It is obvious that my first post would be an introduction to yoga as it is also an introduction to my first real experience of yoga. By real experience, I mean yoga not just as an exercise but yoga the wholesome spiritual way.
In Sanskrit yoga is defined as,
YUJYATE ANENA ITI YOGAH
This means, yoga is that which joins, unites or binds. Yoga joins the individual consciousness with universal consciousness. It joins the conscious mind with the subconscious mind. It unites the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our being.
The turning point in my spiritual journey came at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in the month of Jan’15. Although I had been practicing yoga on and off for a few years already, it was nothing like what I experienced this time around.
I was quite skeptical about going and spending time at an ashram, but I really wanted to learn yoga properly and it had already been 3 months since I had quit my job, so I needed to do something with my life and give it some meaning again. I landed in this beautiful ashram in Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganga. And because I was sceptical and cynical about living in an ashram, I left home determined that whatever happens in the ashram, I will not let them convert me into a vegetarian. Let me just say here that my determination had nothing to do with cruelty to animals, I just happen to love food a lot and I had until then found ways to escape any guilt that would creep in whenever I sat down with a plate of meat.
On my second day at Parmarth, during one of the sessions, we were being taught about the eight limbs of yoga or Patanjali’s 8-fold path of yoga. I will briefly mention the eight limbs now, and then continue my story so that it is easier to understand.
- Yama – moral restraints
- Niyam – observances or rules of personal discipline
- Asanas – postures
- Pranayama– mindful breathing
- Pratyahara – turning inward
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – spirituality
Now I would like to very briefly talk about the first limb and that is, the ‘moral restraints’
The first limb, yama, deals with our ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that help us lead a noble and spiritual life.
The five yamas are:
- Ahimsa: non violence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non stealing
- Brahmacharya: virtuous lifestyle or moderation in our activities
- Aparigraha: non-greediness
As we were being explained one by one the five ‘yamas’, our teacher went on to say that ahimsa or non violence is the most important yama, the second yama is truthfulness; and that is because, ahimsa is so important, that if your truth hurts someone, you should lie. We all know lying is a sin in every religion and here I was being taught that non – violence in every form is the most important virtue, so important that it makes lying alright if you are protecting someone or someone’s feelings.
And that was it! Those were the words that did the magic, nothing more, no convincing, no mention of not eating animals, just the explanation that how important ahimsa was to be a good yogi and I was converted. If I was not even supposed to hurt feelings, killing animals seemed impossible! I am now a happily practicing vegetarian.
My stay at the ashram went on to be a life changing one with a lot of ups and downs and what we yogis call and believe to be the ‘cleansing process’ i.e the yoga brings out all the emotions and toxins from our body. Therefore, we might start crying without any reason during a meditation or fall sick all of a sudden only to rise stronger the next day. More on that in later posts.
Maharshi Patanjali in his yoga sutras says the goal of yoga is – Yogas chittavritti nirodha, i.e to control the ever-changing moods of the mind
That is what this journey has been about, to control the mood swings of the mind and rise above mental afflictions and though I am nowhere close to the goal, the journey is a reward in itself.