I read in the papers recently that around 50,000 people had gathered in Bokaro to attend a 5-day yoga session conducted by Swami Ramdev. Such a mammoth gathering in an industrial place like Bokaro is indeed remarkable. This is like a dream come true for politicians who send trucks in rural areas to lure people to come and attend their rally. Kudos to Swami ji for creating such a revolution in yoga and its health benefits. Whatever his detractors may say about his claims of curing physical and physiological diseases, the fact remains that without tangible benefits nobody can command such a huge following. Yoga is an age-old discipline in India. We have been hearing about it for long but sadly it was limited to the elite or educated class. Swami Ramdev has brought yoga to the doorstep of all and sundry. It cuts across all sections of society and businessmen; executives down to the roadside vendors are talking about it with ease and confidence.
The yoga revolution prodded me to go in its history, which I want to share with you. Yoga as is commonly understood refers only to Hatha Yoga i.e. physical exercise, which is just one component of this system. It’s real meaning and goal runs much deeper. Yoga is one of the six classical systems of Hindu philosophy and it affirms the doctrine that through the practice of certain disciplines one may achieve liberation from limitations of flesh, delusions of sense and pitfalls of thought and thus attain union with the object of knowledge. For yogis the object of knowledge is the universal spirit of Brahma. Thus it is the means to spiritual attainment. There are eight stages of yoga. The first stage is about self-control, which emphasizes truthfulness, abstinence, avoidance of theft etc. and is called “yama”. The second stage or “niyama” means religious observance, which embraces austerity, contentment and chanting Vedic hymns. Asana or posture forms the third stage, which is followed by breath regulation or” pranayama”, the fourth stage.
It is the third and fourth stage, which is elaborated upon and taught by yogis to the common people. “ Pratyahara” is the fifth stage of yoga in which the mind is turned to itself. After achieving this stage, the yogi enters the sixth stage in which he tries to steady his mind making it insensitive to the external stimuli. From “Dharana” he progresses to “dhyana” or meditation, which is the seventh stage of yoga. At this stage a yogi is in complete control of his thoughts. After achieving this feat the yogi goes on to the next and last stage, which you all know, is “Samadhi”. Samadhi means profound contemplation in which thought has reached the goal by its own negation. It is believed that one life is not enough to attain the inner illumination and learn the art of separating spirit from matter. This last stage, “kaivalya” helps the yogi become insensitive to cold, heat, pain and pleasure. They are able to comprehend both microcosms (the concept in which the human bodies represents the entire universe) and macrocosm (the existence of human body and universe as separate entities) in the same thought.
This shows how profound the concept of yoga is. It has been prevalent in our country since ages but had lost its importance. It is now, that, it is slowly gaining popularity owning to the laudable efforts of some enlightened souls namely Swami Satyanand Saraswati, Swami Niranjananand Saraswati and Swami Ramdev to name a few.
The total concept of yoga as we know it today has been given by “Patanjali” who was a scholar in the second century BC. He wrote the book “yoga sutra” which was based on the details given in “Maitri Upanishad”. He derived his doctrine from “Samkhya” the oldest of classical systems of Hindu philosophy. To explain evolution Patanjali grafted the concept of God and made it an integral part of yoga whereas Samkhya had an atheistic outlook in this sense he departed from the original doctrine of yoga, which did not base its concept on God. The total concept of Yoga has been very popular among Hindus for two reasons. Firstly, it becomes fascinating because of wonders associated with its practice and secondly, because it gives countenance to performance of austerities which is an integral part of Hindu religion. As Hinduism is pantheistic, it believes in two ways of liberation from world: Vedanta and Yoga. This belief is a crucial reason for the existence of this ancient system. Apart from Hinduism, Yoga has a strong influence on Buddhism, which also emphasizes austerity, spiritual exercises and trance states. Realizing the importance of this system Govt. of India is gradually introducing yoga in the educational curriculum.
I feel that we should make yoga practice an integral part of our lives so that we are able to rise above materialism to achieve mental peace and contentment.