The word yoga literally means "union" or "to yoke" and refers to the weaving of mind and body into a single harmonious entity. The centuries have borne witness to the rise of many mind-body philosophies, from Yoga to Pilates, Tai Chi to Qi Gong, and so on through every culture on the planet.
Though in Western Civilization the concept of a "healthy mind in a healthy body" comes to us from ancient Greece, the "mind/body" theory is actually much older, with traditional forms of yoga being practiced and recorded in India more than 3000 years ago! Archaeologists have even discovered yogic pictographs on the walls of the Egyptian pyramids. Like language and religion, it appears that the discipline of yoga had traveling potential.
It wasn't until the latter half of the past century that yoga came to be widely accepted and practiced in the Western world. Much of this can be attributed to the Beatles and the fresh thinking of the sixties. John, Paul, George and Ringo became enamoured with transcendental meditation, swamis and yoga, and of course, the fans followed. But unlike meditation and the swamis, yoga struck a healthy cord with a percentage of the population, marinating for three decades, then, today, blooming over the whole globe. Just when the world needed it most.
The beauty of yoga is that each individual comes away with a uniquely personal experience. The businessperson seeking a calming respite from the jaw-clenching paper-shuffle is surprised to find that not only do they achieve a tension-drained state of mental clarity, but find that they move on the tennis court with enhanced agility and endurance.
The athlete who began attending classes merely to improve flexibility sees their nagging pains dissipate, while their balance, awareness and muscular control heighten, culminating in that lightness of being, that elusive, near-mystical sense of serenity and "oneness" that they had heard about but perhaps never fully believed.
Yoga can be as physical or as spiritual as one wishes it to be. Practitioners all seem to agree that the carry-over into day-to-day life is nearly immediately noticeable, and that what they get out of it is far more than they ever dreamed.
Testimonial: "Even though I am experiencing menopause, my body is more youthful and my mind is calmer. Yoga has changed many aspects of my life including improved relationships and enhanced sex. I feel and look stronger than ever in my life - people think I've had plastic surgery!"
Why Practice Yoga?
Sports, along with art forms such as music, dance and painting, are the closest things to meditative training that we in the West had possessed…until fairly recently. All of these activities require us to be fully present in the now, while also retaining that sense of suppleness, flowing with the moment-to-moment changes of the endeavour. The discipline involved in these events, be it pitching a fastball, or conducting a symphony, trains the mind to tap into a wide array of concentrative and meditative states. The exhilaration or “high” that results from these activities is not merely from the physical process, but from the energized, blissful, and creative experience of a stilled and directed mind.
Seasoned-marathoners have long reported that incomparable sensation of floating above the road or track; that state of being in which it feels as though they could go on indefinitely, their minds freed of constraints and their bodies unencumbered from pain. This phenomenon is not the exclusive domain of runners. Similar statements have been made by football players, writers, chess masters, swimmers, musicians, martial artists, and of course, yogis.
Yoga stands apart from all these other disciplines in one important respect: common attainability. In the wide world of sports (and artistic endeavours) one must typically achieve quite an advanced state of performance to get to that heightened state of existence. Of course, this represents a very small percentage of society. With yoga, practitioners even at the most basic levels are known to walk out of the classes with an incomparable lightness of being, a sense of oneness and tranquility that they’d never expected.
Extensive studies reveal that yoga, with its millennia-developed postures and emphasis on the breath, is an activity that creates a dramatic change in brain serotonin levels. Serotonin regulates everything from mood to hunger to getting a restful sleep. Cutting-edge medical professionals are recommending yoga to patients as part of therapy.
As a compliment to their training, athletes on a variety of levels are utilizing yoga to take them that extra step toward the self-perfection they seek, only to find it bounds them two or three giant strides ahead. In essence, yoga is not about competition. Yet in our frenetic, competitive-driven Western society, it may teach us that only through improving our true and deepest selves may we have a chance at finding fulfillment amongst the material and physical goals which have been granted so much importance. An Olympic gold-medalist was once asked why he was not happy after winning and becoming the best in the world. “Where do I go from here?” he lamented.
Ask Ashtanga Guru Pattabhi Jois about where we’re headed with yoga and he responds with: “Do your practice, all is coming."