Today Yoga has become synonymous with Asana practice. Asana has become the most prominent aspect of Yoga. Asana is one of the ways to approach yoga, which is a way of life to develop deeper awareness about ourselves. The scope of Yoga portrayed in classical texts like Yogsutra and Bhagavadgita is far more comprehensive and gives us a clear picture of what yoga stands for. In this article we will try to understand the profundity of Yoga with the help of some ancient definitions of yoga.
Before we delve into the definitions of Yoga in classical texts, let us explore a powerful explanation of Yoga by Swami Vivekananda. He says “Yoga is a means of compressing one’s evolution into a single life or a few months or even a few hours of one’s bodily existence”. We all are moving towards freedom form bondage. These are the bondage of mind, body, intellect, emotions etc. But it may take hundreds of years for this natural growth towards freedom. Yoga which is a conscious and systematic process of living can compress the process of man’s evolution greatly by accelerating his development. That is the nature of Yoga.
Let us see some of the classical definitions of yoga.
In Yogsutra, Patanjali defines Yoga as – Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodah; ‘Yoga is the process of gaining control over mental-modifications’. By so gaining control over mind and its modifications we reach our original state or Self. This technique of ‘mind control’ involves two aspects – a power to concentrate on any object and a capacity to remain quiet any time. Yoga mainly emphasizes, the second aspect to remain calm and silent. Silencing of mind means less number of mental-modifications or thoughts. Less number of thoughts means greater mastery over mind.
In Yoga-Vasishtha, one of the ancient texts on Yoga, the essence of Yoga is beautifully portrayed as – Manah Prashamanopayah Yoga Ityabhidhiyate; ‘Yoga is called a skillful trick to calm down the mind’. It is an ‘Upayah‘, a skillful subtle process and not a brutal, mechanical, gross effort to stop the thoughts in the mind. We know through observation that there is deep connection between the breath and movement of mind. We start by working on our breath, make it slow, deep and rhythmic. As we begin to understand our breath we begin to understand the mind. As the breath is getting slow and long, the mind is getting calm and clear. In this way we approach mind skillfully, since it is the mind which is the source of our bondage as well as liberation.
In Bhagavad Gita, Yoga is a special skill which makes the mind reach subtler state. Here Yoga is defined as – Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam; ‘Yoga is skill in action’. This skill or dexterity is in maintaining relaxation and awareness in action. Relaxed action is the process. We can perform action in relaxation only with evenness of mind. Evenness or equanimity comes with renouncing the attachments and remaining tranquil in the dualities of success or failure, pain or pleasure while engaged in action. With equanimity comes the ability to let-go virtue and vices alike, which in turn further strengthen the evenness of mind and thereby greater skill in action.
With the help of the above three definitions of yoga we can fairly understand that yoga goes beyond the physical practice and encompass all aspects of our existence.