B.K.S Iyengar, the great Yoga teacher, once quoted: "Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one's being, from bodily health to self realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day to day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions."
If this quote is a bit difficult to comprehend, all the Yoga teacher is trying to say is that it isn't just another form of physical exercise but actually a way of life.
Yoga – It's more of a Philosophy, really
Perhaps the most controversial person in Yoga today is Bikram Chowdhury, who rather cheekily calls himself the Beverly Hills Yogi, thanks to his much-criticized actions of patenting his style of yoga in the United States.
And even though he is cashing in on his ability to help people lead healthier lives through Bikram Yoga, he openly admits that Americans (and in fact, several people around the world) are only acquainted with its physical form, which is known as 'hatha yoga'.
So, if you really want to understand yoga for what it truly is, you'll have to delve into how it's actually practiced in its birthplace… India. To put it simply, this type of exercise is really only a part of the Hindu philosophy that governs their daily lives.
While not everyone in India does not practice yoga (since it only covers the physical aspect of becoming a yogi/ yogini), a majority of them practice Hinduism and which should tell you that the goal of any Hindu (and yogi/ yogini) is attain "samadhi" – the highest level of concentrated meditation towards the "truth".
And perhaps it's no surprise that Arnie also believed that the body and mind have to work together if you really want to achieve a higher level of fitness like no other. In fact, he takes another level further by saying that in order to be at his best – he has to cut off all emotion that might distract him from the final goal that he has set for himself.
Of course, studying the history of yoga (or for that matter anything that you would like to understand well) is also an excellent way to understand it better because it provides you with the all-important context that is so needed to gain a fuller understanding… be it a country's fiscal state or even gauge the state of cinema in today's world.
The History of Yoga
Chandragupta Maurya. The student of Chanakya, otherwise known as the Indian Machiavelli. It was during his reign that India flourished, and until this day is remembered as "the Golden Age" between the years of 321 to 185 BC.
It was during this time of prosperity that Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, which is what the yoga of today is based on, using one of the oldest Indian schools of philosophy known as Samkhya.
Many scholars consider this school of philosophy to be the basis for yoga in its earliest form since it draws the routines of meditation and exercises from this philosophy.
In his book, the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali described the eight steps to attaining bliss as an individual as a way of Life. Of course, the obvious reason for these steps is because it is considered to be extremely difficult to reach this point, as the struggles of daily living are obstacles that one has to overcome.
With physical exercise only being one step of Ashtanga Yoga i.e. the Asana, it's no surprise that the yoga classes that are taught the world over are but incomplete by Yoga purists, such as Bikram Chowdhury himself.
Come to think of it, exercise works best (with fitness being its results) only when the mind is at complete rest, and vice-versa…