Most people think of yoga as asanas only, as a way of physical exercise. Some people think of yoga as postures and breathing exercise. Few know of yoga as a technique of meditation. Yoga is a technique of developing awareness of mind with a view to enjoy life with fullness. The benefit that comes to body is incidental.
Sage Patanjali defines yoga as the process of gaining mastery over mind. The second appropriate definition of yoga, given in the ‘Yoga Vasishta’ is “Manah Prasamanopaya Yogah “, which means ‘Yoga is a subtle technique to calm down the mind’. The Bhagwad Gita defines yoga as a state of equilibrium of mind-“Samatvam Yoga Uchyate”. Aurobindo calls yoga as a process of rising above our base nature to divinity. Vivekananda calls yoga as a tool for condensing the process of evolution of man to cosmic being or super consciousness.
Who is the ruler of our life? Undoubtedly it is our mind. Raja Yoga is so called because it is a technique of training our mind, which is controlling our life. Many people mistake yogasana to be one of the alternatives available for physical work-out. This is so untrue.
First of all the purpose of physical exercise is to improve the body, while the purpose of yogasana is basically to control modifications of mind. When we do asanas in the way prescribed by scriptures, our mind becomes steady and quiet.
Once you practise asanas for a long period, the mind learns to be steady in all situations. In the process, the body also becomes flexible and toned.
Another major distinction between asana and other physical exercises is in the method of performing them. In physical exercises, it is believed, that faster the movement, better it is. But in asanas, slower the movement, better it is. Asanas are always performed with very slow movement of body parts. And the main benefit of asana comes in maintaining the posture in the final stage.
Also, in yogasana, the coordination of breath with body movement has to be perfect. Then it becomes more beneficial. Breath carries prana, the life-energy of our body. The disturbance in flow of prana in our body causes restlessness of mind and disease in body. Systematic breathing practice removes the imbalance of prana in our body. So along with asana, breathing coordination is necessary.
The third main distinction lies in the level of awareness. While doing asana, one has to remain fully aware of the body part which is being affected by the posture. Listening to music while doing asana can also cause distraction. This is not the case with physical exercise. Most people workout while listening to loud music or watching TV. Yogasana has to be done in a quiet and pleasant surrounding where one can link body and mind properly by maintaining awareness.
Because of all these differences, yogasana is far superior in its benefit to both body and mind. While both physical exercise and asana improve our skeleto-muscular, cardio-respiratory and circulatory systems of the body, yogasana also improves the neuro-muscular system and endocrinal system which control our sympathetic and parasympathetic reactions in case of perceived stress. So, in lifestyle-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, anxiety and depression, yogasana gives spectacular results.
Happiness is a state of mind. Our idea of ‘what makes us’ happy changes from time to time depending on how trained our mind is to experience happiness. This technique of training your mind is nothing else but yoga.