Yogic techniques are being practiced all over the world now. With the ever-increasing pace of life in western countries, it’s great to see people using yoga as a means to turn within and experience some valuable ‘alone time’.
Despite the growing understanding of yoga in America, some skeptics still often regard it as a belief system – perhaps one that conflicts with their own spiritual or religious practices. Some even consider it a form of Hinduism. This always surprises me, because despite my long time love of meditation and yoga, I know very little about Hinduism. As much as I support everyone’s right to hold their own beliefs, I’d hate to see people missing out on the benefits of yoga simply due to a misunderstanding of what yoga really is.
The truth is, although yoga originated in the Vedic tradition of India, its techniques and benefits are universal to people of all ages, races, and religions. Nowadays, that fact is not only verified by the experience of millions across the world, but is also backed be extensive scientific research into the health benefits of regular yoga practice. As one friend put it, “yoga is as much Indian (or Hindu) as Einstein’s theory of relativity is German.”
Yoga literally means “union”, and all yogic techniques – be it meditation, asanas, pranayama, or others – deal with unity. They promote the experience of unified awareness, and deal with that aspect of life that is universal – that aspect not bound by race, belief, or religion. To me, the perfect definition of Yoga is given in the Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali, which states that “Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind”.
The complete settling of the activity of the mind. That sutra always makes me smile… it’s so simple, yet so profound. This has become my own yardstick for effective yoga practice. During my deepest yoga sessions, all thoughts within my mind naturally, effortlessly dissolve into an unbounded ocean of silence. It’s not sleep though, it’s wakeful silence. The mind isn’t switched off, so to speak, it’s just completely settled. What’s left behind is yoga – just pure, unified awareness.
Although they might not have called it yoga, the same experience of unified awareness has been described by countless saints, philosophers and religious people, from all traditions across the globe. Is yoga a religion or belief system? Is it only for Hindus, or Indians? Not at all. If you’re after more proof, one experience of true yoga is enough to provide it.
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