Monday, July 4, 2016





Siri available on I-phone was recently quoted by His Excellency Narendra Modi ji, Prime Minister of India addressing the US Congress saying that 40 million Americans practiced Yoga daily. Encyclopedic Siri has such amazing capacity to count yet we do not need to believe the exact numbers "she" quotes.

Millions more are practicing various forms of Yoga in many other countries too. Most know that they have to use their own efforts and practice (Prayatna and Abhyasa) to achieve their goals. This pertains to the Yogic techniques and procedures one chooses to master. Purposely, this author avoids using the word "exercises" as the said techniques are qualitatively different and have some deviation from the usual goals of "exercise.".

As is well known, and as amply clarified by Dr. S. L. Vinekar the author of the very first book on Yogic Therapy published anywhere based on years of scientific research, and first one of its kind published in 1961 by the Ministry of Health of the Government of India, with senior author Reverend Swami Kuvalayananda ji founder of Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, the word Yoga denotes both the ultimate goal of Yoga and the means to attain it. The means are Kriyas, Karmas, Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayamas, Mudras, Bandhas, Pratyahara, etc. and the meditative techniques Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. All these are designed to lead one to the goal of Samadhi defined as balanced and harmonious state of the body and mind, further emphasizing that the acme of Yoga itself is Samadhi.  (Sam-aa-dha meaning putting together in a balanced state).

Further, "Yoga" too is defined as "Samadhi" in the Sanskrit aphorism: "Yogah Samadhihi." The goal in this approach is ambitious but less so in the spiritual sense. The modest goal in this approach is "Arogyavardhana," Arogya meaning "disease-less-ness" literally and Vardhana meaning enhancing. So the goal is to attain health and wellbeing of the body and mind. The concept of God or Ishwara does not enter into the picture here and is totally tangential, peripheral or irrelevant. Therefore, Yoga is a supra-religious system and is not in itself a religion. The techniques are purely psychophysiological and will yield the same results and attain the same goals regardless of the religion of the practitioner.

Incidentally, there is no concept of separateness of body, mind and spirit, no compartmental treatment of these classified entities, with terms accepted and used in Western and now also in the Eastern languages. In the original redactions of Yoga although Sharira stands for both body and mind (brain included) and chitta standing for awareness and Manas for the emotional self, they are all considered one system not unlike the cardiovascular system, arteries, and heart functioning all together but not as separate organs except for the considerations of anatomy. One cannot usually cut out or disregard one part and hope to function adequately.

There is no mention of Atma and Paramatma in Patanjala Yoga Sutras or Hatha Yoga Pradeepika. When Ishwara is mentioned in the context of surrender to a higher Supreme being Patanjali quickly recognizes that Ishwara is a Vikalpa (abstract imagined entity and is optional to attain the goal of Yoga) as in the sutra: "Ishwaro Vikalpah" "Ishwara pranidhanad va." Va signifying an option for those who believe in Ishwara.

The discussion of Yoga purely in terms of psychophysiological functioning is sometimes mildly offensive to the orthodox Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs and other followers of Hindu religion (Dharma traditions) and its various sects; some of these are considered atheistic. They feel offended that their lofty spiritual domain of Yoga is reduced to a purely physical plane and is presented as an exercise system and is entirely divested of its spiritual basis. However, adding spirituality to Yoga is a personal choice as is clearly illustrated above quoting sage Patanjali, the redactor of Patanjala Yoga Sutras. Hatha Yoga Pradeepika and other texts of Hatha Yoga do not elaborate on other practices or aspects of Yoga, other than Hatha and while not objecting to the practitioners' combining it with various other forms of Yoga like Mantra Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti yoga and even Kundalini Yoga and Tantras in various individualized combinations, the texts themselves do not have elaborate treatment of the theme of relationship with God (Paramatma) or Ishwara.

The present author has no intention of starting a pseudo debate as to whether Patanjali is theistic or atheistic as he clearly seems to recognize both paths as valid and legitimate to attain the goal of Yoga and mentions the devotion and surrender to Ishwara (loosely translated as God) (though in Hindu parlance He is not the same as Theos, Jehova, Allah or "One jealous God" watching the affairs of human beings from some other place outside the Universe He has created, and is not part of it, doling out rewards and punishments. However, if a practitioner of yoga believes in such concept, Vikalpa, such belief is not entirely incompatible with practice of Yoga). As stated before, all those concepts are recognized as products of abstract imagination of the human mind and is classified under the rubric of Vikalpa, hence "God" is neither here nor there, any more than for any ordinary athlete competing in the Olympics. One cannot insist that an athlete has to believe in God or be saved in the Christian Church to attain his goals in the Olympics.

In the Sankhya Darshana, on the other hand, the division between Purusha and Prakriti separates Supreme Consciousness from Prakriti (Nature) and Prakriti manages its affairs autonomously without being micromanaged by Purusha yet it is presumed Purusha is present in all that exists in various levels of valancy.  Even Sankhya Darshana is conceived as atheistic as it does not describe Purusha as God. Sankhya and Yoga Darshanas are very closely related. They, as two closely related disciplines of philosophy (not religions as many confuse them to be), mostly take an objective view of the Universe allowing each individual to choose his own Ishwara or Ishta Devata if one has an emotional need for God or Goddess. Thus Purushottama an anthropomorphised form of Purusha can be conceived as Shri Vishnu (or Shri Rama) viewed as Saguna Brahman, by its nature standing capable of wielding influence on what transpires in the Nature (Prakriti) which necessarily operates because of three gunas with its own eternally valid laws of physics, mathematics, biology, or chemistry (Ritam). This is all confusing to a beginner who cannot change his/her gears to accept an objective philosophical non-religious frame of reference that is based on a different line of thinking in the realm of pure cosmology, cosmogony, and nature of the universe that can be questioned and changed with scientific advances. All this is a tangential but necessary digression, and yet, is not relevant for a practitioner of Yoga who can stay humble and let things flow to attain the goal of Samadhi. His or her efforts need to be modest but laudable and that is to attain Samadhi. Yoga for such an individual is "Samadhibhavanarthah" meaning concentrating and contemplating on attaining or achieving a state of Samadhi, a balanced state of healthy resilient body and mind, that is readily adaptable with sustained internal harmony and peace.

This state in itself will automatically uplift the individual yoga practitioner towards positive health both physical and psychological (mental health). In that state he/she will relate better with his/her environment, and people that he/she relates with, and demonstrate ability for compassion and love for himself/herself and for other human beings. That balanced state of mind with ability to transcend selfishness is called Samadhi, which bypasses all religions.

That is exactly what will give the groups practicing yoga a rudimentary glimpse into world peace.
This was recognized by the wise reporters of Huffington Post who covered the celebration of International Day of Yoga world over. We need to recognize and commend His Excellency Narendra Modi ji, Prime Minister of India and UNO for declaring 21st of June as the International Day of Yoga and for initiating a tradition to move towards world peace endorsed by177 countries with millions benefiting from practice of Yoga. It is now so very beautiful to see even the Chinese girls dressed in ballerina costume performing yoga in harmony on the glass platform over a cliff.

People who have more inclination towards "Bhakti" or devotion and are theistic in their inclination will prefer the goal of Yoga as "Union with God" or the "Self Realization" that one's Atman and Paramatman are one and the same and have always existed as Brahman or Paramatma whose nature is timeless, eternal, without beginning or end. "It" has no qualities but is experienced by the realized individuals as Sat (pronounced as Sut) (Real and Eternally Existing), Chit (Illuminated like cool light,) and Ananda (full of experience of Bliss) "where" there is ultimate peace. This union with Paramatma ends the duality or gives the experience of ecstasy to those who attain the intimacy with that Ultimate entity. The Bhaktas prefer the duality as it is so very blissful and the state experienced is so very full of joy and happiness (Ananda) with immense love for the Ishta Devata. It is like a baby uniting in the arms of loving mother after a long separation.

This subjective state is claimed to be the ultimate enjoyment of human life. Not all who start on the path of Yoga have such lofty goal and they need not burden themselves with such goals. This author will not discuss the words Yogantara and Yogakalantara in the context of such Union (Yoga). Maybe it will be relevant in a future article if the readers have a desire to shorten the time of their Sadhana.

Now, this author has to come to the essence of the title of this short article. It is not an innate trait of the Hindus to keep records of physiological measurements. Real Yogis were indifferent to time elapsed as they were sincerely devoted to the discipline and were confident they will reach their goals. Not that they did not care and did not have the natural desire to attain perfection and goals in the least length of time, but the Hindu philosophy makes most Hindus somewhat laid back. Being tense and hurrying and harrying matters are counter-productive especially in the practice of Yoga. Effortlessness (Prayatna-Shaithilya) and enjoying the practice with emphasis on stability rather than the perfection of the postures (asanas) "sthira-sukha asana" are keys to success. This approach is superficially counterintuitive for speedy, expeditious attainment of goals. Precisely so a person may not use extra efforts and damage the physiological balance by straining the muscles, ligaments and even joints beyond their limits, that this caution has to be respected. Yet, it can be said with confidence that the samadhi or balanced state of the body and mind is not proportionate to the acrobatic ability of the practitioners. Otherwise only those who are endowed with flexible bodies and starting and maintaining the practices of Yoga from early age will be the beneficiaries of Yoga. That is not the case.

How much time has to elapse to reach "Samadhi" a state of healthy balance of body and mind after initiating the practice of Yoga under the guidance of a competent and compassionate Yoga teacher? This is a crucial question. In the Western world and even in India it costs money to learn
yoga and one has to spend one's precious time to attain the goals. In practical terms there need to be
some measures to quantify the progress in Yoga and some kind of time frame to attain the goals with
interim objectives too set in shorter time frame. This is not a new idea only for the West where people are more driven. The Chinese, Japanese, and now even Indians are becoming extremely conscious of time management. The Western Yoga teachers are not alone when challenged to give an answer.

Hatha Yoga Pradeepika authored by Shri Atmaram Suri 6 or 7 centuries ago already set the parameters. They are unrealistic in modern times as no one will be able to devote full time efforts to Yoga but presuming one did take a prolonged leave from work and conventional educational careers and dedicated oneself to the study and practice of Yoga, Atmaram Suri gives hope that one could attain the goal in 6 months. Santa Jnaneshwara who wrote the Bhavartha Deepika on Bhagvad Geeta in Marathi also makes a claim that intelligent contemplated study of Jnaneshwari will help the reader attain Samadhi. These can be dismissed as empty promises now but in their times probably some young healthy students who devoted themselves to such practices were able to reach the goals in prescribed amount of time. Of course, as measurable goals and objectives with previously set length of time for reaching them is not customary in Hindu culture, a new concept is entertained. Therefore, the words Yogantara or Yogakalantara not to be found in that laid back Hindu culture will need to be incorporated into the modern Yogic science.

Let us face it, everyone secretly wishes to have the state of health and wellbeing that is attainable in the shortest amount of time.

Of course, although these are not entirely new concepts, the words coined are new. Also, the time taken to achieve goals is not usually factored into the calculations by the average practitioner of Yoga. Most people except the narcissistic personalities are extremely private or secretive about their own spiritual path, their practices and their own subjective "religious" or "spiritual" experiences. They would not let themselves be subjected to scientific scrutiny of being measured for the level of their attainments or the time it took them to attain that state. That is understandable.

However, in the context of intimate and honest Guru Shishya relationship a candid discussion of levels of attainment and estimation of time devoted to attain the goals was perfectly appropriate; not unlike the academic guide or professor evaluating the progress of their students especially at postgraduate level.

It may not suit the taste of many Indians to introduce these concepts of Yogantara or Yogakalantara in the field of Yoga. It will not be too long before the science of Yoga advances to a level when the attainments of homeostatic balance of body and mind, adaptability or resilience to stress, recoil from physical and emotional trauma, efficiency of the immune response, sustained healthy autonomic balance, factors favoring increased longevity, etc. will become quantifiable in terms of state of health and time taken to attain the state of health. If yoga has to be of benefit to future generations, some way of measuring the levels of attainments and the time factor entailed therein factoring in the baseline state of health measurements will be of immense value from the Preventive Health viewpoint.

Even the Health Insurance companies like Mutual of Omaha has officially recognized Yoga as an "Alternative Medicine" approach to preventive and rehabilitative medical practice. If positive health maintenance is its motto,  (as well as to reduce the cost of future treatments), it may become interested in the concept of Yogantara or Yogakalantara. Scientific investigations in this directions will be worth the effort.

It will also be reassuring to the millions of yoga practitioners all over the world that their efforts are truly valid, meaningful, and productive. The results of their practices are measurable. The measurable goals when attained can significantly improve their own lives and the lives of others. The benefits of positive health, resilience, mental peace, increased longevity and resistance to disease with longer productive life can also be measurable. That will be the next step for public health interests to be kept in mind by the scientists working with WHO and UNO. Larger and larger healthy populations in the work force with ability for sustained harmonious relationships will go a long ways for the economic prosperity of the entire world. The two areas to be initially focused upon will the largest causes of disability, with emphasis on prevention of cardiovascular and mental disabilities (depression).

Let us pray for world harmony and peace, Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih.

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