An acrobat. An enchanter. Worse still, a magician – is what many people end up thinking about Yogis (practitioners of Yoga). Well, Maharshi Mahesh Yoga, Ma Nirmala Devi, Swami Shivanandji and Padma Vibhushan B.K.S. Iyengarji maybe called yogis par excellence but the real question is what exactly is Yoga?
Derived from the Sanskrit work “Yuj”, Yoga means “to join”. This implies communion of body, mind and soul; where Yoga, in other words, is the yoke. According to Oxford dictionary, ‘yoke’ is derived from the Old English ‘gex’ (ge=y), Latin ‘jugum’ and Greek ‘zygon’. Yoga, literally, in itself is an abstraction. It denotes harmony, symphony and perfect co-ordination of the body and the mind. So even though you may arch your back into a perfect bow or split at an exact 180 degrees or balance and even bounce perfectly on the crown of your head, you may still be doing nothing more than gymnastics. Where lies the difference then? This may best be answered by the practitioner himself who concentrates on not only the flex of each muscle but also on the flow of consciousness. The realization of this Consciousness through your body is Yoga.
Yoga is one of the six systems of orthodox Hindu philosophy. Furthermore, it is of six types – Bhakti Yoga (or devotion to Lord Krishna which is truly manifest in the popular ISKCON Movement); Jnana Yoga (or realization through intellectual pursuits); Karma Yoga (or salvation through action); Kundalini Yoga (or practice of intense meditation); Tantra Yoga (or mystical, ritualistic and to an extent magical practices); finally Hatha Yoga (or physical practices). Hatha Yoga, due to its physiotherapeutic and hence curative nature is lately becoming more popular than any other form of Yoga.
In order to facilitate a healthy and balanced practice of Yoga Lord Mahadev, the supposed Founder of Yoga, laid down the eight-fold path or Ashtanga Yoga. Yama and Niyama are the ethical and moral disciplinary codes that gear you for the next step – Asanas. Healthy body leads to a healthy mind. So training and purification of the body is followed by the regulation of Breath-Pranayama. The control of Senses (Pratyahara); and concentration (Dharana) are followed by meditation or Dhyana. Yoga also means uniting with the one you seek or communion of Individual Self and Godhead.
Yoga is about the right attitude, perspective and the path you choose. Lord Krishna was a great Karma Yogi. In the modern era, another mortal amongst us who made himself immortal through Karma Yoga is Mahatma Gandhi. In our day-to-day lives, we find people working day in and day out to reach a goal with honest perseverance, dedication and bare minimum accolades. These are another set of Yogis. Yoga has as its aim - Perfection. Hence ‘Yoga karmasu kaushalam’ which maybe translated as Yoga inspires you to be the best version of yourself in any job you do.
As B.K.S. Iyengar rightly puts it - ‘My Body is my temple; and asanas are my prayers’.