He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.
The fast-paced style of our everyday lives provides little or no opportunity to maintain physical and mental health and inner peace. More and more people now question whether the speed and fast-living that we are so accustomed to can lead us in the right direction, or whether our attitude towards the environment—considering it an object to be used and abused and discarded thoughtlessly—is conducive to creating a better world? These are the considerations of a rational person. And since [in Hungary] more and more people feel the need for change, hundreds and thousands turn toward an ancient tradition from the mystical Orient, yoga, which provides a holistic path of self-realization and consciously enhances inner harmony.
The several-thousand-year-old tradition of yoga originates in ancient India; its various systems are contemporaneous with the timeless wisdom of the Vedas and the secret teachings of the Upaniṣads. Although the yoga process and its culture are complex, yoga itself comprises a set of easy-to-do physical exercises (āsanas) as well as relaxation and meditation techniques which restore and preserve our biological and mental equilibrium. Yoga, therefore, can be one of the keys in renewing our physical and mental performance and maintaining our inner harmony.
But yoga is not only the ancient science of physiology to maintain bodily health, but also the most intricate science of mind and spirit. It teaches us to be observant and to analyze ourselves and the world around us and understand how everything is connected. In reality, yoga is a way of living, the oldest method of self-improvement which opens up new perspectives for health, harmony, peacefulness, a stress-free [life], and the higher perspectives of self-realization.
The beneficial effects of yoga manifest themselves first on the level of the physical body, in the preservation of health and vitality. The practice of yoga and the relaxation and meditation techniques that go with it are beneficial for human health at every level. Physically it increases the resilience and strength of the bone and muscle structure, improves flexibility of our body, and permanently stimulates blood circulation. It has positive effects on the metabolism and enhances pulmonary capacity, and it also helps balance our weight and reduce blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Certain āsanas can help optimize the functioning of the endocrine glands (the pituitary, the conoid, the thymus and thyroid glands, the parathyroid, the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas, the genital glands and the adrenal gland). They are also beneficial in cases of stress, concentration disorders, and neurosis. Through special āsanas, yoga may help improve even defective vision (myopia and hypermetropia, the weakness of ocular muscles, etc.). But first and foremost, it has an unsurpassable role in actually preventing disease.
But the aforementioned effects of yoga practice are mere side products of the process; they are but gifts we receive on a path leading to a higher goal. These days, most modern schools of yoga only emphasize these side-effects, neglecting the higher and more subtle mental, emotional, and spiritual results of yoga. More dedicated practitioners go deeper into the process, and by setting this as their higher goal they reach a perfection of life that mere physical exercise cannot bestow.
The Bhagavad-gītā, one of the most important ancient Indian scriptures on yoga, says that “he who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system” (6.17). Eliminating material pain by practicing yoga is a positive ambition which results inspiritual happiness. This is what is lacking most in our modern world.
On the second level of the beneficial effects of yoga we may achieve purification and peacefulness of our thoughts, desires, and the functioning of our mind. Our agitation, stressfulness and anxiety caused by a stimulus-rich environment will also dissolve. All these effects are necessary for people wanting to solve their problems and find the answers to life’s great and mystical questions.
The third level of yoga gives the most sublime result, and that is the reason why this system has been practiced by yogis (practitioners of yoga) for thousands of years. This is in fact the real goal of yoga: realizing our true transcendental self (our soul) and understanding our relationship to nature and God. No matter who begins the process of practicing yoga or why, he or she will certainly gain a most valuable treasure.
We may ask the question, “How is it possible for today’s men and women, constantly in a hurry, completely immersed in their tasks and duties, to integrate this science of health, spirituality, and inner peace into their lives?” The answer is very simple: by proper planning and awareness, we will find time for ourselves and our higher goals. The results of our endeavor will speak for themselves. Even 20 or 30 minutes of yoga per day can do miracles if we regularly practice the exercises prescribed by our teacher. After just a short time we will notice several positive changes in ourselves. We will see that our body becomes more energetic and resilient, and our mental performance will exponentially increase. The limits of our mind will be pushed further, and by expanding our consciousness and perception we will experience new aspects of the world around us that we have never noticed before.
We have to note, however, that nowadays people like to present yoga as a system independent of any religion, since religiosity is not exactly in vogue today. And, if truth be told, by neglecting this aspect, yoga is more easily “marketable” and “consumable” to modern man. But we have to keep in mind that yoga is a fundamentally theistic system, and the Vedic literature – which is the basis of its philosophy – defines the realization of God as the ultimate goal for human beings. The different yoga systems with their specific elements are meant to serve that purpose.
We also have to be aware that in yoga, everything is connected to one ultimate goal, and every single detail of the system ultimately serves that highest purpose: self-realization. Exercising body postures can free us from accumulated stress and from excitement, and at the same time it pacifies our mind aroused by passion. By enhancing the effect of āsanas, relaxation and breathing exercises permanently pacify the mind and thoughts. Thus we will become able to completely turn our mind toward transcendence and make the process of self-realization an integral part of our lives.
In this issue of Back to Godhead we have sought to give our readers an insight into as many aspects of the culture of yoga as possible, thus supporting their quest to achieve any of the aforementioned goals of this ancient tradition. We hope to provide relevant information for those who only want to make a short tour into this mysterious realm, as well as for serious seekers who want answers for all the questions of life.
Gaura Kṛṣṇa dāsa