In the spirit of Yoga
The other day a dear friend came to dinner and at one point she talked about a lecture she had heard at work by a Yoga teacher. Obviously, the topic was Yoga. However, in this case the lecturer apparently did not really focus too much about what Yoga is or is not. Rather, he mentioned all the advantages Yoga has in various aspects of life, underlying these known facts with studies conducted around the world.
Then, he proceeded to show pictures of a person going into certain physical positions such as the headstand. The aim was clear and the effect followed in its wake. The audience – mainly managers, consultants, etc. – was duly impressed. Hm.
Does the end justify the means? – A word of caution
The question that followed between my friend and me was the following: is it right to give biased information in order to attract people to the field of Yoga (or any other such area)? In other words: does the end justify the means?
Whilst it is – generally speaking – beneficial to do some physical exercise, a word or two of caution may be due when it comes to Yoga as often taught in the West. Whilst most people probably know that Yoga is not merely to be reduced to the physical level it may not be so known that Yoga – ultimately – has the union/communion with the pure essence, absolute reality or God as its ultimate goal.
This being the case, it then is probably apprehensible that Yoga does not merely evolve around the physical field but covers the whole gamut of levels that encompass a living being. That is, it covers the physical and energy level as much as the mind, higher intellect and finally the state of pure bliss as last sheath separating the human being from the absolute.
Focus of Yoga
Whilst it is certainly true, that Yoga as taught in the West has shown beneficial effects in physical and mental well-being we should, nevertheless, be careful not to confuse the effect with the goal. This means that Yoga should be conducted with the aim of purifying one’s heart and mind. As a side-effect we automatically increase our physical well-being, mental well-being and inner joy, calm and peace.
When we begin to realise these connections it then becomes clear that Yoga is neither competitive nor purely physical. Our society has become highly technical and rational; it has become highly competitive and ego-centric – all of which, left unchecked, causing imbalance in the human being. Thus we observe an increasing need for more well-being in all areas of the human being.
Yoga – a quick relief to the ailments of the stressed-out managers?
It is therefore understandable that many who have experienced the direct benefits of yoga are tempted to approach the business world on their level and give them the answers for a quick relief of the typical business/manager-related issues. Hence, studies are conducted to prove the viability of systems such as Yoga. The focus is on physical and on mental strength. However, little focus is on the Ego or the effects of competitive behaviour both on the individual as well as on society as a whole.
What does Patañjali say in the Yoga Sutras?
In the Yoga Sutras by Patañjali, he describes as one of three paths to ‘true liberation’ eight rungs or –what has become known as ashtanga Yoga in the west. However, it is interesting to note that the physical aspect of this Yoga path starts only with the third rung.
Whilst there may be different views on whether it is necessary to go step by step or whether it is right to cover various steps at the same time it is nevertheless important not to neglect or ignore the first two rungs – Yama and Niyama.
In fact, for many ego-driven managers it may be a lot more beneficial and soothing to their health system to reflect, contemplate and practice at least some aspects of the first two rungs before tackling or parallel to the physical postures (asana).
Very briefly, the Yamas cover the following aspects:
- ahimsa: not harming other beings, not harming oneself and not let oneself be harmed.
- satya: veracity, be truthful and abstain from lying.
- asteya: not stealing.
- brahmacarya: continence, that is not to indulge too much.
- aparigraha: not coveting, that is one should not cultivate the tendency to want more and more.
Nyama includes the following:
- sauca: purity, in the west it mainly concerns the aspect of purifying one’s mind from non-conducive or negative thoughts.
- samtosa: contentment, that is practice contentment with what you have. That has a very soothing effect on well-being.
- tapa: austerity, that is learn to control the mind, sense organs, body.
- svaadhyaaya: self-study, that is study yourself, learn to differentiate between Ego and Self, and study the scriptures or any highly uplifting text.
- isvarapranidhana: profound dedication (of all actions) to Ishvara (God or absolute reality)
It is highly beneficial if one picks only one of the Yama/Niyama and practices that with awareness. If you doubt what the beneficial effects of Yama/Niyama are then take a look for instance at Mahatma Gandhi. What did he achieve by (only) practicing ahimsa!
Even a little practice will be beneficial and will be conducive to reducing competitive behaviour and ego – both serious causes for much stress and ill-feeling.
Okay, Yama and Niyama don’t sound so exciting and certainly don’t look as exciting as some of the physical postures that some people are able to produce. But hey, it’s highly beneficial, it’s effective, it’s for free, you don’t have to be fanatical about it and nobody needs to know that you are practicing it. Just do it. OM!