"Why do you stay in jail when the door is wide open?" Rumi
When we hear the word Yoga we get different images of possible physical postures (some really extreme), breathing exercises, relaxation and meditation, mental calm, gurus sitting for hours in lotus posture, Sanskrit mantras and other things. It is likely that these images have been archived in our memory, generating a very confused picture.
Is Yoga a relaxing technique, a spiritual path or an extreme sport? Is it a method for concentration and to learn to focus the mind or, not much less, is simply respiratory techniques that increase our levels of energy? In order to practice it, do we have to make a vow of renunciation and sacrifice, or is it enough to be a bit disciplined? Is Yoga a philosophical system and a way of life or is it simply a famous activity or a hobby? Does it have to do with the intonation of strange mantras in sanskrit or is it the worship of a God or some divine entity?
It seems like Yoga is all that is mentioned above ... And certainly, it is.
I once heard someone saying, "Yoga is like the sea. You can take only one glass of it, you can take a grater amount of water in a bigger container, or you can take your clothes off and immerse yourself, swim in and go to the depths. "
And the truth is that the word Yoga encompasses all dimensions of the human being: physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual. And its effects reach each of these instances infallibly, which makes it one of the most complete and comprehensive methods of existential development and inner growth. It is not a coincidence that its popularity has been increasing worldwide in the last century. Just in the United States, it is estimated that there are 36.7 million practitioners, generating more income and profits than large multinationals like Coca Cola or Gillette. Yoga is something serious and should not be underestimated.
The broad technique of Yoga, as many know, comes from India and its origins go back to the 17th century BC, which makes it be more than 3500 years old, older than Christianity itself. I don't want to enter this article in its extensive history, that is content for another post. Classifying its very long history has been and will remain a challenge for researchers and experts on the subject because it is not something simple. But I would like us to consider for a moment how much Yoga has been able to grow, modify and transform itself along its own path over 35 centuries to the present day, giving birth to different branches, schools, sacred texts, ethical precepts and influential masters and teachers. This undoubtedly makes it a changing entity with multiple nuances, all valid and legitimate.
It can be experienced in a purely physical way, focusing simply on its physiological benefits, stretching or toning the musculature, organs and physical body. Another alternative is to use it to tame our mental environment, concentration, training the mind and retraction of the senses. On the other hand there are those who decide, through pranayama or breathing exercises, to purify the subtle or energetic body. And others, going deeper, experience it in a more spiritual and sacred way, seeking to connect with the higher part of the self, with the whole existence with the love in itself or manifesting an intense devotion towards the creator. And also, of course, we can have a taste of all its flavors at the same time, growing as a tree with many branches. For all this, the modality that is chosen must be in function of the expectations and needs of the practitioner.
In our Western culture, as expected, the Hatha Yoga (Ha: sun, Tha: moon), a branch that is not considered fundamentalist and which, indeed, was born many centuries later, is the most well known and diffused one, for its practical and "physical" nature. Our physical body, being our most obvious and palpable part, becomes the perfect gateway to enter the field of consciousness. It is entirely logical beginning there because if the body is weak or sick, the research for higher realities and superior experiences is drastically difficult. Who can sit to meditate when the head hurts or is suffering from chronic pain? Strengthening, healing and taking care of the physical body through Yoga is a way of putting things in order before deepening and trying to go somewhere else. But let us always remember that Yoga, purely talking, is not just an Asana (physical posture), and doesn't have to finish there. When Yoga is practiced only for physical purposes and from a purely bodily perspective, in my opinion, it bemes sterile, it is wasted.
It is a pity that, being able to travel the complete path 1)to increase our level of consciousness 2)to help the connection with the highest part of ourselves and with our divinity 3)to create self-knowledge 4) to live with love or, ultimately 5)to get to a state of "self-realization" or "Samadhi", we are only at the first stage, in the western world. Experiencing Yoga in all its dimensions, especially in the spiritual dimension, is, in my opinion, to experience its sweetest and most rewarding part. It is clear that working on the physical body automatically affects other parts of us and benefits them, but one must have the previous intention, the aspiration to get further on our way as yogis. Otherwise there is a risk: when the perfect execution of an Asana or posture and the increase of our flexibility becomes the aim, the only goal and an excuse that only strengthens our egos, but not our hearts.
If the word Yoga resonates, do not hesitate to try it. Its benefits are many. You will not regret :)