“Yogas chittas vritti nirodhah,” wrote Patanjali who compiled the seminal yoga-sutras between 2CE and 4CE. It means the stilling and calming the mind. And no it does not refer to the twists and turns, and the jumps and twirls that yoga teacher and business honcho Ramdev does on television, and on the stage in the name of yoga. Of course he gets applauded. and followers rush to buy the various products made by his company aptly named Patanjali.
Yoga Day has now gone international. It is now a trending hashtag on all social media. Yoga enthusiasts are tying themselves in knots, hoping to bask in some online glory. Exhale slowly. For one day at least.
The government machinery is delighted. Feeding into this TRP-driven hype, the I&B ministry has now stated that they would have a jury to go through all the TV channels and newspapers to check who was running the ‘best programme, article’. Reminds one of the annual days at school, doesn’t it?
In the midst of all this melee, it is quite easy to forget that an ancient indigenous fitness system, that was practiced for mental, physical, and emotional health, has now been hijacked and morphed according to whatever the TV and internet consumer demands.
Yoga is for the mind as much as it is for the body. And it has been popularised by the very first government of Independent India. People have forgotten, or they never knew, that the first prime minister of the country, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was a dedicated yoga practitioner, and had written about yoga in his book, Discovery of India. He wrote that the yoga system of Patanjali was essentially a method for the discipline of the body and the mind, leading up to a higher psychic and spiritual training.
We have also forgotten that in 1952, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had moved a resolution the Rajya Sabha, which stated that yoga should be a part of health education in the country.
In what could be deemed prescient, Nehru had written that yoga is little understood and has come to be associated with quaint practices, especially with sitting Buddha-like and gazing on the tip of one’s nose. Condemning the practice, he had said that some people learn odd tricks of the body and presume themselves to be authorities on the subject in the West, and impress and exploit the trustful and the seekers.
There are many who will try to reinvent the wheel and try to deceive, but as Swami Vivekananda says, inspiration must not contradict reason.
Yoga is much more than these get-popular-quick devices and it is based on the idea that by proper training of the mind certain higher levels of consciousness can be reached. “It is meant to be a method for finding out things for oneself rather than a preconceived theory of reality or of the universe,” he had written. But today, yoga has been reduced to nothing more than stretches and Twitter challenges.
What is most important, and we are reminded of by Nehru, who said that belief in God was not an integral part of the system. But believing in a personal God helps the mind in concentrating and this can serve a practical purpose. Cautioning against unregulated yoga, Nehru said that it was well-known that unregulated Yoga has sometimes led to unfortunate consequences so far as the mind of the person is concerned.
In Discovery of India, Nehru observes that before the final stages of meditation and contemplation are reached, discipline of the body and mind must be practised. The body should be fit and healthy, supple and graceful, hard and strong, maintains the first Prime Minister of India.
Taking a dig at himself, Nehru had famously said, “Among my exercises one that pleases me particularly is the sirsasana, standing on the head with the palms of the hands, fingers interlocked, supporting the back of the head, elbows on the floor, body vertical, upside down. I suppose physically this exercise is very good; I liked it even more for its psychological effects on me. The slightly comic position increased my good humour and made me a little more tolerant of life’s vagaries.” What a contrast to the made-for-the-camera seriousness that Yoga Day practitioners now profess.
While explaining the difference between exercises and asanas, Nehru pointed out that the old asana method is perhaps the more typical of India and seems to in with the spirit of her philosophy, unlike exercises involving rushing about, jerks, hops and jumps. Being forthright, Nehru says he has practised only a few selected asanas and he has profited greatly by them because he lived in “environments unfavourable to the mind and body”. He concedes that he hasn’t gone beyond the elementary stages and that his mind continued “to be an unruly member, misbehaving far too often”.
Yoga has to be accompanied by ethical preparation, which includes eating and drinking the right things and avoiding the wrong ones to discipline the body. To discipline the mind, the yoga system includes “non-violence, truthfulness, continence”. Nehru underscored that non-violence or ahimsa is something much more than abstention from physical violence. It is an avoidance of malice and hatred.
Nehru deduced that according to yoga, thought is action and only action can make thought of any value. Quoting Vivekananda, he wrote that inspiration must be for the good of one and all; and not for name or fame or personal gain. It should always be for the good of the world.
Yoga has almost been stripped of its intellectual aura when businessmen, and politicians, mostly unfit ones, take to espousing yoga under the garb of being yogis for a day. While programmes are organised and editorials are written on yoga, we hardly hear of anyone advocating non-violence, truthfulness or self-restraint. Peace, is the true essence of Yoga. Something that is needed long after the #InternationalYogaDay is over.