The buzz about yoga is everywhere. No matter where you go, at one point in your journey you will find a reference, an image, a reminder.
But why has this practice suddenly become so widespread in our everyday life? Not long ago, the word ‘yoga’ used to be a synonym of mystery, the key of which would only be understood by few esoteric groups, a small handful of academics or a few hippies seeking a deeper truth.
Today, it is not surprising to see the image of a yogi meditating in a pack of cereals, asking you to relax in the tube or even lending its name to the new model of a laptop. Doctors recommend it, babies get to have a go, young people love it, professionals look for it, adults of all ages, genders and abilities do it, whether on a chair, a mat or on the sand; at a studio, gym, church or a community centre. I have even heard of a group who practice it in the storeroom of their office, just making some room for their mats, as a weekly routine!
We might not know for sure where exactly it comes from, but nobody questions our right to make it our own and consider it to be the thing to do whether you want to achieve a good relaxation, or be more flexible, overcome aches and pains, understand yourself better, or attain a connection with the universe or even just to be considered cool by your peers in your circles, now that celebrities do it and even Julia Roberts claims that she only wants to improve her butt!
The west has made yoga an element of its culture.
We have added it to our way of life, alongside with world music, foreign words, new food… there is no wonder that our twenty-first century culture is classed as an ‘eclectic culture’. We live in a era of instant news and communications; if we are connected to internet and know which key to press, in a matter of nano-seconds we are able to find out what is happening at the other end of the world.
With technology at our fingertips, as we find out how people in different corners of the world live, think, eat, cry, dream and love, we are learning, observing, adapting and adding these ways into our own lifestyle. We are making ‘the world’ into ‘our world’. What used to be seen with fear and suspicion is now seen as ‘a discovery’ a ‘lesson to learn’ or at least ‘food for thought’. Of course it is not always so. There is a yin and a yang even in internet too and there are still some backward-looking enclaves where ‘newness’ (even though this may represent cultures thousands of years old) equals to ‘foreign-ness’ and a source for apprehension; what is not understood becomes a threat and a cause for a ‘crusade’; but as information expands, so our minds open and so purists’ arguments become only distorted facts full of sophisms and post-truths. Our challenge is to be able to discern and separate the grain from the shaft.
That we adapt and adopt different aspects of a culture is not a new trend, it is the history of humankind, it is our quest for progress and learning. Each one of us is unknowingly the melting pot of a myriad of traditions, languages, ethnic groups, beliefs… if we want to know who we are, we could discover only the tip of the iceberg in the results of a DNA test, in the analysis of our language or in the study of our history, but the amalgamation is much deeper, unsuspectedly deeper. If we dig, we can only find that we are one.
We are one, but we live different realities according to our different environments; so as a society, we constantly testing, validating, adapting, keeping or discarding our systems and beliefs, old and new, and only those additions that are meaningful and useful for the time and space where we live are the ones that survive the test of time.
Yet, yoga has survived thousands of years. Some date it as far back as 15.000 years, when Adiyogi (Shiva) spread the knowledge in the Himalayas, teaching us that we can evolve beyond our present level of existence, thus elevation our level of consciousness and spirituality.
Among the oldest surviving records we find sculptures depicting asanas, dating over 5,000 years ago from Mohenjo Daro and Harappa (Indus Valley region, present day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran).
From the Olmec culture in Mexico, The Wrestler, an ancient basalt statuette dated as early as 1200 BCE, depicts a seated male figure with the right leg bent in front of the body and the left folded backward, almost underneath the body, his arms are asymmetrically bent chest-high, l. Although it has not been academically researched, I firmly believe that this is the figure of a yogi in Ardha Matsyendrasana, commonly known as the Spine Twisting Asana.
With such a record… aren’t we perhaps missing something when we ask why is yoga becoming so popular? Just as Sadhguru says: “Yoga is the only system that has lived for over 15,000 years without any papacy or enforcement. Nowhere in the history of humanity has it happened that somebody put a sword to someone’s neck and said, -You must do yoga.”
The reasons why yoga has survived though millennia, and is blooming everywhere, come in a tremendous amount and variety, and yes, it offers short, medium and long term benefits, at body mind and spiritual levels. But the difference is that it works at these and other, more subtle, levels at the same time, bringing a source of wellbeing like nothing else.
We are spending longer time sitting in front of a computer, cyber-communicating with dozens, hundreds of people but having real contact with only a few. We are being bombarded with information at all flanks, and not all is validated as true. The way we look has become an obsession and the pressure to excel at models imposed by our materialistic society produce levels of stress like never before.
With such panorama, it is not surprising that we look to compensate the many hours of physical inactivity and we jog and run, spend hours in the gym for a perfect figure, or look for places to scape and shake it all off. Our body cries for it! At an emotional level we create meet-up groups in search of meaningful contact together, or even reach for the substance that will take us into another reality.
The difference is that Yoga taps into that relationship between body, emotions, thoughts, energy and awareness of our inner spirit.
As we live different experiences, some emotions remain in different parts of our body, blocking our energy. We should listen to ourselves more carefully when we say ‘I feel butterflies in my stomach’ or ‘my knees were shaking like leaves’, or ‘having a mouth like cotton’ because in reality, the popular sayings contain wonderful wisdom and they might tell us where the issues lie. At some point, our intuition tells us that emotions are linked to our body, but we are not fully aware how we somatise them in aches or illnesses.
When you do yoga, as you move your body into a yogic position, or asana you do it with an awareness that may wake up those emotions lying at different points in our bodies and consciousness; you also drive your attention to your breath, helping you with the unblocking process. Your eyes focus at the centre of your forehead and the optic nerve sends electrical impulses stimulating the pituitary gland and balancing your glandular system. Yoga teaches you to breathe correctly and oxygenate your body fully, giving you a quick and cheap detox treatment whilst filling you with wonderful Prana, the universal principle of energy that flows in currents in and around your body and permeates the cosmos on all levels.
However, body positions (asanas) and breathing (pranayama) are but just a couple of principles within the eight limbs of yoga that Patanjali compiled in his Sutras around two centuries before our era. Yoga is a way relating to yourself and others (including animals) without violence and with acute awareness and respect. It is a way breathing, moving, concentrating, eating, speaking, acting, and ultimately connecting to the universal spirit.
With yoga, you can go as far as you want. You are not competing or comparing yourself with anybody. You don’t judge yourself nor others, You learn to accept. And no matter what style of yoga your good karma has brought you to practice, be it Hatha, Iyengar, Kundalini, Bikram, Raja Yoga or Jivamukti, or many more, the width of focus and scope of your practice will depend of you and the moment that you are living. You will not run behind others, you will not lead. You will only know your pace and learn to go along with the others.
If you want to get rid of your stress, you’ll get it.
If you want to stretch and be flexible, you’ll get it.
If you want to learn how to breath and achieve wellness, you’ll get it.
If you want to connect with your spiritual voice (although we are all spiritual beings living a physical experience), you will get it.
if you want to recover your joy of living, you’ll get it.
If you want to be blissful, you’ll get it.
If you want to a liberation from your daily anxieties, you’ll get it
If you want a still mind immutable from desire or pain, you will get it.
But not even all this provides us with the full picture!
The ancient discipline of yoga goes beyond fitness and physical health or psychological balance and happiness. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit “yuj” which means, “to unite.” Hence, yoga is the union of the individual with the universal truth, that is, bringing the nature of the cosmos and making it dwell within ourselves into what is known as “self realisation,” “nirvana,” “mukti,” or “enlightenment”.
No wonder Yoga has outlived the test of time!