Stretching for body and mind

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Regular yoga practice is excellent for improving stamina and spiritual strength

YOGA. IN the modern world it is, perhaps, the most misunderstood word after “God”. These days all of us have some idea about yoga. But with growing popularity has come misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the system, its tradition, scriptures and philosophy. People take up yoga for different purposes and with different beliefs about the practice. They do it to burn calories, to enhance their sex appeal, for flexibility or as therapy. Yoga can be bent into any shape to fit your needs. But sooner or later practitioners are likely to encounter problems. They might get injured, have trouble finding time to practise, or get frustrated when they don’t achieve the expected results.

It is the beauty of yoga that we can approach it either as a fitness exercise, a sport, as gymnastics or for therapy. But its real beauty is revealed when we do it as a sadhana – a regular disciplined practice – to experience our inner being. This has nothing to do with achieving some state of perfection. Instead, it is all about developing awareness, a positive attitude and the right approach in our life.

Yoga is not for select groups of young, lithe people in lycra doing headstands – the kind of thing you see in pictures posted on the social media. Its benefits are available to everybody, whether young, elderly, sick, rich or poor. Yoga prepares us to walk on our own two

feet confidently and with grace, to face the challenges of life.

But what is yoga actually? What is the goal? How do we practise it safely?

Yoga can be defined as a path that brings health and happiness and maximises your potential to achieve success in life. Discipline, balance and positive creative energy are the aim. To achieve this personality there are different tools, in the form of various practices – devotion, action, Kundalini yoga, Hatha yoga, Mantra yoga, Swara yoga, and so on. But the most popular practice is the Ashtanga (eight limbs) yoga of the sage Patanjali. The “limbs” are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahar, dharana, dhyan and samadhi.

Unfortunately, these days Ashtanga has been reduced to “asana” – physical practice – while the other seven limbs are often ignored. Yoga is 100 per cent practical, or experiential, but focusing only on its physical aspect will leads us nowhere and is a waste of time. We may become fantastically flexible or super-thin, but that won’t guarantee a healthy mind or success in life. Each of us is a unique individual, different from everyone else and with different needs accordingly. Practicising yoga as purely a physical routine is akin to treating it like a circus act. It will help neither individuals nor society. Although yoga is a simple, systematic and scientific practice open to all – even the sick – it has come to be known as a fad for healthy, rich people, and a global business like any other.

Of course, there is no harm in limiting yourself to the physical side of the practice, but this is not the “real” yoga of all eight limbs, integrated to develop excellence for the whole personality. Yoga is all about managing the mind and exploring the inherent qualities in yourself. We can start with the physical movement, but through breathing, relaxation and meditation, not only can we prevent many ailments, we can also build our powers of rehabilitation. Another beauty of yoga is that it can work with and supplement other forms of therapy.

So, in short, your approach to practice should be as follows:

Begin practising with regularity and conviction.

Know your body by simple physical movements (asana).

Know your mind through awareness and control of the breath.

Relax body and mind for memory and creativity with meditation (yoganidra).

Meditate to develop understanding and brain potential.

SANJIV CHATURVEDI is co-founder/director of Divine Yoga Bangkok. He holds a Master’s degree in Applied Yogic Science. E-mail

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