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Yoga - A Way of Life
The simplest possible meaning of 'Yoga' is to unite. The technique of uniting the soul ('atman') with God (Parm-atma) is known as 'Yoga' in spiritual language. The activities which are required to be followed for starting 'Yoga' are known as 'sadhna' (spiritual disciplines). 'Sadhna' is merely a means in that direction. It is important in as much as it helps in achieving the goal ('sadhya'). Most people consider means as the end and regard those formalities alone which are used in 'sadhna' as 'Yoga'. In 'Yoga Sadhna' several physical and mental activities and techniques are required to be performed. Their purpose is to create a mental state of uniting self consciousness with cosmic consciousness.
Achievement of goal is possible only if this fact is kept in view. If these actions and techniques alone are considered as practice of 'yoga' and no effort is made for the refinement of one's consciousness, this existing illusion, will keep one simply where he was like a galley slave, despite hard practices performed. In 'Hath yoga', there are formalities like 'asan', pranayam', 'bandh', 'mudra', 'vrat', 'maun', 'neti', 'dhoti', 'vasti', 'nyoli', vajroli', sleeping on the ground, bearing heat and cold. The aim of all of these is merely to gain inner strength and achieve piousness, so that a man who is full of impurities may make his journey towards spiritual progress. Similarly in 'Upaasana', for getting enlightened and initiated, one has to take recourse to the practice of 'jap', 'dhyan', 'nada', meditation, 'swadhyaya', 'satsang' etc., so that consciousness may get inspiration and proper motivation to merge one's own limited self into the limitless 'Brahma'.
The Path of Yoga
There are many disciplines of Yoga. Some amongst these are meant for health and physical fitness. Others are for spiritual Sadhana. However, good health is an essential prerequisite for entering the path of this Sadhana. The higher disciplines of Yoga comprise Pratyahar (Inward withdrawal of mind and senses from their objects), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyan (Meditation), and Samadhi (State of Trance) successively.
Spiritual seekers also follow many other disciplines like Yam, Niyam, Asan, Pranayama. The Hatha Yogis carry out procedures of Neti, Dhoti, Vasti, Vajroli and other exercises for physical fitness and control. Others have their own specific methods for physical fitness. All of these are basically meant to keep the body healthy so that problems of the body do not create obstacles in course of mind control exercises. The seekers are advised to maintain good health with simple exercises.
In today's environment, it is neither advisable nor necessary to follow the traditional ancient physical exercises of Yoga, involving intricate postures. It would be unfair to ask a person living in a polluted environment of a city to carry out intense Pranayama practices. Such difficult exercises were prescribed for those seekers of yore who lived in the unpolluted environment of the hills, took only fresh fruits for meals, used unpolluted water from the mountain springs or streams and observed continence. There is no logic in asking a frog to wear a horseshoe. It would kill the frog. Today there is general awareness about the norms for healthy living and these should be strictly adhered to. If there is some disease, an expert medical practitioner of the discipline may be consulted. For our present objective, however, no such physical standards of health are necessary for which one may require prolonged treatment or prior training. Normal health and a relaxed, happy attitude are the only two prerequisites.