Let us start with what is seen, heard, and understood as Yoga by most of us today. My understanding of what Yoga is perceived as from what I have encountered online and offline is this – it is physical movement, light stretching, and exercise; it is breath control; it is slow and easy and not for everyone. It is often one of these or a combination that I have come across to explain what Yoga is.
What is Yoga?
Many traditional Yoga schools and teachers will tell you Yoga is a way of life. But if it is one or many of the things mentioned above, it may not sound like it. So, where does this belief of a way of life come from, then?
To understand what it means to live Yoga and not just practise it, we have to delve into the scriptures and concepts. There is no Yoga without the philosophy behind the practices and tools. The philosophy gives every movement, every moment intent and meaning. It creates the foundation on which all physical and pranic practices are based and understood; scripture gives meaning to actions.
When we look at Yogic texts, there is of course a mention of physical practices and some go into great detail about such practices. However, the difference between modern exercise and the physical practices in these texts is the intent. We have discussed this in greater detail in my article on Āsana and Prānāyāma, so we will not get into it in detail here.
What is essential to know is apart from these physical practices, most ancient Yogic texts speak about not just practising Yoga for a few hours but living it moment to moment. What does this mean in practical terms for our lives today? We will look at a part of this idea in this article.
A way of life
If you were confused by the title of the article, read on and, hopefully, there will be some clarity as you read. This concept of Yogic living is mentioned in many texts, but today, I want to discuss it from the perspective of the Bhagavad Gita, specifically from one verse in the text. In chapter 6, verse 17, the concepts of Āhāra and Vihāra are mentioned and we will be looking at the concept of Vihāra here.
We will start by looking at the meanings of this word. For those familiar with any Indian languages, you might already be familiar with this term as it is often used in everyday conversation.
Vihāra – sanctuary or holy place; movement, sport, or pastime; relaxation or recreation; pleasurable wandering or strolling (source: https://www.wisdomlib.org)
In everyday usage, Vihāra is typically used to mean a walk or stroll. But when we consider it to mean relaxation, recreation, and sanctuary, we begin to understand its significance in Yoga. Maybe the early Yogis who devised Yogic techniques and tools knew that people tend to get preoccupied with their occupation, money, power, material gains enough to forget about their own health and sanity. They included Vihāra for exactly this purpose, so we learn to balance our lives and care for our mental health in the midst of all our worldly endeavours.
In the Bhagavan Gita verse shared above, Krishna says that when we do everything in moderation and be aware of our mind and thoughts at all times, everything we do becomes meditation. This constant effort slowly starts removing sorrow from our lives and brings joy and happiness, and this is a Yogic way of life!
We can start building awareness in small steps, a little bit at a time. Whenever we remember, we can close our eyes for a minute and watch ourselves – body, breath, thoughts – before continuing on with our day. We can pause before we speak, think about what we are about to say and be completely sure before speaking.
Awareness brings with it the realisation that we need to give time to ourselves and spend time with ourselves every day. It urges us to connect with our body, breath, and thought as often as we can. This, in turn, propels us to make time for ourselves – for a stroll, for some Āsana or Prānāyāma practice, for sleep at night, for rest during the day. It makes us find the things that bring us joy – a hobby, healing others, caring for animals, growing plants, playing with children, cuddling little babies – and make us feel a glow of satisfaction from within that doesn’t change, no matter what happens around us.
Now, if you are familiar with Niyama and the concept of Santosha, you will be able to see how these practices of Vihāra can slowly build contentment and lead us towards lasting happiness.
Every concept that I know of from Yogic texts and that I have discussed here in the Concepts for Daily Living series is interconnected and interwoven with other concepts and practices, all of which together lead us towards the ultimate goal of self-realisation, Nirvāna, Kaivalya, Samādhi, or whatever else we may choose to call it.
Yoga truly is a way of living life well if we take the time to understand the philosophy behind everyday practices. Understanding why we do what we do can enrich our lives in ways that will surprise and fulfil us at every step of our journey.