Science of enlightenment
It is not easy to define Yoga.
Yoga has come to be associated with physical postures, stretching, relaxation, health, well-being etc., but as a system, Yoga is all about what happens in our mind, our psyche.
The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, written nearly 2000 years ago, is considered to be the heart text on the subject by many, and outlines how to reduce disturbances in the mind and bring more stability. It defines Yoga as directing or restraining the constant natural fluctuations/changes in our psyche. It points to some kind of mastery which leads to a more enlightened way of living or being and more inner peace.
The basic premise is that we all suffer at one level or the other. While this can be due to forces of nature or due to others, mostly we inflict it upon ourselves. We suffer due to the fact that our minds identify with what we are not. We are not our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts, even our personalities, as all these things are subject to constant change, yet we often act as if this was the case. So who are we really? There is the suggestion of a core that never changes, something deep inside that we could think of as our true Self. We are (mostly) unaware of this, as our vision is clouded by all our misunderstandings. A more clear and stable mind, less extreme emotions and of course a healthy body are all necessary to reduce suffering and move forward in Life. The Yoga Sūtra says that with Yoga, something can fall into place which right now is profoundly skewed. Honestly observing the incessant, often negative chatter in our minds and looking at how wars are being fought, atrocities are being committed and the environment is being destroyed indeed leads to the conclusion that something isn't quite right.
It is important to recognise that most people won't come to Yoga with a desire to realise the most profound spiritual truths, but rather with a desire to improve some particular aspects of their lives. Yet it is also important to emphasise that Yoga is not simply a physical exercise regime.
Together with the traditional teachings of Zen Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Taoism, Sufism etc., but even at their core, the teachings of the main religions, Yoga is about Self-Realisation. There is some kind of spiritual potential within all of us - it is pointed to as "Enlightenment", "Awakening", "Liberation", "Samadhi", "Nirvana" etc. - but unfortunately there do not seem to be many teachers in the world that can speak about this with authority, integrity, or let alone guide people properly. Just like with modern science, it seems that none of these traditions (including Yoga) have all the answers, and that our knowledge is still evolving. Studying the old texts is important, but so is critical thinking.
The ultimate aim of Yoga and other traditions, our true potential, is beyond the scope of this short article and beyond my remit, yet what is clear, is just how valuable learning about ourselves and the world is, that we all need to move forward, and that the teachings of Yoga now provide us with many profound and valuable insights related to physical and mental health, all of a thoroughly practical nature.
Openness is so important, even when our instincts might make us look away, out of fear... who knows what is possible, who knows what will be...