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What is yoga?

First, we should understand the meaning of Yoga. It means to connect or to unite. The body is an integral part of the universe. In yogic language, this is called Vyashti, which means an individual. The universe, or in other words Nature is referred to as Samashti. Samashti has no limit; it is infinite. Although our real state of existence is unlimited, we feel that we ourselves are limited. For example, a drop is part of the ocean. If the drop is Vyashti, the ocean is Samashti. In reality, there is no difference between the drop and the ocean. Our senses create barriers and differentiate between the drop and the ocean. This means that the limited “I” or Vyashti is a projection of our senses. If our senses are inactive or withdrawn, only the ocean remains.Yoga says, withdraw your senses and fix it to the original point of development in the brain. When the senses are withdrawn, the differentiation between Vyashti and Samashti disappears. This is a union between the individual and the Cosmic Reality. That is Yoga.

Your question also refers to the existing postures of yoga, which are called Asanas in Sanskrit. The systematic practice of Yoga has 8 levels. That is why it is popularly known as Ashtanga Yoga. ‘Ashta’ means 8, ’anga’ is section. Asanas are the 3rd level. The first level, Yama, includes disciplines, the second is Niyama, which refers to rules and regulations about the maintenance of the body and the mind. The third is Asana, in other words, different kinds of postures to bring the body and the mind under a certain type of control. After Asanas comes Pranayama, the control of breath. The mind has a close link with the breath. That we can experience. Anybody who is mentally disturbed will have irregular breathing. When you are tense or stressed and take deep breaths, you will feel more relaxed. This shows that there is a close link between the mind and the respiratory system. So doing certain breathing exercises will lead to Pranayama, the control of the respiratory system, which in turn will lead to the control of the mind.

So these are the first 4 levels of Ashtanga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, generally known as Hatha Yoga. These 4 levels are purely physical. The next 4 levels are purely mental. Level 5 is Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the mind from external objects ad subjects. The sixth level is Dharana, which is the fixing of the withdrawn mind on a subject or on an object. Once the mind is fixed or settled, we will get certain experiences within. These experiences are known as Dhyana meditation. This is the 7th level. When we get established in these inner experiences, we reached Samadhi, the 8th level. This level refers to the establishment of the Self. Once we recognize who we are, we are in the state of Samadhi. This stage is the reality of the Cosmos where the knower vanishes and only the ‘Known’ remains. This is called the Truth, Ultimate Reality or God, which is beyond comprehension. In a deep sense, this is called Yoga; a journey from our limited existence to the unlimited stage.

What can you recommend those people who are physically aligning the body through Asanas and are ready to deepen their practice?

 

If you practice only Asanas without engaging in serious Pranayama, these Asanas don’t qualify as Yoga; it is simply regular physical exercise such as aerobics or bodybuilding. In the real text of Yoga known as the “Yoga Sutras”, written by sage Patanjali, he clearly explains that one should be able to sit comfortably over a long period of time during meditation. Asanas refer to this effortless seated posture. If you can sit for a long time keeping your spine vertical to gravity, you have Asana control.

If a person has been practicing Asanas for health maintenance and he wants to take his practice to the next level to experience higher levels of consciousness, what would be your advice?

 

If these individuals had done yoga postures, it will be easy for me to make them sit in a comfortable position for Pranayama. At that point, I can give the essential breathing technique, which over time, will give them control over their respiratory system. Once they gain this control, they will notice that the mind becomes focused and inner guidance will emerge. This is meant by Yoga. Yoga can’t be learned from outside because the knowledge comes from within. In Sanskrit, this is called ‘Ava Bhoda’. Bhoda means consciousness, Ava refers to the feeling of ‘I’.

What is the role of a Guru during this initial process?

 

Only an experienced person can show a safe method for reaching different planes of consciousness because this is a completely unknown journey. When we start traveling towards our own Self, which is a journey to our inner world, many times we get confused. Initially, we might not be able to recognize if we are on the right track or not. For this reason, there should be an experienced person who had gone through these experiences. The Guru can observe the changes in the body, the vibrations, the rhythm of the breath and the experiences of the person. By analyzing these things, the Guru can give the necessary instructions for the next step. For these reasons, a practitioner must interact with a Guru for at least 2-3 years for safe advancement. I can’t give you a specific way of guiding a beginner because different people are having different levels of understanding and consciousness. The guidance will be uniquely tailored to the individual. There isn’t a common matter applicable for all. It is like medicine; the same medicine can’t be used for everyone; the treatment depends on the condition of the individual, the type of disease and the breathing capabilities and once everything had been carefully analyzed, only then can the appropriate medicine be prescribed. The same way, a practitioner has to be observed properly to determine the person’s level of physical fitness and the condition of the respiratory system. Then, the strengths or weaknesses of the mind need to be evaluated. Does the individual have a preoccupied mind? Only after a complete analysis can the Guru advise the beginner. When the process begins, the changes can be observed, which is then followed by further instructions. After a period of time, when a certain level of self-management is reached, can the practitioner continue his journey by himself?

What about people who are not able to travel to India to visit a Guru? Some are discouraged by not finding the right teacher.

When a seeker becomes mature enough to receive guidance, either the Guru will come to the student or the student will find his Master.

By performing challenging postures, can a seeker reach higher levels of consciousness?

 

It has to be said that yoga postures are not meant for the real experience of yoga. The real experience of yoga will only come through systematic meditation. By doing challenging or complicated postures for demonstration, the person won’t reach the Ultimate Reality. It is only an exercise.

Can you talk about the importance of time one invests in meditation?

 

It won’t make much difference how much you sit; the quality of your practice is more important than the time invested. The goal is to feel the benefits of meditation. Each session should give you a new awareness of your own system. You may not be able to explain what you have experienced. The explanation is for the approval of the public but if you don’t know yourself what is the benefit of that approval? One day everybody might say that you are the best in the world but you feel that you haven’t accomplished anything. The appreciation is worthless until you gain inner approval and confidence through realizing the Self. If you have self-confidence, you will have self-esteem. If you have self-esteem, you are happy from within. As a result, the external approval is irrelevant.

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