EDITORIAL

The Universality of Yoga

By Rajvi H Mehta

When PM rendra Modi suggested to the United tions (UN) that we should celebrate an Intertiol Day of Yoga, a record number of UN Member States accepted the proposition and passed a resolution without even a vote. Last year 192 tions celebrated this day on June 21.  The Universal acceptance of this proposition indicates that the representatives of the different tions had either experienced yoga, heard about yoga or read about its benefits and thus there was no need to discuss or debate or vote on yoga.  Therefore, we cannot forget the stalwarts in the field of yoga in the last century who relentlessly worked to make this unknown subject known across the globe – because of which this proposition could be universally adopted.

One of the greatest contributors to the ‘universalisation’ of yoga has been Yogacharya BKS Iyengar who taught yoga for 82 years of his life. He started yoga to overcome ill-health and having a first-hand experience of human suffering, he started on a mission to help the others who suffered. Human suffering knows no tiolity or religion or socio economic stature. Sufferings can be physical, mental, emotiol or intellectual. Yoga can be a means for overcoming or withstanding it so that we progress stoically in this journey of life. In his own words, “Yoga cures what need not be endured and endures what cannot be cured.”

2500 years ago, Sage Patanjali who codified the system of yoga into Yoga sutras, clearly stated in the 30th sutra of the first chapter that the major obstacles in our life are disease, dullness which is physical in ture; doubt, negligence, idleness lack of moderation which are mental obstacles; living under illusions which is an intellectual limitation, and ibility to hold on to what has been achieved and a scattered and oscillating mind which has intellectual as well as spiritual limitations. Yoga is a means to free all of these.

This path to yoga is eight fold. The first two are yama and niyama [moral and social discipline] teach us the art of living our lives. The next two are asa [moulding the body into various positions], prayama [regulation of the life force] which are experimental sciences; while the next three pratyahara, dhara and dhya are experiential philosophies which cannot even be expressed, while Samadhi is a state of eterl bliss.  Thus, of these 8 aspects, the only two that can be done by an individual [as the rest are experiential] are asas and prayama. That is the reason, the world often associates yoga with asa and prayama. And, it is only through these asas and prayama that you can experience the other aspects of yoga – ultimately letting one experience divine bliss. How far we progress in the path would depend upon the intensity of our practices.

The asas and prayama are performed by the human embodiment which includes the musculo-skeletal body, the organic body comprising of the various physiological systems- the mind, the breath, the senses and the consciousness.  Thus, their practice affects all these systems of the practitioner and good health, freedom from suffering, the removal of ease from the dis-ease are all the effects of yogic practices.

A lot of concern is often laid on whether yoga is really universal but these issues are baseless and more due to the figment of imagition. Human suffering is universal and the means – the asas and prayama- are done by the human embodiment – which also does not differentiate between tiolities, religion or socio economic conditions. In fact, it is so overwhelming when the practice of yoga strengthens one’s faith in one’s own religion. One of the most touching episode for the writer was at a workshop in  Amman which was attended by mostly Arab men and women. At the end of the session, while the rest of the group was collecting yoga mats, Suleima asked for a mat to be kept aside. All were perplexed. It was time for maz and she prayed on the mat.

When Guruji Iyengar first started teaching public classes in UK in the 1960s, the Inner London Education authority asked for yoga to be introduced in their curriculum. But, there was a condition – there should be no reference to spirituality or religion. Guruji Iyengar respected their condition. He started teaching them asas on the so-called physical plane, not referring to the Sanskrit mes of the asas or quoting the sutras. Over a period of time, the practice of asas started transforming the individuals and they wanted to know more, where and how they origited, the philosophy and today, the Sanskrit mes of the asas, the integration of Patanjali’s philosophy has become an integral part of all Iyengar Yoga students and teachers. The point is to begin and the practice transforms. Be it Chi or the USA; be it Israel or Iran, be it Malaysia or Philippines, be it man or woman, rich or poor, Spanish or English or Hindi speaking – Yoga sees no difference and we all practice together. The point is that yoga is associated with flexibility – not merely of the body but the mind too – which makes us accept and respect all living being on this earth. This is not enforced, but happens.

So Yoga, in a way, has united the world, even if it is small representations from the member countries for just a day of celebrations. With time and the increase in awareness of yoga, more people are bound to join this practice. So, yoga which origites from the Sanskrit yuj which means to yoke, join, unite has the ability and the celebration of the yoga day is reflective of this word. Sage Patañjali had used the term sarvabhauma indicating that yoga is for one and all. It is universal.

(Rajvi Mehta is a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher at Iyengar Yogashraya, Mumbai. The views expressed are persol)