Mumbai: Yoga is an ancient scientific discipline to harmonise the body and mind. ‘Yoga’ in Sanskrit means ‘Yuj’ which means ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. According to the Yogic scriptures, practising Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the universal consciousness, perfectly harmonising the mind and body, man and nature.

An individual who experiences this oneness of existence is said to be in yoga and is called a yogi, having attained a state of freedom, referred to as mukti, nirvana, or moksha. The aim of practising yoga is self-realisation, to overcome all odds and sufferings.

The ever-evolving ancient scientific discipline

On this International Day of Yoga 2024, ETHealthworld interacted with a few individuals who have been practising this ancient scientific discipline for several years and its impact on their lives. They also shared their views on how the acceptance of yoga over the years has evolved.

Rachana Shethia, Founder, Bliss The Yoga Studio, highlighted, “The word ‘yoga’ is rooted in the Sanskrit term ‘yuj’, signifying unity between the individual self (Atman) and universal consciousness (Brahman).

Dr Sanjay Ranade, Former Head, Department of Communication & Journalism, Mumbai University, mentioned that yoga as philosophy and process has been a rallying point on innumerable occasions in India’s civilisational past. He stated, “In fact, Sankhya and Yoga was a combination of world views called Darshana that challenged the existing world views of their time some 2000 or more years before the common era. From the Aranyaka, Upanishad, and later Darshana to the later Purana and the great epics, each has redefined yoga as a philosophy and process. In modern times, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Dayanand Saraswati Paramhansa Yogananda, and others continued the tradition of yoga’s inclusive philosophical tradition and history.”

Dr Ranade further added that Patanjali provides a succinct definition of yoga – yoga is chitta, vritti nirodha. All human beings can come to yoga. It is about the human condition and how to overcome the tapa of existence.

Elaborating further, Shethia explained that yoga’s history can be divided into the vedic, classical, and modern eras, with sage Patanjali’s yoga sutras during the classical period setting out the eight limbs of yoga, including ethical guidelines, physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation techniques. Yoga has been used for centuries as a tool for mass mobilisation through its ability to foster community, enhance physical and mental well-being, and instil a sense of collective purpose.

“In ancient India, yoga was integral to spiritual and community life, taught in ashrams and temples where people gathered to learn and practice together,” shared Shethia. “In modern history, figures like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi harnessed yoga’s unifying power. Vivekananda’s promotion of yoga and Vedanta in the late 19th century helped to galvanise Indian nationalism and pride in cultural heritage. Gandhi employed yoga and related principles of nonviolence and self-discipline in his campaigns for Indian independence.”

Yoga as a mass mobilisation tool

In contemporary times, international events such as the International Day of Yoga, have seen millions participate in yoga sessions worldwide, promoting global unity and well-being.

“Yoga was refined and developed by Rishis (sages) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. Yoga is among the six schools of philosophy in Hinduism,” said Sethia. Though it is not a religion, any individual can practice it.

She added, “With time, different brands of yoga have been created by blending traditional yoga practices with modern fitness trends, focusing on specific aspects like strength, flexibility, or mindfulness. Influential teachers have developed unique styles and methodologies, often trademarking these approaches, to cater to varying preferences and fitness levels.”

Sethia mentioned how some of the popular brands of yoga have evolved, such as Bikram Yoga, Ashtanga, and Vinyasa, each emphasising different sequences, temperatures, or philosophical underpinnings.

She added, “Since our Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed to UNGA and the commemoration of the International Day of Yoga in 2015, awareness and participation in yoga have significantly increased globally. Many countries now officially recognise the day, promoting yoga’s health benefits and cultural significance.

Sharing his views, Dr Ranade mentioned, “Yoga, like all philosophical ideas, has been productised and commercialised. The Euro-Americans are masters of this game. Yoga as a process is now being broken into marketable/saleable components like exercises, disease cure, healthy living, etc. This has nothing to do with the philosophy or the world view.”

He further elaborated that the International Day of Yoga is an exercise in getting more than 170 states in the UN to co-sponsor a proposal that India floated. It’s a diplomatic brownie point in international affairs. It involved a lot of diplomatic work to get that done. It was a good exercise to test our abilities on the international front. That is all there is to it. Yoga was always practised, is practised and will be practised by human beings, some knowingly, some unknowingly.

There are possibilities that yga may have been practised even before humans domesticated crops, animals, and even before civilisations existed. Over centuries it has undergone several evolutions, with different brands of yoga being practised and preached and how it is accepted and perceived. The core philosophy remains the same ‘union of mind and body; man and nature’.

Although commercialisation and politicisation may differ from its philosophical foundations, Yoga still signifies the rich cultural heritage of India and its global influence. As it changes, yoga will continue to be one that not only enhances personal well-being but also serves cultural diplomacy as well as politics for political strategy, making it imperative for both personal and societal aspects.

  • Published On Jun 21, 2024 at 06:26 PM IST

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