Over the past few years yoga has become more mainstream. From schools to yoga studios and parks across the world to elderly homes, people are taking up yoga in various forms. There is now even an International Yoga Day, and photos of the new Canadian Prime Minister in a tree pose recently went viral.
However, the way yoga is promoted is often perplexing, with various names and brands of yoga advertised. It is commonly promoted as a way to become super fit, or as an esoteric exercise, and has often lost its original meaning and purpose.
I recently attended a two day workshop in New Zealand which shed light on the true essence of yoga. Taught by the delightful and accessible A.G and Indra Mohan, the workshop brought yoga teachers together from across the country and from Australia. A.G and Indra Mohan were long term students of the late Krishnamacharya “the father of modern yoga”, who also mentored B.K.S Iyengar and Pantabi Jois.
The workshop entitled ‘Minding the Mind’ clarified and simplified why we get on the yoga mat, and how yoga extends into our daily lives. We learnt that the essence of yoga is yogic mindfulness – achieving a state of lightness in the body and brightness in the mind. This state of mind is known as ‘sattva’, and is characterized by a sense of equanimity and mental steadiness.
We learnt that a state of sattva is within everyone. We all feel it in glimpses, we just need to bring it up more often and decrease the fluctuations of the mind for it to be more lasting from day to day. The two other states of mind we experience are rajas (hyperactivity) and tamas (dullness).
The basic premise is that happiness is caused by the outside world, and external changes in the outside world. We can’t be permanently happy as our mind is in a constant state of flux and we don’t have control over external circumstances. Therefore, we can only achieve steadiness and stillness internally in our own mind. Yoga is a process to achieve this.
The workshop addressed practices for minding the mind using the mind itself, the senses of knowledge and action, the body, and the breath. A brief background was also given on a balanced Ayurvedic diet. A core text referred to throughout the workshop was the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali.
The Yoga Sutras, far from being outdated, are a yoga psychology text with parallels in positive psychology and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In the workshop, A.G. Mohan outlined that the aim of yoga as stillness of the mind is outlined in the first three sutras. Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras is the next most relevant part of the text as it provides a manual for daily life. The chapter covers daily realities such as latent impressions and the flux of the mind, and yoga practices (including the 8 limbs of yoga) to come back to a state of sattva.
The workshop also discussed how mindfulness is becoming a popular world-wide practice. The concept of mindfulness has been interpreted in many ways. It was emphasized that yogic mindfulness does not mean that we push our latent impressions aside. It is to be in a state of continued awareness. Or put another way, yogic mindfulness is to attain freedom from the agitated and dull thoughts in the mind and bring about a sense of sattva. Sattva is us our true nature and is the ideal place to take (or not take) action from.
The asana practice led by Indra Mohan demonstrated that a breath based yoga practice is essential as it is the fundamental link between body and mind. The basics of a breath based yoga practice were taught throughout the two days. It became apparent to those in the group that any yoga done without a focus on the breath is more akin to gymnastics.
The workshop clearly outlined that coming to yoga from a place of enlightened self-interest, rather than solely for fitness, helps us lead a more peaceful life both inside and out.
Their latest book Yoga Reminder: Lightened Reflections was the text for the workshop, and can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/Yoga-Reminder-Lightened-Reflections-Mohan/dp/9810943385
Visit Svastha Yoga and Aryuveda www.svastha.net for information on workshops and courses.