Every day in cities across north america, europe and australia, millions of people roll out their yoga mats in studios, community centers, gyms, and even at corporate-sponsored classes at work. in the U.S. alone, nearly 40% of health and fitness clubs now offer classes to meet the flourishing demand. although yoga is commonly portrayed as the newest fitness trend, it’s actually the core of the vedic science that developed in the indus valley more than 5,000 years ago.
When scholars state that yoga is an ancient practice, they’re not referring to the bends, twists, inversions, and other
postures that most Westerners think of as the realm of yoga. in fact, yoga began as a philosophy rather than as a physical discipline. The term yoga is first mentioned in the sacred indian text, the Rig Veda, which dates to approximately 500 B.C. The Rig Veda defines yoga as a union or “yoking” of the material and spiritual worlds, and it doesn’t describe any physical postures other than the traditional cross-legged meditation pose.
Another 300 years passed before the legendary sage patanjali composed The Yoga Sutras, where he systematically described the eight branches or “limbs” of yoga. The third branch, Asana, means “seat” or “position.” When people hear the word yoga, they usually think of this branch, which refers to the postures that help us achieve flexibility, strength and balance. at a deeper level, asanas provide a path for experiencing full mind-body integration and awareness of the flow of life energy in our body.
Even if yoga only enhanced physical fitness, the time spent in practice would be fully justified. however, yoga offers much more than just a way to exercise the body: Yoga helps us cultivate an inner state of body-centered consciousness that allows us to walk calmly amongst the chaos. Yoga teaches us both to let go and to have exquisite awareness in every moment.
According to The Yoga Sutras, “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence. When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.” The essence of yoga is the union or integration of all the layers of life – physical, emotional and spiritual. it is a practice for going beyond the ego’s habitual identification with the mind and body and directly experiencing our true spiritual self. rooted in this connection to spirit, we are able to solve the challenges that arise in life.
“Yoga helps us cultivate an inner state of bodycentered consciousness that allows us to walk calmly amongst the chaos.”
The indian classic, the Bhagavad Gita, offers a beautiful depiction of yoga’s ultimate purpose. as the story unfolds, the warrior arjuna stands above a battlefield on the eve of an epic war between two clans of the same family. he feels paralyzed by his inner conflict and confused about what to do. on the one hand, he believes that it is his duty to fight his relatives who have created havoc in the world. on the other hand, he feels tremendous compassion for the uncles and cousins he grew up with and who have played an important role in his life.
As arjuna wrestles with his moral dilemma, he turns for advice to his charioteer, who is actually Lord krishna
in disguise. What follows are seven hundred verses that describe the essence of yoga — awakening to our true Self, which is infinite, unbounded consciousness. krishna tells arjuna to go beyond the duality of good and evil, “When your mind has overcome the confusion of duality, you will attain the state of holy indifference to things you hear and things you have heard. When you are unmoved by the confusion of ideas and your mind is completely united in deep samadhi, you will attain the state of perfect yoga.”
Arjuna’s story is a metaphor for the classic conflict between heart and mind, between internal warring forces. Lord krishna teaches arjuna that good and evil, pleasure and pain, loss and gain are two aspects of the same force – an eternal, undivided, limitless consciousness. Ultimately, the purpose of a yoga practice is to become established in this state of pure awareness, beyond the drama of space, time and duality.
It must be emphasized that the awakened person still retains a conception of good. it is the force of evolution that lies behind birth, growth, love, truth and beauty. The awakened person also retains a conception of evil, which is the force that opposes evolution – the entropy leading to disintegration, dissolution, inertia and “sin” (defined as anything that thwarts our evolution). in a state of deepened awareness, however, you realize that both forces are aspects of the same universal field of consciousness. The illusion of duality falls away and you know that you are not separate or isolated but are part of the infinite field of all possibilities.
“Yoga is a timeless system for connecting with our true nature, the boundless peaceful awareness at the core of our being.”
Yoga is a timeless system for connecting with our true nature, the boundless peaceful awareness at the core of our being. The physical postures help release the obstructions to the free flow of intelligence into the body, and also serve to establish the experience of pure consciousness in our physiology.
over time, yoga becomes something we live, not just something we “practice.” The inevitable pressures of life have less of an impact on us as we respond in a more conscious manner. as we become balanced and harmonious, our interactions with people and situations become more deliberate, calm and relaxed. We bring union and harmony to every encounter, whether it’s a random meeting on the street, a talk with our child, or a family reunion.
When our inner world begins to change, our outer world shifts to reflect our new perspective. it starts by focusing on the breath, noticing when your attention has drifted away, and returning once again to the inflow and outflow of the breath, to awareness of the present moment.
here are a few suggestions for cultivating mindful, yogic awareness in your life:
Establish a regular yoga practice. keep in mind that it is more powerful to practice yoga each day for ten to twenty minutes than to do much longer sessions only once or twice a week. Create a sacred space for your yoga practice: unplug the phone, turn off the television, light a candle or some incense, and connect to your deepest spiritual self.
As you move through each pose, focus on the inhalation and exhalation of each breath, cultivating stillness in your body and mind. after performing your postures, sit in silent meditation or Shavasana (resting pose) for approximately 20 minutes.
Meditation and yoga are two complementary practices with the same purpose: to experience the union of body, mind and spirit and access the peace of pure awareness. Meditation helps you enter the field of pure awareness, where everything is inseparably connected. We also recommend this powerful meditation technique that you can try now.
So Hum meditation:
Choose a place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit in a chair or on the floor, using blankets and pillows to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
Close your eyes and for a few minutes observe the inflow and outflow of your breath.
Now take a slow, deep breath through your nose, while thinking or silently repeating the word So.
Then slowly exhale through your nose while silently repeating the word Hum. Continue to allow your breath to flow easily, silently repeating So. . . Hum. . . with each inflow and outflow of the breath. Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in the environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating So. . . Hum.
Do this process for 20 to 30 minutes. Just breathe easily and effortlessly, without trying to concentrate. When the time is up, sit with your eyes closed for a few minutes before going about your usual activities.
At the beginning of the day, tell yourself, Today I shall judge nothing that occurs. Throughout the day, remind yourself of this statement whenever you catch yourself judging. Judgment comes from the ego’s need to control and is based on fear. Your true Self, which is your soul or spirit, is completely free of these things because it recognizes that everyone is the same spirit in different disguises.
Honor the divine within
As you meet people in your daily life, whether they are old friends or new acquaintances, gaze into their eyes and silently wish them Namasté, a Sanskrit word that means “I honor the divinity within.”
On the road
Keep your tongue at fire point (the spot on the roof of your mouth just between your two upper front teeth) to keep your jaw relaxed. Before you start the car, give your body a good stretch to each side and set your intention for a peaceful, safe journey. as you drive, relax your grip on the steering wheel. Be aware of situations that cause you to become frustrated, and return your awareness to your breathing.
Cultivate witness consciousness
Throughout the day, practice shifting into a witnessing mode of awareness. Turn your attention to the silent witness within – your soul – and take time to commune with the intelligence in all living things. Listen to the crash of the ocean waves, see the smile of a loved one or watch a beautiful sunrise. established in the peace of your inner silence, you will experience joy and reverence for nature and life in all its manifestations.
Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a modern-day health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization. chopra.com
David Simon, MD, was an author, physician, and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, California. Since his association with Deepak Chopra in the 1980’s, Dr. Simon became one of the foremost authorities in effective and appropriate fusion of western and eastern healthcare practices. He was dedicated to evolving the prevailing health care system to a “healing system.”