Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind ~ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
What is Yoga?
When most people think about moving their body, they inevitably think about working out, or exercising. That is also how most people think about Yoga in the West, they associate it with fitness, becoming more flexible, stronger. There are no shortages of videos promoting the benefits of Yoga as a workout, as a way to destress and maybe find some relaxation at the end of the class lying down for a few minutes on the mat. This approach to yoga while a good start, is one-dimensional and is only the tip of the iceberg.
The roots of the traditional practice of yoga, which is thousands of years old, is much deeper than that. So what exactly is yoga? To look for that answer, we can turn to the scriptures of yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which at the very beginning gives this definition: Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind.
Now what does that mean exactly? In the practice of Yoga, which is a vast discipline and tool, the ultimate goal is to achieve enlightenment, which can only be achieved when the mind is calm and still, so that we can regain our original state of absolute bliss and joy. As lofty as this may sound, yoga also provides a concrete way to achieve this state.
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In the west what most people think of yoga is one aspect of the practice, which are the asanas or yoga poses. Practicing asana can be life changing. In fact, as many people experience, by doing asana, an unbalanced condition of the body can be improved and illnesses may even be healed. But there is a deeper mechanism at work behind this. Asanas are a way to allow the flow of prana or life force to move through our bodies so that blockages can be removed and we can be healthy and strong.
Asanas work with our chakra system or energy body. Chakras are like pressure points within the body, and each respective chakra corresponds to one of the centers of various physiological functions, such as respiratory, digestive, and eliminatory functions. By positioning the body into various asanas, prana gets concentrated in the chakras. By prana concentrating itself on a chakra, the functioning of the chakra is revitalized, and our own inherent self-healing ability is heightened, thus restoring our health.
This is the reason why the first effect that people experience from practicing asana is the body becoming healthier and stronger. However, one thing that people understand less of, is that during asana practice, the breath is coordinated with the movement, and this conscious link to the breath is at the heart of yoga since gradually, over time, practicing asana changes the breath, making it deeper, longer and calmer and when the breath changes in this way, the effect is of the mind to be led into a calm state. So we come full circle to the purpose of yoga being to still the fluctuations of the mind.