Fifty years ago, Yoga was the province of a few isolated practitioners, who would hold local classes attended by a few dedicated enthusiasts interested in higher consciousness.
Nowadays Yoga is decidedly mainstream, offered as an option in all gyms and health clubs, and practised by housewives and businessmen who may have no particular interest in anything beyond improving health.
So what are the reasons for Yoga’s popularity? For one thing, the type of balanced physical movement that Yoga provides is more in tune with today’s sports science. There is a greater awareness of the need for gentler exercise that does not strain the body, and the importance of diet and generally healthy lifestyle rather than just ‘working out’ to develop muscles or lose weight.
Secondly the philosophy of Yoga, which aims not only at integration of mind and body but also alignment of the individual with the whole cosmos, appeals now to many people as a more suitable approach to the problems of the world. There is a far wider understanding that we are all interconnected, and everyone is aware of the importance of behaving in accord with the requirements of the environment, if only to safeguard the life of the planet and the human race. Old-style individualism is increasingly seen as selfish and potentially destructive: in its place, global citizenship is the order of the day.
Nowhere is this more relevant than in Africa, where the concept of Ubuntu emphasises that an individual is significant only in relation to others.
Of course, Yoga properly understood is more than just physical exercise. Yoga means union: the integration of individual intelligence with cosmic intelligence. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedic text of enlightenment and liberation, Yoga is described variously as ‘balance of mind’, ‘steady intellect’, etc. His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, points out in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita that the description of Yoga given there is precisely the same as the process of meditation, which brings the individual mind directly to the source of the thinking process where the mind is restfully alert, completely at home in cosmic intelligence.
A state of restful alertness is also the goal of the physical postures of Yoga, but because this state can seem hard to attain through physical means, many Yoga practitioners have stopped concerning themselves with it, and prefer just to treat the postures as a series of physical exercises. For the mind, however, the state of restful alertness, is easy to achieve. This is because Transcendental Meditation doesn’t seek to control the mind but uses instead the mind’s own nature to move towards greater charm and happiness. Many doctors recommend TM for its health benefits, whether as general reduction of stress, or to relieve specific conditions such as anxiety, depression, or high blood pressure.
This article was written by a friend at the Transcendental Meditation center in South Africa.