complex concept. It is simple because it means bringing together different parts so that once they are joined together they will not topple. This concept becomes complex when it means harmony, togetherness, fitting into each other diverse parts and much more.
Let’s look at it in a simple way first. When yoga uses the term balance, it means the fitting together of diverse parts.
For yoga, a human being is a complex creature. It is made up of three parts: the body, heart and mind. All of these make up one’s day to day ordinary self. But there is also another aspect of a human being, which is one’s silent self. This silent self is often called either as one’s essence, soul, mind or spirit. The body, heart and mind make up the psycho-physical aspect, or ordinary self, of a human being. However, the silent self is the spirit or conscience part of a human being.
The goal of yoga is to bring harmony in the person by offering physical exercises (asanas) to form good habits of the body, breathing exercises (pranayama) to form good habits of the heart and meditation exercises (dhyana) to form good habits of the mind. Once these superior habits of the body, heart and mind are formed, the entire person will be able to achieve a sense of balance. This harmony in the diverse parts of a human being creates a perfect balance in the physical and psychological organism. In the yogic terminology, this perfection makes the body and mind a perfect mirror to express the silent self.
However, there is a big difference between expressing the ordinary, psycho-physical or talkative self, which is conditioned by the social norms and the silent self that is full of joy, happiness and contentment. The ordinary, talkative self is the stressed-out one, which is full of worries and anxieties and is often confused, whereas the silent self is happy and joyful. It experiences the delight of the very fact of existing. In contrast to the ordinary-talkative stressed out self, the silent self is content. The ordinary self represents imbalance whereas the silent self is the embodiment of balance. According to yoga, a person who is balanced is together, healed, whole and thus is holy.
Exercise for this week: Breathe in ‘love’ and breathe out ‘compassion.’
Caution: This exercise is offered as a suggestion. If done correctly on a regular basis and for a long time, it might help with reducing stress and relaxing the mind and body.
Sit in the easy posture. Put your thumbs on the index fingers and place your hands on the knees. Close both of your eyes. Breathe in and out. Observe the flow of your breathing. It will feel good. As you breathe in, think about ‘love.’ When you breathe out, think about ‘compassion.’ While you are breathing in ‘love’ and breathing out ‘compassion,’ you will become aware of the ideas in your mind or sounds around you. Notice these ideas or sounds but do not linger on them. Go back to breathing in ‘love’ and breathing out ‘compassion.’ Continue with breathing in ‘love’ and breathing out ‘compassion’ for two minutes and then stop. Take a break for one minute. then continue with breathing in ‘love’ and breathing out ‘compassion’ for two more minutes. It will feel very good.
Start your day by doing this exercise every morning and end your day by doing this exercise every evening for five-six minutes. Power up the engine of your life with this simple exercise each day!