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The Yoga We Know and the Yoga We Should Know

Today is the International Day of Yoga. Almost every Indian has heard the word Yoga, which is pretty famous among the educated westerners also. Various Asanas and practices to cure diseases are known to all. In the name of Yoga, there are a lot of efforts and gimmicks happening around the world. Everyone claims that theirs is real ‘Yoga’. The high publicity given to the brand Yoga has led to the growth into a million dollar industry. The businesses are trying hard to present Indian Yoga to the non-believer community. For the same, they first separated Yoga from Hindu religion. Just as the Theory of Relativity is not Jewish because Albert Einstein incorporated it, similarly Patanjali’s Yoga should also not be part of the Hindu fold, they say.

In order to improve this field of business, new names started getting associated with Yoga, such as Christian Yoga. Pictures of Jesus Christ sitting in Yogic posture and allied literature have been widely published already. The Soorya Namaskar has become Jesus Namaskar. The names might change, but Yoga will not. Is Yoga, what modern practitioners have publicized as some exercises, or is it the breathing techniques? What is Yoga? Who founded Yoga? Why was it presented? If the ancient acharyas of India devised Yoga then does it have any roots in the Vedas? There are a lot of questions.

Steve Jobs, one of the main founders of Apple and his extraordinary skills need not be described to anyone. He had come to India and spent time practicing the Yoga-meditation techniques. He has later written that these practices changed his life. Many of the founders of Mind Science in the western scientific world have learnt under Indian Gurus. For example, Stanford University psychology department professor Stephen LaBerge discovered Lucid Dreaming by directly adopting the concept of Yoga nidra. Herbert Benson of Harvard University also contributed in the same fashion. Various scientists have made great contributions to modern science by using the help of Yoga. All these contributions have turned into valuable treatment techniques too.

However, the learned people of the West who adopted various techniques from Yoga, quite conveniently decided to not acknowledge its source. The smuggled knowledge from India, later on, comes back to its birthplace carrying an English name. Therefore, the Indianness of the knowledge is lost in the process. Patanjali, the author of Yogasutras gets just the undersized credit of the Yogic postures, also known as exercises.

Patanjali is an unavoidable name in all the discussions related to Yoga. He is presented as the founder of Yoga techniques. The modern scientific community has not given any more relevance to him. He is just considered as a mystic who lived some years before or after Buddha. We should know what Patanjali Maharshi has written about Yoga. The fundamental text describing Yoga is Patanjali’s Yogasutras. The book, which has been written as aphorisms, has a commentary composed by Veda Vyasa.

In his Yogasutras, Patanjali explains about the eight limbs of Yoga. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the eight limbs. Among these, the Asana-Pranayama combination is widely publicised as Yoga nowadays. According to the definition of Patanjali, Asana means to sit peacefully in comfort in order to perform Dharana and Dhyana. The ability to exhale powerfully and keep the breath outside was explained as Pranayama. It helps in preventing the mind from wandering. Therefore, according to Patanjali, these are all techniques which help to attain Samadhi. But Yoga is not just this. There is Yama in the beginning.

The five Yamas are Ahimsa(physical as well as mental), Asteya (honesty-not stealing), Satya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha (renunciation).The five Niyamas are Shoucha(cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas(austerity), Swadhyaya (self-study ), and Ishwarapranidhana (deep devotion to Paramatma). These are all required for a society to progress. Mahatma Gandhi imbibed all the Yamas and Niyamas in his life. He also tried to educate everyone about them all his life. In today’s society, they are very much relevant and necessary.

For example, let us take the case of Brahmacharya. It is a very misinterpreted word. Most of us believe that it means to not marry. However, Maharshi Manu tells that one who leads a family life with a one-wife vow and follows self-control is a Brahmachari even though he is a Grihastha.

We had an age where Brahmacharya was taught as part of education. In those ages it was possible for the society to respect women. From this perspective, Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga seems to have high relevance in the modern age. It is not difficult to observe that the roots of Ashtanga Yoga are also in Vedas, like all the other Shastras of India. ‘Ashtathaa yukto vahati’(13.3.19), ‘Imam yavam ashtaayogaih’(6.91.1) were all mentioned about Ashtanga Yoga in Atharvaveda.

The Brahmacharya Sookta in Atharvaveda is famous for discussing the philosophy behind brahmacharya. There is description of Pratyahara in 10th mandala, 58th sukta of Rigveda. Likewise, there are explanations about Yama-Niyama and the other limbs of Yoga in the Vedas. The various facets of mind are still hidden in mantras such as Shivasankalpa Sukta of Yajurveda.

It is a source of great happiness that Yoga Asanas and Pranayama techniques have got a worldwide acceptance. However, we should also understand the various other limbs of Yoga, the mind science in Yoga and the Dharmic values of Vedas that are the roots of Yoga. This knowledge also needs to be spread.