TODAY -

What Yoga is and is not? Misconceptions about yoga

Dr. R. K. Roshni Raj Lakshmi *

 International Yoga Day at Khuman Lampak Indoor stadium :: 21st June 2017
International Yoga Day at Khuman Lampak Indoor stadium on 21st June 2017 :: Pix - DIPR



When one is asked, "what do you understand by the term 'yoga'?" most people would answer that yoga refers to the poses or asanas or the practices like pranayamas (breath regulating techniques) or meditation. Some people even consider being merely physical exercises, rope tricks, or some secret practices belonging to occultism.

Yoga, in its completeness, is not understood by most people. Some perceived yoga to be just the distortions or contortion of the body into impossible poses. Some others see it as some mystic practices befitting only an ascetic in saffron robes, with full beard and long matted hair, residing at the Himalayas.

When Swami Vivekananda introduced the eastern philosophy to the West at the Parliament of Religions, held in 1892 at Chicago, the concept of yoga was perceived correctly. But with passing of time and changes in the trend of yoga philosophy, the face of yoga changed.

The aspect of yoga as physical practices to alleviate disease conditions and to achieve optimal health is what is most popular, as of now. Modern exponents of yoga came to design different styles and techniques of yoga and thus the new concept of yoga as a 'set of practices for improvement of health or rather maintenance of overall well being'.

Clearly, the misconceptions exist in abundance. Even now, most people know only the tip of the iceberg and submerged portion lies in depth.

Yoga is in reality, a way of life. Yoga is not limited to the one hour practice of poses and breathing techniques in the day.

As the traditional masters have taught, yoga is 'cessation of modifications of the mind'. (Patanjali yoga sutras). Vashishtha says, 'it is skill to calm the mind'. As Shri Krishna says, in the Bhagavad Gita, 'it is equanimity of mind', or 'skill (to remain calm) in action'.

From the definitions given by the traditional masters of yoga, it is evident that 'yoga' is a means for the mind to attain equanimity. And if one were to study the traditional texts on yoga, one comes across the various injunctions about a yogi's lifestyle.

Be it the Bhagavad Gita, or Patanjali Yoga Sutras or for that matter, any relevant texts on yoga, there is description of the rules and regulations and manner in which a yogi has to eat, sleep, breathe or think to attain the ultimate goal of yoga.

For instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the rules and regulations of what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat and how to eat is described in detail.

In Patanjali Yoga Sutras, which are one of the authoritative texts on yoga, the author explains the ways and means to control the mind and achieve the ultimate goal of yoga.

With reference to Manipur, most people before the advent of The International Day of Yoga, notions of yoga were even more misleading.

It was considered to be merely physical acrobatics or exercise, clearly leaving out much of what yoga is in reality. After popularisation of the concept of yoga by yoga experts in different parts of the state, yoga came to be seen as an adjunct therapy for ailments. Even this concept does not encompass the totality of yoga.

Yoga, from its inception, was for preparation of the body and mind complex, to strengthen this complex to withstand the difficult journey and effects of higher practices of yoga to attain the ultimate goal of yoga.

Thus, the various practices, may it be asanas (poses), pranayamas (breath regulation), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) or dhyana (meditation), were all designed by the masters to attain the goal of yoga which is Self Realisation.

The misconceptions about yoga are due to incomplete knowledge or vague knowledge about the matter which creates a wrong notion and understanding of the matter in a totally different way.

In relation to yoga, it is equivalent to the different perspectives of the same elephant by blind men who were positioned at different parts of the elephant, namely, foot, trunk, tail, and ear.

The blind man near the foot of the elephant says that it seems like a pillar. The one near the ear says, 'no, no it is like a huge fan'. While the one near the tail says that it is like a rope.

Each is describing what they perceive and rightly so, but they are unable to see the whole picture, thus leaving out the real nature of things. As we see, yoga is indeed a lifestyle with injunctions in relation to every aspect of life and an ideal one for the matter.

Thus, it is apt if yoga is defined as a way of life to achieve equanimity of mind.


* Dr. R. K. Roshni Raj Lakshmi wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is a Guest lecturer at the department of Yoga, Manipur University
This article was webcasted on May 10, 2019.



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