The language of Yoga
Yoga has a very long history dating back thousands of years. Nobody really knows for sure when it all started. The Aryan barbarians brought yoga and Brahmanism with them when they invaded the Indus Valley in 1500 B.C.E. Brahamanism is a complex religious tradition. This is the tie religion has to yoga. But keep in mind man of every culture many years ago thought of everything in the context of spirituality, gods and divinity. This is how ancient people made sense of the world around them. It is the Brahman culture, actually a warring culture that gave us the first yoga. These were hard and barbaric times, but these people still managed to create a structured and complicated civilization. They were more than likely brilliant although warring and murderous. They were also the first recorded scientists. They studied the health and well being of people and recorded what worked and what didn’t based on, of course, natural means since that is all there was.
The literature of yoga is written in epic poems, stories and scripture. They have been interpreted and rewritten by many. They include the Vedas, Brahamanas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Tantra, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to name only a few. The teachings of the Upanishads, Patanjali’s yoga sutras and the Bhagavad-Gita define yoga today. The Bhagavad-Gita is considered the most important text and is an epic poem of a conversation between a warrior prince, Arjuna and the manGod, Krishna. Krishna instructs Arjuna on the meaning and purpose of life and existence as Arjuna fulfills his duties on the battlefield. We cannot ignore this important works of art, literature, science and medicine. It is far too valuable to the understanding of the world and ourselves. Because it is from a poverty stricken, exotic and ancient part of the world, many may too easily overlook it.
Sanskrit is one of the oldest Indo-European languages in the world and includes a rich tradition of poetry, literature, science, philosophy and religion. It is one if the 22 official languages of India. Sanskrit was the language of the ancient yoga texts mentioned above. Today Sanskrit is also the language of yoga. The yoga postures, philosophy, mantras and hymns are spoken today around the globe in yoga centers. This seems to be a language that will never die. More and more on the radio, television and written publications I hear Sanskrit words used in our own vernacular such as mantra, yoga, chanting, chakra, and mandala. Yoga has become more and more mainstream over the years and for good reason. It is a study of the beginning of the civilizing of man.
The Sanskrit word “mantra” is a word or string of words chanted over and over to accomplish concentration of the mind. The word mantra consists of the root man or manas meaning, “to think” and the suffix tra meaning “tool” hence the “tool or instrument of thought. Mantras are effective sound vibrations and great emphasis is put on correct pronunciation. This correct pronunciation has very practical benefit such as toning the facial muscles, clearing the bronchial tubes, deep breathing, strengthening of the abdominal and respiratory muscles including the diaphragm. Some of the sounds made by yoga chanting vibrate the ears and nose clearing the sinuses. Yoga mantras would be incredibly useful in phonetics and speech therapy.
The yogis felt that chanting the same phrase of words over and over again cleared the mind of illusion and material inclinations so that meditation can be practiced. Mantra is practiced today to release the mind. Yoga is so popular today because yoga meditation is learning to take the time to release the mind from cares, worries, time constraints, work, responsibility and even physical pain for a time and allow the mind to recuperate, regenerate and expand. This mental release is accomplished by meditation and also repeating the same phrase of words over and over as in a mantra. Mantra can also be used to invoke a feeling state or even for remembering facts. Try this sometime. When you are in a very relaxed state pick a short mantra to repeat over and over. Something that sounds good to you. The next time you are stressed repeat this same mantra and your relaxed state will be remembered.
The benefits of all of yoga are amazing. The problem I can see in getting people to use this useful ancient knowledge is that it takes more time than taking a pill. You have to be willing to study and practice and be patient with the results. In fact, you must completely let go of any expectation or desired result you wish from yoga and practice with a completely clear mind. The Sanskrit word for this completely clear state of mind is a word you have heard many times . . . Nirvana.
Nirvana is not a state you find yourself in but is the culmination of the practice of very definite instructions on meditation that you must study and learn. One who wishes to accomplish Nirvana must study the yoga sutras along with other yoga texts and practice the yoga poses for physical cleansing and relaxation. Just the yoga sutras will take you a long way toward Nirvana, a state of complete bliss.
In America, we may see this state of bliss as weak or not useful. We are a society built on hard work and competition. Nothing wrong with that, but being still and not accomplishing something is very hard for us to see as useful. We must allow the mind time to unwind and regenerate so that our energies are balanced and plentiful. We will become depleted if we do not give back to ourselves. Sleep is not meditation. It is entirely different. In sleep the mind is still active in meditation the mind is not active at all. Sounds impossible? Maybe but the practice is incredibly calming.
Believe me, learning to clear your mind for a good night’s sleep, learning how to seek a balanced and peaceful state of mind through the daily ups and downs of life, learning not to waste the enormous amounts of energy that anxiety, stress and negativity require, seeing each and every moment just as it really is without mood swings or the colorations of the past to mar your view of the precious present is invaluable and worth gold.
In meditation, we are teaching our minds to be quiet. We are controlling our senses, thoughts, habits, compulsions and our emotional reactions. We are telling our minds that we are in control. . . that no means no. This is a discipline of your mind. Meditation is also a way to just observe desires or old habits without reacting to them so that we develop self-restraint. In yoga self-restraint is one of the noblest qualities one can attain. If you want to learn this personal quality, study yoga.