Yoga is not a Religion, but a Lifestyle Choice….

Yoga is so much more than an everyday ‘practice’. It is more that a way of living, it encompasses all of life itself. Yoga is an inward process designed to build and increase our awareness on every level. Yoga is essentially the cultivation of attention and self awareness. What we attend to and the attitude with which we attend to things greatly influence how we experience ourselves on a moment to moment basis in the world. The more we ‘practice’ yoga holistically the more mindful we become.

Yoga is logical and can actually be experienced and felt inside the physical body via feeling healthy and spacious. When someone is healthy, in a state of ease and balance in their own physical body, there is symmetry, the organs and muscles function optimally, and they have a certain ‘glow’ about them. There is comfort and harmony felt by that individual. Natural breathing and everyday living becomes effortless. This can actually be seen and felt and maintained through the practice of yoga asana and pranayama. The connection to the known, the physical sensations and breath of the body can be tangibly felt by every human being. Our state of mind is directly linked to how we breath, which can be proven medically. When the breath is calm, so too is the mind. The use of asana and meditation practice encourage the body to be vibrantly alive and in live in a state of mental peace and stillness. By maintaining the youth and integrity of the spine, a ‘yogi’ can have a calendar age of 60+ but, be living with the spine of a 16 year old. Yoga is about increasing one’s awareness of the self, not as an individual physical being, but as part of the greater universal whole. It’s about union with body, mind and energy and creation as a whole. On the physical level, Yoga can be proved and explained through medical jargon and scientific logic, based on fact.

Yoga is the science of the mind based on rational logic with its emphasis on self reflection and self discovery. The whole world exists in relationship. Every single interaction and relationship that we have effects the universe as a whole. In order to understand the world, we first need to understand our inner world. Understand and know ourselves in relation to ourselves and the environment. Yoga is not a religion. Yoga is not a Hindu or Buddhist segregated practice as often perceived. Yoga has its origin and roots in India, which has often created misunderstanding that it is a Hindu practice. (It’s the same as saying that if you play Cricket you must be Anglican or Catholic because Cricket was first played in the UK!) The Yoga path may become spiritual in nature but it encourages oneness and compassion with all beings and non-duality with all energy, the universe and with God. The word ‘God’ has so many connotations and understandings, but in essence God is pure Love.  Anyone can practice Yoga, whether it be the physical postures, mindful breathing and constant awareness of oneself in and amongst the external surroundings. Yoga is about Union, dissolving division and the concept of hierarchy between humans and that humans are at the top of the food chain amongst all living beings.

Yoga is a way of living life in a mindful manner at all times. It’s so much more than setting time aside for asana practice. The more aware you become of yourself in nature and the inner workings of your body and personality the more harmonious one can interact with the nature around. This increased awareness inspires pure love, compassion and openness. When we know who we truly are, we cannot hurt others. Yoga and meditation motivate a practitioner to be more in the heart and less in the head. The path inspires full understanding that we are in fact fully responsible for how we react to every thought, word and habit pattern and if something needs to be changed or done, you are in charge.  We cannot change people around us, we can only change ourselves.

The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualised beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.

Yoga gives us many practical tools and techniques to enhance, better and maintain a holistic way of living. By actually experiencing health, happiness and stillness, a practitioner starts to understand the inner workings of their own body and mind. As BKS Iyengar brilliantly said - "Yoga cannot be explained in words, it needs to be experienced." The mere fact that one can tangibly feel and see the physical effects and peace of mind makes it far more logical and rational than following a belief because one is told or conditioned to do so? This is called blind faith. Faith comes from the mind, experience is felt in the body.

At the basic level of all faith and religion, the intention is to be good and to do good and live at one with our environment, an intention of wholesomeness. Unfortunately, human Egos got involved somewhere along the way and started to create more and more titles, labels and segregation amongst man and nature. There are many misconceptions out there about what Yoga is and that it is a religion, but just as with everything in life, perception and opinion is one thing, but there is only one truth, which can be experienced by all. The ‘styles’ of Yoga practice that are being taught and practiced are numerous and yes many have diluted the authentic traditional teachings of Yoga, but this dilution of discipline and technique must not be confused with labeling Yoga as a belief structure.

Although Yoga is about the journey inwards and the discovery of self, there is a large portion documented about the complete surrender and devotion to the divine. And this in turn can also be misinterpreted. The original texts on yoga - the Vedas, Vedanta, Sutras are written in Sanskrit, an ancient mathematical logical language. In many cases things are written and described as " what they are not" so as not to cause any confusion. But of course, this can still cause confusion when found or read by an ignorant person without a teacher. Yoga has to be experienced and the journey properly guided by a master for it to be completely understood in its totality and authenticity. And even once a practitioner starts on the path, he is continuously learning, changing and becoming more aware.  The root of yoga, it's true intention and message is one of truth, compassion, harmony and balance. Not all practitioners, Yoga and spiritual teachers or even ‘Gurus’ are legitimate, honest and real, so things get misconstrued. Find a true teacher with actual experience and wisdom that has been passed down through authentic texts, word of mouth and trainings. When the student is ready the teacher will appear.

All man is created equal. The divine light within each of us is the same. Once this light is recognised within the individual, it becomes natural to see it in ALL other living beings. Yogis speak and preach about the love of his fellow man and neighbour and that we must all be good, kind and loving to one another. Because yoga is not a religion it can be practiced by anyone at any point in their life or stage in their religious journey. The physical postures that are practiced in commercial yoga classes are similar to everyday movements, dance and the shapes that we find in nature. If the poses are done on a purely physical level without any connection or intention to dissolve or connect to the divine there can be no harm done to a belief structure or religion.

Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora
December 2015, Arambol, North Goa, India

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