Why Is Yoga Spiritual?

It is well accepted that yoga is a systematic way to reduce stress. Those not interested in spiritual aspects of yoga need to know that the benefits from reduction of chronic stress are considerable and this should be enough to get them going into yoga. No further discussion necessary. But this article is about spirituality and seeks to answer the question why is yoga spiritual? Why is it that by doing yoga stretches that we tend to become more spiritual?

Why are we stressed?

To understand connection between yoga and spirituality we need to first answer the question: why are we stressed? The stress system answers to life-threatening situations. When a tiger is chasing the deer, the fight-or-flee situation kicks in. This is a perfectly tailor made situation to be stressed if you are the deer! While crossing a road if you are about to be run over by an approaching car, it is not the time to ponder on existential questions or have loving feelings towards the driver of the approaching vehicle. It is time for the stress response to kick in. It is time to flee and jump out of trouble! But in modern times life-threatening situations are rare. So this begs the question: Why are we stressed?

Ego and Stress

The answer to the question ‘Why are we stressed?’ comes when we realize that though physically we may not be under life-threatening situations, we still constantly feel under attack. Thus when we hear criticism we feel under attack. When we worry about losing our job we feel threatened. We also feel stress in traffic if we feel unproductive and have a lot to get done. Pressure of work can also be stressful if we feel that this may get us into trouble with our boss.

In most people stress happens because we feel under attack or challenged. This is the ego feeling threatened or unsecure. Modern day stress is not usually due to physical threat but is as the result of the ego.

Can reduction of stress impact ego?

The larger our ego the more stress we generate. This is because we have more opportunities to feel hurt or feel under attack. Ego creates stress. But what happens when we reduce stress? What is the impact of stress reduction on ego?

When stress is reduced, our mind is able to function more clearly. We are able to better control our feelings and we become less reactive. We are able to express ourselves from our deeper selves than being just defensive. When stress reduces in our lives, we can find it easier to be more thankful, more loving, and more kind. Instead of expressing ourselves from our egos we are able to do so from a deeper level. When stress goes down our ego matters less.

What is connection of ego and spirituality?

We are all spiritual beings. But sadly we spend most of our lives less with our spirit but more as slaves of our egos. When we make our egos goals as our own, spirituality takes a back seat. Instead stress enters our life and our thinking becomes more and more clouded. We become reactive and defensive, spending most of our energy defending the ego and its whims. Ego causes stress and stress strengthens ego. Our lives are hijacked by the ego because we are unable to break out of this cycle.

Yoga and spirituality

The yoga of postures takes us out of this cycle. By reducing stress it clears the fog in our mind. This opens our mind to deeper impulses. As our practice of yoga deepens and stress levels continue to plummet we are able to sideline the concerns of the ego and take back control of our lives. We become spiritual beings. Our lives begin to be governed by principles of unity and love, not division and hostility.

Related: Five Golden Rules For Beginners

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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Saint Blesses Thief

Saint And Thief

This is a story about the Ramana Mahrshi. In this story he is referred to as “Sri Bhagvan”:

For most of the day Sri Bhagavan used to sit on his sofa, which was adjacent to a window. Squirrels would occasionally come in through the window and run around near him. Sri Bhagavan would often respond to them by lovingly feeding them cashews or other foodstuffs with his own hand. One day Sri Bhagavan was feeding the squirrels when a devotee, who had been watching him, gave him a note in which was written: “The squirrels are very fortunate because they are getting the food from your own hands. Your grace is so much on them. We feel jealous of the squirrels and feel that we also should have been born as squirrels. Then it would have been very good for us.”

Sri Bhagavan couldn’t help laughing when he read this note. He told the man, “How do you know that the grace is not there on you also?” And then, to illustrate his point, he started to tell a long story.

One saint had the power of correct predictive speech. That is, whatever he said came true. In whatever town he went to, the local people would come to him to see him and to get his blessings. The saint, who was also full of compassion, removed the unhappiness of the people by blessing them. Because his words always came true, the blessings always bore fruit. That is why he was so popular.

During his wanderings he came to a town where, as usual, a lot of people flocked to him to get his blessings. Among the blessing seekers there was a thief. He went to see the saint in the evening and asked for his blessings. When the saint blessed him, the thief was very happy. He felt certain that because of these blessings, when he went out to steal at night, he would be successful. But it turned out otherwise. Whenever he went to break into a house, somebody or other from that house would wake up and he would have to run away. He tried in three or four places but he could not succeed anywhere.

Because of his failure, the thief got very angry with the saint. Early the next morning he went back to him and angrily said, ‘You are an impostor! You are giving false blessings to the people.’

The saint very peacefully asked the reason for his anger. In reply the thief narrated in detail how unsuccessful he had been during his attempts to steal the previous night. Having heard his story, the saint commented, ‘In that case, the blessings have borne fruit.’

‘How’ the thief asked with astonishment.

‘Brother, first tell me, being a thief, is it a good or a bad job?’

‘It is bad,’ the thief admitted, but then he defended himself by saying , ‘but what about the stomach that I have to feed?’

The saint continued with his explanation: ‘To be unsuccessful in bad work means that the blessings have indeed borne fruit. There are so many other ways of feeding the stomach. You should accept any one of them. To come to this conclusion it was necessary that you be unsuccessful in your thieving work.’

The thief understood and informed the saint that in future he would take up some other honest work. He prostrated before the saint and left.

Having narrated the above story, Sri Bhagavan asked the devotee, “Do you mean to say that if everything goes according to your desires, only then is it possible to say that the grace of a saint has worked?”

“I don’t understand,” replied the Devotee.

Sri Bhagavan explained in more detail: “The blessings of a saint perform the purificatory work of life. These blessings cannot increase impurity. One whose understanding is limited will ask for blessings so that he can fulfill certain desires, but if the desires are such that their fulfillment will make the seeker more impure rather than purer, the saint’s blessings will not enable him to fulfill the desires. In this way the seeker is saved from further impurities. In that case, are not the saint’s blessings a gift of compassion?” The devotee finally understood and was satisfied by these words.

Credit: This is based on an account we got via e-mail. Original source unknown.

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How Does Yoga Work?

How Does Yoga Work

It is well accepted that yoga is a great tool for countering stress. Yoga helps calm the mind body down and de-stress it. But how does it work? To understand this we need to know what Biofeedback is.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a technique that is used to train people with conditions such as high blood pressure, headache, migraine, chronic pain, and urinary inconsistence. Biofeedback is generally used to control bodily processes that are not normally in our voluntary control. Electrodes are attached to our skin to measure heart rate, brain waves, skin temperature, skin moisture, stress in muscles, etc., The information collected by the various instruments is processed and displayed to the patient as a signal, usually on a monitor. This signal usually represents the stress levels of a patient. The patient is asked to mentally work towards moving the signal in a particular direction that indicates lowering of stress level. Biofeedback allows the patient to understand her current stress levels and figure out what thoughts and actions increase it and what lower it, allowing her to voluntarily control her stress levels. When this happens blood pressure reduces, muscles relax and chronic pain subsides.

Biofeedback shows that it is possible to voluntarily reduce stress levels by countering its effects.

Impact Of Stress On Us

Here is what stress does to us:

1. It makes our muscles tense.
2. It shortens our breath making it shallow and quick.
3. It puts our mind in a tizzy of circular thoughts of worry and anxiety.

This means that if we counter each of these effects of stress, we should be able to trigger a response from our body that de-stresses it.

Does It Really Happen?

The fact that meditation triggers relaxation has been scientifically established since the past 40 years. This effect is well known as the “Relaxation Response”. If we interrupt the constant flow of thoughts in our heads by repeating a single thought or phrase for 20 minutes, our body triggers a “Relaxation Response”. This causes our body to relax muscles, lower blood pressure, slow down breathing, and de-stress.

The following effects have also been tested and scientifically established to various degrees:

1. If we stretch our muscles for 20 to 30 minutes then this triggers a response in our body that is equivalent to de-stressing.
2. If we breathe consciously for 10 to 15 minutes to slow and elongate our breath then this too triggers a relaxation response in our body and de-stresses it.

Yoga’s Triple Whammy De-stressing

Yoga is an extremely powerful de-stressor because it takes advantage of all three mechanisms to counter stress:

1. Most of yoga’s postures involve stretching various muscle groups. By systematically stretching muscles we send a strong biofeedback signal to our mind-body to relax and de-stress.
2. While practicing yoga postures the breath is deliberately slowed down and elongated. A specific technique of breathing known as “Ujjayi breath” (Throat Breath or Ocean sounding breath) is used to accomplish this. And it provides a great biofeedback signal for our mind-body to relax.
3. Yoga practitioners are asked to focus all thoughts only on breath and movement. Advanced practitioners are required to have a “focused gaze” known as “Drishti”. All this ensures that the mind is not wandering while practicing yoga. By breaking the cycle of circular thoughts of anxiety and worry the body is put in a relaxed state.

Because yoga uses all three powerful techniques at the same time, it provides a strong biofeedback for our mind-body to relax and de-stress. The effect is usually so powerful that yoga practitioners attest to feelings of floating, peace, and calmness after the practice is over. Yoga is currently the only known mass used technique that allows a systematic way to counter chronic stress. Since chronic stress is the underlying cause of so many of our physical and mental ailments, the effects of yoga are so “magical”.

Yoga Cautions

Smoking is extraordinarily dangerous and it slowly kills us. But many of us are unable to kick the habit because smoking is addictive. Similarly stress too is extraordinarily dangerous for us and chronic stress is a silent killer. But just as it is difficult to kick the habit of smoking, it is also difficult to counter chronic stress because it too is addictive.

So, as we do yoga to counter the effect of stress, many of us somehow reintroduce stress in our lives in various forms. It is important to recognize this and counter this tendency. This is why the larger practice of yoga involves simplification and slowing down our lives. The benefits of yoga can easily be lost if we do not look at the big picture of our lives.

Sometimes we do not have to go too far to see how the dilution of the benefits of yoga is accomplished. This is done within the yoga practice itself. Yoga is sometimes practiced as a “fast workout” incorporating fast music. As we have seen the benefits of yoga happen by:

1. Stretching muscles not contracting them.
2. By slowing and elongating the breath, not shortening and quickening it.
3. By focusing our thoughts and calming down the mind, not exciting it.

Please make sure that your yoga practice delivers to you its main benefit: de-stressing of the mind-body.

The Gift Of Yoga

Yoga is an extraordinary gift. It is one of the few available scientifically proven ways of countering chronic stress. It is inexpensive, needs no fancy equipment, and is practiced safely and effectively by millions. Compared to the cost of chronic stress on our lives, yoga is safe, cheap, and effective. Let us resolve to maximize the gift of yoga by also looking at the big picture of our lives. And also let us make sure that the yoga we practice delivers on the main benefit in terms of de-stressing our mind-bodies.

Related: Five Golden Rules For Beginners

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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