Yoga, a spectrum of truisms

Yoga, a spectrum of truisms

Among the much-practised methods to attain physical and mental well being today is yoga, which has come to be understood as the practice of certain physical postures called ‘Asanas’, which when practised under the guidance of a learned teacher act upon specific parts of the human body and tone the systems to optimum performance.

However, it must be remembered that ‘yoga’ means much more than mere physical postures. In Indian spiritual thought, yoga encompasses a wide spectrum of truisms, which look upon yoga as a holistic system which does not compartmentalise physical and mental activities. Rather, it is an integrated system which treats the mind and body as one unit wherein the malfunction of one affects other.

Adi Shankaracharya’s treatise Vivekachudamani is one such work which speaks about this subject. Shankara very significantly says that the mind is the point of origin of all of man’s miseries as well as happiness. It is where all the negative emotions like anger, greed, egotism, hatred and so on take root. Mental activities manifest themselves as speech and action. Therefore, Shankara lists out four essential steps in yogic practice.

Control of speech, not acquiring anything more than what is strictly required, controlling desire, and lastly, living in seclusion. A brief examination of these as elucidated by Shankara will be in order.

First is the control of speech. Is it not said that for one who has control over his tongue, there are no quarrels? Speech can make or mar man. The Kathopanishad says, “A wise man controls speech in his mind.” Meaning, do not blurt out all that you think. Think before you utter.

Shankara says this speech should be controlled by maintaining silence, i.e, talking only when necessary. Because, it is only through speech that all mental activities grow. Shankara beautifully puts it as “silence is conducive to reflection. Reflection is hundred times superior to hearing. Meditation is a hundred-thousand times superior to reflection. Total concentration is infinitely superior.”

Second is not acquiring anything more than what is needed. As Shankara says, if man acquires more than what is necessary, the mind will be engaged in safeguarding it. How can he concentrate on other higher matters?

Thus comes the third step of controlling desire. A sensible, controlled, conscious acquisition and enjoyment of things. Lastly, living in seclusion. While it may mean retiring to a lonely place for saints and renunciates, for ordinary people it means to be careful about the company they keep. People influence our thoughts, which excite the senses. “Be careful about the people whom you mix with.”

Being in this world, intera- ction with undesirable people may be unavoidable, but ca- refully managing such situations is important. These me- thods, when practised holistically, constitute true yoga.

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