Our body is an extraordinarily complex mechanism comprising of trillions of cells. The cellular community self-organize themselves into various tissues, which in turn self-organize into various organs and systems of functions. When the cells, tissues, organs and systems of function work in a coordinated manner, one experiences harmony, exuberant health and wellness.
On the other hand, if the cellular community is divided and works in a discordant manner, disease and illness ensues. The practice of yoga is designed to strengthen the harmony in the body, mind and spirit, thereby promoting health and wellness. In fact, the word "yoga" means to unite in harmony.
The power of yoga comes from combining the different segments or limbs such as postures, breathwork and meditation. This combination, which is at the heart of holistic well-rounded discipline of yoga -- such as one offered by Sri Sri Yoga, designed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar -- works in synergy to create exuberant health, wellness and harmony.
A gentle, yet powerful health discipline, people often associate yoga with promoting a light and flexible body, as an effective stress-buster, as an easy way to relax and even as a form of therapy. For most, the word yoga conjures images of pretzel-like body postures.
The uniqueness of yoga is that it recognizes the different layers of our existence -- because we are much more than our physical body. Yoga seeks to bring harmony across all levels of our existence, from the body, breath, mind, spirit, etc., and unite them in harmony. Indeed, health in the body is not sustainable if the subtler layers, such as the mind, are in a state of disharmony. Therefore, the practice of yoga is holistic -- it attends to our existence as a whole.
To address the well being of different layers of our existence and unite them in harmony, the practice of yoga comprises different segments or "limbs," as described in the classic yogic literature. Postures, breath-work and meditation are examples of three of the eight limbs described by Patanjali, who is revered as the father of yoga and the author of Yoga Sutras, one of the foundational texts on yoga. Each of the limbs of yoga plays a unique role in promoting harmony.
Postures are a way to listen to the body, love the body and honor this extraordinary gift we possess. According to Patanjali, the practice of postures helps release the divisions or conflicts in the system. A classic example of a conflict is in food choices we make. What is beneficial to the body from a nutrition standpoint is usually not what is experienced delicious by the tongue.
We receive conflicting signals from the instruments of the body on what to eat. With the practice of postures, the instruments of the body become more aligned. I have seen innumerable examples with my own yoga students. Amrita Jain, who did a Sri Sri Yoga workshop in Houston in 2010 indicated that she had become more conscious in her food choices and her attachment to junk food had dropped without effort. Furthermore, according to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, another yoga text, yoga postures help to develop strength in the body, to make it light and agile, and strengthen the immunity so that we experience freedom from disease.
Breathwork promotes the flow of vital life energy, called "prana," to flow and nourish every cell in the body. According to Patanjali, breathwork removes any blocks that prevent the expression of joy and wellness. Furthermore, breathwork helps to transform a scattered state of mind into a state of focus and concentration. In fact, yoga's contribution to unlock and utilize the secrets of the breath is unique and monumental.
The art of meditation helps to promote a beautiful blend of relaxation and alertness. Yoga posits that at the core of our being is a place of harmony. In meditation, we allow this harmony to percolate to every layer of our existence. As we unwind and release the stress in meditation, we experience profound peace and an elevated state of awareness. This powerful state of being connects us with our inner resources such as intuition, intelligence and creativity.
Yoga has also been recognized as an effective therapeutic intervention targeted at many common ailments. Sean Wilbur, who did the Sri Sri Yoga workshop with me in New York in April 2009, shared that his lower back pain completely subsided after just four days of yoga practice. Another student, Linda Amory from Austin, said that earlier she had uncontrollable pain in her knees due to arthritis. However, after starting yoga, the knee pain was gone.
The benefits of yoga are also felt in the mind. Sean also indicated that his concentration levels increased tremendously after practicing yoga. One of my students from Albany, NY was suffering from bouts of severe depression. Within six months of daily practice of yoga, she experienced enormous relief and the experience shared was powerful and heart-warming. She said that yoga saved her life and made her feel extremely light and happy.
The primary intent of yoga practice is to promote harmony so that we allow the expression of health and wellness. September is celebrated as the yoga month of the year, yet a consistent practice offers a powerful way to health and harmony through one's life.