Frequently Asked Queries about Yoga
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Question: If yoga means union with God? What does it have to offer the non believer?

Answer: Yoga is a science and art that is so completely impartial to the system of religion. It is true that in the ancient texts the meaning of the word yoga was derived from the root word Yujir, which meant to unite or connect. But in the more modern context the meaning of the word yoga is believed to be attached to the root word yuj, which means to make steady or control. In the ancient times the practices were somehow connected to the religion in one way or the other because that made them more believable to the practitioners. But the science of yoga in itself is not connected to any religion. It is connected to the physiological, biochemical and mental and emotional aspects of the human body. Theses aspects are all independent of any man made boundaries existing in the world.

In the ancient times why yoga was started to be propounded as connected to the religion because in those times there were not too many religious practices existent as in the modern day. Religion was not a bone of contention where yoga originated from. It was not a topic of discussion. It was just assumed as everyone belonged to the same sect. Perhaps this is the reason that certain practices were taught to be done in a certain way that was acceptable to everyone at that point in time. But the mind and body science that yoga really is does not get distorted by the presence or absence of religion.

The atheists have perhaps more chances of success with yoga because their thought process is free from any undue burdens and obstructions posed by religious practices. Their questioning minds are better at explorations of the inner precincts of their minds and get better and clearer answers because they are not prejudiced by anything.


Question: What is the ultimate goal of yoga?

Answer: The ultimate goal of yoga is to be able to break free from all bondages. These bondages exist in every individual’s mind. These are because of the continuation of prejudices and influences introduced in an individual’s mind by his environment. These ultimately lead to the people getting biased in their lives which move them towards so many more distractions. The conflicts appearing in the societies are a result of conflicts that are present in the individual. This is because the individuals make up any society. The disparities arising in the society crop up from the seeds sown in an individual’s mind.

The ultimate aim of yoga is to stabilize the mind and concentrate the thoughts into the universal reality that human beings are extensions of the divine. There is no barrier of the religion and any other man made boundaries for the merger in the ultimate. The soul is universal, immortal, illuminated, infinite and divine and it is one and the same for all the humans. Through yoga this is the final message, which if propagated can lead the entire world on the path of existence that is peaceful, with freedom and rid of conflict. It may be difficult for most people to attain this kind of ultimate goal of yoga but even little progression on the path makes one immensely healthy, content and joyous.


Question: What exactly is yoga? Is it just some bodily exercises and discussions about the supernatural or something more than that?

Answer: Yoga is in all fundamentals is the science of human personality. It is a self encompassing science that takes all aspects of human personality into consideration like physical, physiological, emotional, behavioural, environmental, social and human interaction with the supernatural. This is a science that develops through various physical and mental exercises. These are directed towards the development of the musculo-skeletal systems, and also strengthening of the nervous system, circulatory system, digestive system, respiratory system, endocrinal system and other organic and biochemical functions of the body. The science of yoga also teaches how to relax all the systems. This practice is of preventive nature so that all the systems of the body feel relaxed and do not undergo excessive stress.

Yoga also believes that all negativities prevailing in the human thought process results in many imbalances in all the systems of the human body. These disproportions further result in causing more imbalances in the environment. Since thoughts are considered to be pure energy that does not get dissipated easily, they keep floating around in the universe. If the collective thought process of the world gets distorted it results in causing many calamities both natural and man made. Yoga is considered to be a deep rooted philosophy with the ultimate goal of correction of the thought process of the entire human race.

The science of yoga ultimately leads to development of the self and its furtherance into the path of the divine. This, as explained earlier paves a path for world peace. So ultimately yoga is a science that can be used for achieving greater goals of world peace and freedom from all the discrepancies and negativities prevailing in the society.


Question: What is the foundation of the philosophy of yoga?

Answer: Yoga is based on the basic philosophy of the systems of thoughts that existed in traditional India. Yoga is a one of these systems of thought. They all had one thing in common. They developed through different streams but all of them recognized the supremacy of the philosophies of Vedas. Thus, the fundamental beliefs of all these school of thoughts had common grounding. These commonalities can be described as:

  • They all believe in the existence of soul, which is supreme, infinite, immortal and highly universal.
  • The soul just changes the body and is eternal. It cannot die. It has no beginning and no end. It just leaves one body at death and enters a new one at birth.
  • The law of Karma is the soul foundation of all what happens in the life of an individual. This means all the incidents have implications of one’s Karmain the past births.
  • There is a belief that the life is basically a mixture of sorrows and misery and eventually the final goal is to get freed from the cycle of birth and death.
  • There is belief in the concept of moksha or mukti, which is a state of eternal freedom from the cycle of birth and death and final merger with the divine.

Yoga propounds the doctrine that the universe has come into existence because of the samyoga or union of purusha and prakrit i. Purusha is the essence of the divine and prakriti is the essence of all that is materialistic. The prakriticontains three gunas or tendencies in various proportions and combinations. The samyogaof the purusha and prakriti is just a delusion and it keeps the purusha tied up into its illusionary folds. This happens because of avidya or lack of wisdom. In the practice of yoga a continuous effort is taught to break free of the avidya so that the purusha can finally reunite with the supreme divine. This in essence is the basis of the philosophy of yoga.


Question: How is a real yogi recognized in the world full of ordinary teachers?

Answer: It is very difficult to find a true yogi these days because people have become very materially inclined. Even the practice of yoga is taught as a feather in the cap and with a sense of great achievement, which in itself is a denial of the philosophy of yoga. A true yogi is the one who has the following qualities:

  • He is not driven by a sense of competitiveness and achievement.
  • He is not overtly ambitious.
  • He is not boastful of all his yogic powers but is humble in his behaviour.
  • For a true yogi Sadhana is a way of life, and not like a medallion to be worn around the neck.
  • For a true yogi the achievement of everything is in reach, yet he is completely free from the need to indulge in any yogic practices.
  • A true yogi does not need to take Dhyana or Pranayama as remedial measures. He has already mastered all the yogic practices and all the beneficial effects of them are with him for life.
  • A true yogi does not even have to practice Samadhi. He has mastered that too.
  • A true yogi is always in a state of Sahajawastha. This is a state of permanence achieved through meditation and does not leave the system.
  • A true yogi is never seen indulging in the garb of false titles like Yogiraj, Paramhansa, Swami and many others. He is free from the proclivity for titles.
  • He has no motive behind sharing his knowledge and wisdom.
  • He is not arrogant about his wisdom. Many yogis are seen developing an arrogant attitude after years of indulgence in yoga practices. They consider themselves superior to the rest of the human clan and become very high headed. But a true yogi does not have any such airs about himself.
  • A true yogi is a man who truly believes in Vairagya. He is stable and does not get ruffled by anything or anyone. He is completely undisturbed.
  • A true yogi is never bothered about the dual nature of life and all the beings. He is not disturbed by success and failure; riches and poverty; pleasure and pain; honour and dishonour and many others.


Question: It is said that Mukti or Moksha is the ultimate goal of yoga and it is attainable by very few people. So what implication does it have for ordinary people who may never reach this stage of practice?

Answer: It is a reality that the ultimate goal of yoga is to enable the person to move in the right direction and attain Moksha or Mukti, which is the ultimate merger into the divine by the attainment of salvation. This is also extremely difficult to attain. So it may be rightly said that the path may not reach to the ultimate for everyone as it entails immense involvement and continuous and dedicated effort. But this should not hearten anybody because yoga offers immediate and long term benefits to all who practice it. The Pranayama and practice of asanas makes a person truly fit in the body and mind. The practice of meditation also enhances the power of concentration, sharpens the memory, increases the creativity and gives stability to the thought process.

This is very beneficial in the modern context because the life is becoming so fast paced and interspersed with strong competition everywhere that stress has become so omnipresent. Yoga practices can be safely used by everyone to have a better life.


Question: Is it true that the yogis develop special yogic powers with which they can perform miracles?

Answer: In the modern context there is no scientific evidence till date that can prove the occurrence of miracles through yogic powers. Yet it is true that some people claim to perform miracles like flying in the air, living in really improbable conditions and performing tasks that may be truly considered to be humanly impossible.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is considered to be one of the highest authorities on yoga, however establishes that attaining the yogic powers which enhance the human abilities is very much possible. The text describes in detail the science of yogic powers both at the cellular levels and physiological levels. But till such time that the modern science is able to prove anything we shall have to be content in the textual knowledge only without any substantial argument.


Question: Yoga is considered to be an ancient art. Why is it still so popular?

Answer: Yoga is an ancient art and science because of the fact that it originated in the ancient times. The original texts that have a mention of yoga or are based on yoga are all ancient in every way. But this ancient science has not been properly interpreted in the modern times. The result is that many different people are seen propagating and promoting the science in their own way. The most interesting factor here is that each and every one of them considers the other propagator a hoax unless and until the person belongs to his camp. This has developed substantial lobbying. But the realization that all this is in fact denial of the ancient practice does not seem to occur to many.

The need of the hour is to gather substantial scientific proof for the ancient practices of yoga so that finally it can be presented to the modern practitioner in an acceptable format. This would truly modernize the ancient art to be easily adapted into the modern life.


Question: Is it mandatory to follow vegetarianism when the practice of yoga is begun?

Answer: This is a tricky question as it cannot be answered in a simple yes or no. Certain fundamentals have to be delved into before a satisfactory answer to this question can be achieved. It is important to also understand that the connotation of yoga and all that it teaches does not indicate towards any religious practices. If yoga preaches vegetarianism it is not because of any religious association. The main theory lies in the fundamental philosophy of ancient yoga. This is the ultimate belief in the existence of soul. All animals have a soul that is eternal and immortal and continues to exist even after the death of the body. So killing an animal for eating is releasing its soul into the world, which is considered to be a derogatory act. It is supposed to increase the content of paap, or negative content in one’s karma. This is sure to call for repentance and would have implications on the incidents that happen in one’s life.

If we look at the situation more rationally there are basically three kinds of food habits that are found among the humans. These are vegetarianism, non-vegetarianism and mixed diets, which contain a content of both. From the dietary aspect if we look at it the non-vegetarian diets are richer in animal proteins and minerals. They also have these in a format that is easy to absorb by the human body. But yoga believes that they tend to affect the thought process by inclining it towards tendencies of violence, arrogance and increase in sexual propensities, which may further harm the practice sessions. This is the main reason why vegetarianism is preferred. It is however not necessary to begin with vegetarianism, but it is generally seen that after a while a person automatically gets inclined towards it.

So it is not necessary to insist upon vegetarianism initially as any kind of insistence is an obstruction in the path of the goal. It is better to allow it to happen as and when the mind is sufficiently inclined towards it.


Question: Is it necessary for a practitioner to reduce or stop his intake of alcohol, cigarettes, tea, coffee and drugs?

Answer: The answer to this question is that everyone needs to reduce or better still completely stop the usage of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. As far as intake of tea and coffee is concerned it should be reduced significantly, maybe to just two cups a day. This is because whether a person is a learner of yoga or no these things are just not good for the system. For a student of yoga the practices of pranayama, asanas and meditation are such that they invoke a burst of energy inside the system and any undue interference from external source could cause great harm.

The case of tea and coffee is still not strong enough. A student of yoga can do with two cups of tea or coffee per day but drugs are completely out as their interference into the system can be extremely harmful. As far as cigarettes are concerned perhaps one cigarette once a week or once a fortnight may still be okay. Taking a small drink occasionally can also be withstood by the body.

But just like it was said earlier about vegetarianism, the body should not be forced for anything. The power of yoga is such that if followed for a certain time it will automatically compel the system to refrain from all the vices. When the mind is under control the inclination to smoke, drink and use other forms of suppressants is just not there. There is just no need to forcefully suppress any urges but if done for sometime correctly, yoga can give perfect control to the system.


Question: One gets to hear a lot of negative remarks about pranayama from different sources. Is it really such a harmful thing?

Answer: Pranayama is a process where the respiratory system is exercised and controlled. Respiratory system is one of the most delicate systems of the body. It is also a system that is extremely vital for life. Therefore it is important to understand the organs one is dealing with before doing pranayama. The lungs are very delicate in their structure and the brain cortex involved is also very vital organ. The entire respiratory process also controls other systems and organs.

Pranayama is dangerous for people only when they do it without proper understanding. It is very important to understand the capacity of the body and stop when the limit is reached. All yogic practices and especially pranayama should never be done with a competitive spirit. It is not like one has to beat one’s previous record all the time. The danger is there only if one is reckless, hasty, and impatient and constantly overstepping the limits of one’s capacity and indulging in wrong methods of practice.


Question: Does yoga really have curative powers? What are the disorders that can be controlled and even cured with the practice of yoga?

Answer: There are various diseases that can be sufficiently cured and controlled with the practice of yoga. The scientific community has not explored the curative powers of yoga completely. But the practitioners who resort to yoga after trying all the possible methods of curative methodologies always come up impressed with the healing they experience. People suffering from several ailments have had extreme relief with yoga, especially in diseases like constipation, asthma, diabetes, tuberculosis and stress related disorders like high blood pressure, situations of the weak heart. It has been also helpful in endocrinal disorders like thyroid conditions and adrenalin related disorders.

This is mainly because through yoga the internal organs like pancreas, kidneys, digestive organs, circulatory system organs and respiratory organs and endocrinal system can be sufficiently exercised so that their capacity for performance increases gradually. Yoga treats the stress related disorders because it strikes at the root of the problem which cannot be achieved by simply providing external treatments.

Yoga treats the body not just as a physical system but also considers it as having a physiological system, a biochemical system, mental and emotional system and above all as an ethereal system. According to yoga the existence of the body is a combination of all these. Therefore the practices of yoga target all the actions towards all these systems which prove better in curative capacity at the treatment level. No other medicinal practice actually targets the human body at these levels. Perhaps this is the reason why many people get relief from using the techniques of yoga after a lot of other medicinal practices fail them.

But to satisfy the sceptical mind the modern science needs to prove all this scientifically. For this the only option is to explore and invest more the science of yoga and make it comprehensible to the common man. It is seen many times that the yoga teachers attach occult to the practice of yoga and make it all the more complicated for the common man. This should be curtailed. The people should also make an effort to understand the concepts on their own rather than just be dependent upon someone else to explain them.


Question: Some ancient practices did not allow the women to explore them. Is yoga also one of such practices? What can be the true role of women in practicing yoga?

Answer: It is true that many ancient practices did not give equal status to the women. In yoga also the same was true. Women were considered insufficiently equipped to practice any other form of yoga except Bhakti yoga. But this was because of the societal compulsions and accepted beliefs of the time rather than any other reason. In the modern context this is just not true. In the modern families it is an accepted norm that the woman has a pivotal role and she teaches the entire family. So teaching the yoga practices to a woman can lead to educating the entire family at the same time. These days the role of the women has taken multifaceted dimensions and so her stress levels have also skyrocketed. She is the homemaker, earning member of the family, friend, guide, companion to the other members and also a mother. Yoga can help her significantly in getting relief from the stress she accumulates on her way while balancing herself in all the roles she plays everyday.


Question: When yoga is such a time tested ancient art, why do we see so many people interpreting it in so many different ways? Does this not add more to the already prevailing confusion?

Answer: This is because many people are intrigued by the immense power of yoga and they want to attain benefits out of it. In the modern world, however there are hardly any people who do things without any selfish reasons. This is the reason why so many people after realizing the benefits of yoga suddenly become marketing savvy and start propagating it in the way they think best. Instead of putting in sufficient effort to understand the art and then teach it properly to the people, they start making money out of it and seek publicity for themselves. This however is a denial of the basic philosophy of yoga. A true guru never publicises himself as a guru or an expert.

This phenomenon also happens because the world today is strife ridden and people are constantly seeking respite from their situations. It is a simple fundamental of demand and supply. There is a definite need for the population of the entire world to get relief from stress and other related and non-related disorders. Yoga seems an ideal answer and so it is very readily accepted.

Yoga provides a perfect path so the people get inclined towards whoever knows the art of yoga a little better than them. After this publicity by word of mouth also plays an important role. The people who get some benefit out of it propel others towards the same teacher. This goes on for a while and coupled with the fast paced communication channels available today it starts spreading like wild fire. The net result is that the so-called gurus become more and more arrogant in their attitudes and being slaves to the human nature, they start adding their own biases and prejudices to the ancient art. When there is clash between interpretations of two different propagators there is significant confusion.

It is better to acquire knowledge through the ancient practice of swadhyaya or self knowledge to be in a position to actually interpret the yogic practices in the right light, till such time that one can find a real, impartial and truly knowledgeable teacher.


Question: What is the difference between isotonic exercises, isometric exercises and yogic postures or asanas?

Answer: Exercises are of three different types:

  • Isotonic or dynamic exercises.
  • Isometric exercises.
  • Yogic postures or asanas.

Isotonic or Dynamic Exercises: In this type of exercises the muscles shorten in length but the tension in the muscles remains the same. These exercises increase the work load of the cardiovascular system. If they are performed in optimal measures they improve the fitness levels. Some examples of isotonic exercises are walking, cycling, swimming, running, jogging, skipping and bench stepping.

Isometric Exercises: In these exercises the length of the muscles does not change but the tension increases. They build up the muscle mass and are used for the purpose of building the muscles of the body. They do not improve the stamina and endurance levels of the body. They can pose severe strain on the cardiovascular system. They are just not recommended for people suffering with heart related disorders. It is advisable to take medical advice before proceeding to do them. They should preferably be done under the supervision of a trained physical instructor.

Yogic Postures or Asanas: These do not put any kind of strain on the cardiovascular system and improve the stamina and endurance levels as well as enhance the general physical fitness. They are good for the body and also the mind and they help in altering the natural reactions of the body and mind towards the daily situations.

There are some fundamental differences between the regular physical exercises and Yogic postures. These are:

  • Yogic postures involve very little repetitive physical movements. They are about maintaining postures for a certain period of time.
  • Yogic postures tone up the body and tune up the mind whereas the physical exercises only affect the body.
  • Physical exercises make the body exhausted whereas yogic asanas conserve energy and give relaxation and deeply invigorate the body.
  • Yogic asanas burn up only about three calories per minute, which is very little as compared to physical exercises, that burn up three to twenty calories per minute. This factor makes the yogic asanas more powerful because they work without taxing the system.
  • Yogic asanas can be done by anyone even those who may be suffering with some ailments or are old, whereas physical exercises cannot be done by everyone.
  • Yogic postures affect all the systems of the body including the endocrinal system, which is most impossible to stimulate with other forms of physical exercise.
  • Unlike other exercises yogic asanas make the system fresh and not fatigued.
  • Yogic asanas are with fluid movements and do not entail chances of injuring the system unlike physical exercises.

Question: When sleep is the natural recourse of relaxation prescribed by nature itself, why is yogic form of relaxation advocated?

Answer: In the modern day busy life it is become next to impossible for most people to actually get sound sleep and give complete relaxation to the body. The irony of the situation is that at the same time the need for rest and relaxation has become very mandatory. This is the reason why the yogic form of relaxation is advocated and even prescribed for many people especially for the one’s suffering with stress related disorders. Although it is supported with insufficient scientific evidence, it is seen that such people get immediate and continuous respite from their ailments.


Question: Does all this imply that where all the modern medical practices have failed, yoga can fill the void?

Answer: The ancient texts all propound the fact that yoga is the best for the entire human body as well as the mind. The modern science just needs to gather sufficient scientific evidence to satisfy the sceptical critics. That is all that can be said in reply to this question. It is not about getting antithetical towards any kind of medicinal practices. It is all about saying that perhaps no medicines will be needed if yoga is practiced, as it will take care of the entire body and mind. Yoga is inclined towards prevention, and everyone knows that prevention is any day better than cure.


Question: Why is it so that despite tremendous advancement in medical practices and technology the people are afflicted with more diseases and at younger ages?

Answer: The answer is very simple. Despite all kinds of advancements there has been an increase in diseases because there is significant deterioration in the basic quality of life. There is an increase in many vices which involve the body as well as the mind. There is substantial increase in the stress levels of the life due to many factors as a result of the modern pace of life. The life has become very busy and ironically enough the people take pleasure in being busy. It has become such a norm that if the people are free for some time they feel insignificant so they crave more work to keep themselves occupied. There is no time to feel, get inspired or even enjoy the beauty of the nature dispersed all round us by the creator.

The complaint that the day has only twenty-four hours is completely irrelevant because this is one allowance that the Creator has granted impartially to everyone. No one has been given even a single second more in the day. Everyone has been given just the same time everyday. We do see some people can achieve all that they inspire to, coupled with good family life and time for themselves during this limited and same time allotted. There are others on the other hand who keep on rushing and are constantly stressed out. Yoga can give more toning up to the body and the mind so that people can keep their cool and achieve everything they wish to achieve.


Question: Does yoga give the power to give up the vices that one may be inclined or attached to?

Answer: Most of the people remain hooked to their vices even though they are fully aware of their harmful effects because they do not have a strong enough will power. Yoga definitely enhances the will power by training the mind and thus diminishes the urge to get inclined towards the vices. If the person is already attached towards any vices he too develops the will power to leave.


Question: What is the opinion of yoga on sex?

Answer: Yoga does not teach renouncing sex in any way. Although some practitioners and teachers interpret the ancient texts in such a way which professes complete abstinence, it is not really so. Again this is matter of interpretation rather than anything else. Various forms of yoga practices have different approaches to the subject of sex. Since yoga is best adopted as a way of life, whichever path is chosen must suit the individual needs.

Some yogis do feel that abstinence is best because sexual thoughts are destructive and cause obstruction to the thinking process. Mainly it is seen that the people who indulge in the practices of Hatha yoga with an inclination towards just the bodily aspects of the exercises propagate this kind of philosophy. It is also true that the people who look at Hatha yoga in a holistic way treat it as a complete mental and physical discipline, which leads to self realization eventually.

It can suffice to understand that the message of yoga is different for ascetics and different for ordinary householders. It depends upon what one is really looking for. Each and every individual can derive advantages from the practices of yoga. Yoga however does advocate avoiding excessive sexual thoughts, lust, unlawful sex and lust, marital infidelity and even undue indulgence in sex.

Yoga believes that chastity has to be maintained and it does not mean complete celibacy. In fact the biggest example of the fact that yoga is not against sex is Kamasutra, the ancient art of making love. This text was written hundreds of years ago by a great yogi Vatsyayana. It is quite paradoxical that the world today seems to be rediscovering Kamasutra and yet the misconception prevails that yoga is against sex.

 

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