Globally, celebrations on the International Day of Yoga are mostly about hatha yoga, which is by far the most popular aspect of yoga across the world. This, however, distracts us from the essence of yoga, which is spiritual.
A sound mind is in a sound body, goes a proverb. This has led many to believe that a sound body by itself produces a sound mind. But that is not the case.
Mind and intellect are faculties of the soul, which is a spiritual, not physical, entity. Just as nutritious food, regular exercise and adequate rest are necessary to keep the body strong, the mind needs a diet of positive thoughts and exercise in the form of meditation, to stay healthy.
The information we consume and the thoughts we create are like food for the mind. As the quality of this food, so will be the state of the mind.
Even if the body is healthy, if the soul is under the influence of any weakness, it will perform wrong actions through the body. Yoga does bring many physical benefits, including a healthy and long life. But with its spiritual essence having been diluted, or ignored, it has been reduced to a mere set of exercises that are even seen by some as a means to enhancing their ability to indulge in physical pleasures.
But, the body is subject to decay, and gradually loses its ability to function. A sound mind, on the other hand, can display its brilliance even in a frail body.
All of this shows that the posture of the mind is more important than physical postures, and that controlling one’s thoughts comes before controlling one’s breath.
The purpose of yoga is to help the individual achieve union of soul and Supreme Soul, spirit and matter, thought and action. A yogi first learns to live in peace with the self, which helps him develop harmonious relations with others and the environment that form the foundation of healthy societies and a healthy planet.
Practice of yoga leads to the connecting of individual consciousness with universal consciousness, which brings freedom from bondage created by a limited awareness.
The Bhagwad Gita, which is a treatise on yoga, details the different forms of yoga that may be practised by people of various persuasions. It prescribes the path of devotion for householders, the path of knowledge for those intellectually inclined, and the path of action for the more agile. The Gita’s eighteen chapters reveal a progressive path from the yoga of action to that of devotion and, finally, of wisdom. Hatha yoga finds no mention in the Gita.
Defining yoga, the Gita says: When the mind, restrained by the practice of yoga, attains to quietude, and when, seeing self by the self, one is satisfied in one’s own self, he feels that infinite bliss can be grasped by the intellect, transcending the senses, and, established therein, he never moves from reality… let that be known by the name of yoga, the severance from union with pain.
The International Day of Yoga is an opportunity to reveal to the world the subtle science of yoga, which everyone can use not just to achieve physical wellbeing, but also to learn a better way to live a healthy, harmonious and happy life. (The author is chief spokesman of the Brahma Kumaris Organisation)