Understanding Yoga

ANAND MEHROTRA, founder and master-teacher of Sattva Yoga, a radical, holistic and transformational practice, talks to PRITI AGRAWAL on the different aspects of yoga

The growing popularity of yoga worldwide has led to so many different interpretations and practice of the ancient tradition. It is therefore natural for us to wonder what the best way is to approach yoga. Is yoga physical exercise? Is it related to religion and belief in God? Is it about becoming a good human being? Or is yoga to do with something else, entirely?

Anand Mehrotra smiles and answers, “Yoga is too vast to be contained by any of these definitions. It has so many aspects to it. Yoga includes, yet transcends all of its parts. On the physical level, yoga is the most complete system of practices helping us live a healthy life. It addresses all the layers of our body, namely, annamaya kosha, body of food, pranamaya kosha, body of energy, manomaya kosha, body of thought and feeling, jnanamaya kosha, body of knowledge, and anandamaya kosha, body of bliss. Yoga heals mind, body and spirit. Through the practice of yoga, true health is experienced within and without. Yoga truly is the best gift one can give oneself in order to experience the vastness of life”.

Natural Connectedness

However, there have been voices of dissent among some followers of other faiths that to learn yoga would be tantamount to following Hinduism. So, how would he address those doubts? Mehrotra points out that yoga definitely is not a religion. He adds that while religion separates us from one another, yoga brings us closer to our Self and draws us closer to one another.

The word ‘yoga’ itself means to unite, inspiring everyone to come together. He says, “Yoga begins with the knowledge that the basic nature of humans is Satchitananda — truth, unbounded consciousness and bliss. It is a deep disconnect within us that drives us to cause and experience pain. Yoga gives a clear systematic approach to dissolve this ignorance and experience our own true nature. Then the natural experience of true wellbeing starts to arise which automatically leads you to act in accordance with peace and harmony on all levels.”

Some seem to see yoga as sport, making it competitive — would that not go against its avowed aim to unite? “Indeed” says Mehrotra, “to make yoga competitive is to totally misunderstand the very meaning of yoga. Yoga is just not about how flexible one’s body is. It is a whole way of life. How can you make a way of life competitive? To make yoga competitive would be a disservice to yoga and its potential to heal.”

Self Vs self

When asked, what are the obstacles to practice of yoga that aims to free us from suffering, Mehrotra replies, “Sage Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras that the primary reason for suffering is ignorance. The beginning of ignorance in yoga is explained as misidentification of self. To look at the unreal as real, the transient as permanent is ignorance. We live through this small self, bound by our ego and conditioned mind. This egoic self gets conditioned in time by false belief systems, socio-cultural and economic pressures. Moving farther and farther away from its true nature, this egoic self keeps looking for happiness in life and yet does not seem to grasp it. It seems to constantly project an idea into the future and goes running after it in the hope that once there, it will be happy — accumulating stress, disease anxiety and pain in the process. Identification with this conditioned egotistic self is the biggest obstacle to freedom. Through the practice of yoga, we can transcend the small self and connect to our higher Self. Our state of consciousness then rises and we start to reverberate with success, joy, peace and harmony.”

Discussing the common theme in spiritual discourses about the need of living in the moment, Mehrotra says that as long as we don’t have mastery over our mind, we cannot live in the moment. The nature of the mind is to constantly fluctuate between past and future. “To be able to experience the present moment fully, we need a quiet mind. That can only be achieved through the regular practice of meditation. People often separate yoga and meditation. This is a big mistake. Meditation is a deep and integral part of yoga. Through the practice of meditation, we start to experience an inner silence and can begin to see our Self separate from our thoughts. This allows us to have mastery over our mind and bring it to silence. As this silence increases in us, we become more and more present. Our capacity to be in the Now increases, which directly results in a greater joy, peace and intelligence”.