Aims of Yoga

Excerpts from BKS Iyengar’s book Yoga – the Path to Holistic Health


The practice of yoga aims at overcoming the limitations of the body. Yoga teaches us that the goal of every individual’s life is to take the inner journey to the soul. Yoga offers both the goal and the means to reach it.

When there is perfect harmony between body and mind, we achieve self-realization. Yoga teaches us that obstacles in the path of our self-realization indicate themselves in physical or mental indisposition. When our physical state is not perfect, this causes imbalance in our mental state, which is known in Sanskrit as chittavritti. The practice of yoga helps us to overcome that imbalance. Yogic asanas or poses, can cure vyadhi or physical ailments, and redress unsteadiness in the body.  Shvasa-prashvasa, which translates as “uneven respiration” – an indication of stress – is alleviated by the practice of yoga.  Asanas tone the whole body. They strengthen bones, muscles, correct posture, improve breathing, and increase energy. This physical well-being has a strengthening and calming impact on the mind.

ASANAS AND PRANAYAMA (BREATH CONTROL)

Practicing asanas cleanses the body.  Just as a goldsmith heats gold in fire to burn out its impurities, similarly asanas, by increasing the circulation of fresh blood through the body, purge it of the diseases and toxins which are the consequences of an irregular lifestyle, unhealthy habits, and poor posture. Regular practice of the stretches, twists, bends and inversions – the basic movements of asanas – restores strength and stamina to the body.  Asanas together with pranayama (control of breath) or breathing exercises, rectify physical, physiological, and psychological disorders.  They have a positive impact on the effects of stress and disease.  Among the many ailments that benefit from the practice of asanas  are osteoarthritis, high and low blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and anorexia.

MIND AND BODY

The body and the mind are in a state of constant interaction. Yogic science does not demarcate where the body ends and the mind begins, but approaches both as a single, integrated entity. The turmoil of daily life brings stress to the body and the mind. This creates anxiety, depression, restlessness, and rage. Yoga asanas, while appearing to deal with the physical body alone, actually influence the chemical balance of the brain, which in turn improves one’s mental state of being.

The obstacles to this perfect balance were outlined by the sage, Patanjali, some 2000 years ago in the Yoga Sutras. Historians disagree on the exact dates, but it is known that the sutras, or aphorisms on the philosophy and practice of yoga, were compiled sometime between 300 BC and AD 300, and the entire corpus was called the Patanjali Yoga Darshana.  In the final chapter of the Yoga Sutras, the Samadhi Pada, Patanjali discusses the disorders that are the root cause of suffering.  According to the sage, physical ailments create emotional upheaval.  The task of yoga is to tackle both.

The alleviation of pain is, even today, one of the main reasons for the journey into yoga for most people. Yoga asanas work specific parts of the body to soothe and relax the mind as well. Inverted asanas, for instance, simultaneously calm and stimulate the brain. These asanas activate glands and vital organs by supplying fresh blood to the brain, making it alert but relaxed.

Yoga possesses the unique ability to calm the nerves. The nerves function as the medium between the psychological body and the physiological body.  Practicing yoga has the holistic impact of relaxing the body and calming the mind.