Yoga, also referred to as the ‘yogic science’ since time immemorial, in simple terms, can be defined as a study or practice of the mind, body, and spirit, which one undergoes to attain unification with the universe. This study or practice requires immense dedication and practice, and often requires a Guru-Shishya (teacher-student) alliance to reach any level of perfection. To say that yoga is a way of life would be true only if we understood why is this ancient science form treated as a way of life and not just any other practice. We practice medicine to become doctors, we study engineering to become engineers, and we practice arts and music to become creative geniuses, then why are these considered professions and not way of life?
To explain the above stated question, we must deviate from the clichéd path of bestowing the title of science and art form on yoga and look at it as more of a discipline. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is an eight-limbed path of which the first two, Yama and Niyama, talk extensively about ethics and yoga discipline one much incorporate in their daily lives, internally and externally, to be deemed as a yogi.
Yoga as an Art
Yoga, as we all know, was first practiced some 5,000 years ago during the Indus-Sarasvati civilization which is now known as North India. Whatever be the reason, for centuries, there were no written texts or codes to follow or practice. The only form of yoga teachings that existed was the verbal and physical knowledge spread by several sages and practitioners of this form. Mythology has it that Shiva was the first yogi and that the art of meditation comes from his endless meditations on Mount Kailash. But then, that is mythology and should be kept for another day.
Since there were no written manuscripts and no way that all those teachings could be put together, most practitioners confined themselves to learning the significant theories and indulging mostly into the physical practices of asanas, breathing techniques, meditation, mantra chanting and the likes.
Like any other form of art such as dance, music, painting, yoga requires immense practice and an observant eye to master every move of a Guru or a demonstrator facilitating such physical practices. Yoga classes these days have become popular, and thanks to their proximity and abundance, practicing the art of yoga asanas and perfecting them isn’t as difficult as it was in the early days. The key is to mirror every move and to learn the art of adjustment and alignment along with accurate modification to suit your physical limits and requirements.
Yoga as a Science
Patanjali, though not much is known about him, is accredited worldwide for the first ever written codes or manuscripts on Yoga. Known as the “Yoga Sutras”, the compilation of 196 aphorisms, Patanjali has described the eight-limbs of yoga in as much detail and with as much precision as possible. Though most sutras talk about subjects and customs one needs to imbibe in their life, these aphorisms are nothing but the very foundational science any yogi, professional or in-the-making, must integrate in their lives to the best of their knowledge and capability if they wish to be any closer to achieving the ‘mind, body, spirit’ awareness and oneness everybody refers to in the yogic world.
Yoga is also regarded as an alternative medicine or way of holistic healing because of its healing qualities. Critical physical and mental conditions such as Asthma, Diabetes, Hypertension, Indigestion, Migraine, Arthritis, and many more have proven to be cured by practicing yoga asanas.
Yoga fitness is another and perhaps the most sought-after benefits of yoga. Flexibility, weight-loss, increased immunity, and a healthy heart – these are among the top motivations deriving the new age yogis to attend yoga classes, even if it’s just three days a week.
Yoga as a Discipline
Discipline can lead to deliverance. How you ask? When we talk about yoga as yoga discipline, it automatically brings with is the nature of regularity in the sense that a discipline is anything that is practiced and followed regularly and repeatedly. Just like some of us are wired to wake up early and to behave in a certain manner, yoga discipline requires us to be wired to a commitment –a commitment that requires you to keep coming back to it.
No matter if you skip one day of physical practice, if you managed to spend that day in positivity, causing no harm to others as well as yourselves, restricting yourself from any ill-behavior or habit, and under gratefulness for your life and the life around you, you are still following the discipline of yoga.
But, this is not easy.
With any regular practices, comes challenges. What can be the challenges of yoga, you ask? For starters, the basic requirement to continue this practice every day and every minute of your life and to deliberately or accidentally never deviate from the said path can be tough, really tough. After living a certain number of years in luxury and with the materialistic things around you that you once though are the necessities of life, to give up on all such attachments and bonds can be excruciatingly painful. However, one must keep in mind at all times the realistic and proven benefits in terms of personal and spiritual growth that following the path can bring.
Something as small as committing to attend a yoga class every day is giving into the practice of orderliness and bringing regulation in your life.
Any discipline must be applied subtly. One cannot be forced into adapting to a way of life. It must come naturally. It must be applied gently and logically. Attending a few yoga sessions just because somebody else we know are doing it won’t make any sense if we do not understand the implications and impact that it would have on us.
It is important to prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally before we indulge into the practice of yoga. We must be willing to accept what it brings with it with an open heart and mind. And, we must, at all circumstances, be ready for the change – the BIG transformation it will bring with it!