During my Yoga training days and then through my own seeking of information, I have come across a lot of concepts that are so relevant to everyday lives of people like you and me who live in society, in families, are not ascetics living outside society. Today, we discuss a concept that I came across during my training but started making sense of it only much later. It has slowly become a concept that I realise is not just important but indispensable to live life well.
What is Vihāra?
Just like with every concept, we will first look through the meaning of the word Vihāra before delving into the Yogic aspects of it. I find this to be an important step in understanding a concept with clarity because it tells us a single word can have multiple and very different meanings and it is important to pick the right meaning. It is also quite useful in understanding how easy misinterpretation can be, especially when we are discussing text written in a language that very few people speak or understand well today.
Most of the meanings of Sanskrit terms I use in my articles are taken from Wisdom Library, a website with an exhaustive compilation of meanings of Sanskrit words from numerous texts and languages. I’m so thankful to have found this wonderful resource to aid my writing.
Vihāra is a common word used in many Indian languages but in a slightly different context from what we will be looking at today; it is used both as a noun and a verb. Let us look at some of its meanings:
- Strolling, taking a walk
- Play, pastime, recreation
- Park, garden
- Taking away, removing
The last one is a new interpretation for me, one that adds a wonderful layer of understanding to the use of this word in Yoga.
Vihāra and Yoga
In the days preceding this article, I have indulged in a lot of Vihāra and that spurred me to write about it here. I realised I have never wondered where this term came from into Yoga and which text or sage had spoken of it! I researched it and found mentions in the Bhagavad Gita, and that is where this term has come into Yogic studies. It might be mentioned in other texts as well, but for today’s understanding, we are considering a verse from the Bhagavad Gita that mentions Vihāra and Āhāra (diet, food, what we feed ourselves).
You can check my Instagram post to hear the chanting of this verse and to read a simple translation by Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
In Yoga, we will consider all of the meanings mentioned above and add context to understand the practical aspects of the concept. When we discuss Vihāra in Yoga, we refer to three aspects of it:
- Rest and sleep
Park, garden, strolling, and taking a walk all can be considered under relaxation. Play and pastime are part of recreation – engaging in hobbies and passions and giving time regularly to these activities. But my personal favourite here is the last meaning I have mentioned – taking away or removing – because it explains why we should indulge in Vihāra and why Yoga recommends it.
When we relax every day by taking a stroll, sitting in a garden, practising relaxation techniques, or whatever other way we choose to relax in a healthy way, we take away the tiredness of the day, the week, and refresh ourselves physically and mentally. When we rest well by sleeping and get adequate and quality sleep every night, we remove the stress of the day from the body and the mind.
Yoga believes that sleep and relaxation are extremely important and should be practised every single day. We should get 6-8 hours (at times more) of undisturbed sleep each night and wake up refreshed and full of energy. When it is daytime and we feel low on energy, are stressed, or need a break, we should practise relaxation techniques; Yoga suggests avoiding sleeping during the day and limiting it to the night unless it is unavoidable.
And then Yoga speaks about recreation, and many people are often surprised when I mention that Yoga speaks about taking time out regularly to engage in hobbies and passions. Ideally, a hobby should be completely removed from work and tasks that cause stress and agitation. It should be an activity that engages us physically and mentally, does not harm us or anyone else, and brings us joy. It is an activity that makes us lose track of time, forget about social media, and involves us so absolutely that we forget the world around us.
Some common hobbies that are easy to indulge in without the need for a lot of space or time are singing, dancing, gardening, painting, sketching, tailoring, writing, spending time with animals (pets or otherwise), craft activities, cooking, making wire jewellery, knitting and crocheting. This is definitely not an exhaustive list, and there is so much more that you can do based on your interests and availability of resources.
A few hobbies that I immensely enjoy are writing, reading, singing, cooking, and playing with my cat. A hobby I discovered a few years ago that I immensely enjoy is DIY work – creating things, repairing things around the house, figuring out how to fix or repair things. This can mean working with wood, stitching, polishing and painting, among other things. DIY work has been keeping me busy of late and I am absolutely enjoying myself! I have even started building myself a simple toolkit with recommendations from dear friends for the DIY work.
What hobbies do you enjoy pursuing? If you do not have a hobby right now, would you like to find something that interests you and brings you joy? Do you have more ideas of hobbies to add to the list I have mentioned earlier?
If you would like to learn more about such simple and applicable concepts from Yoga, do not hesitate to get in touch here or on Instagram. I would love to share my experiences and learnings with you and help you bring Yoga into your life!