Today’s fast-paced lifestyle has even the most persistent of individuals pausing for a breath. Millions of people around the world are turning to the ancient spiritual discipline of yoga for a way to calm the senses and stabilize their minds. Yoga originated in ancient India in 200 BCE. Patanjali Rishi composed Yog Darshana, a Sanskrit text whose verses are known as the Yoga Sutras. The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha promotes a healthy lifestyle by organizing yoga classes at many of its centers around the world. These classes teach yoga to children and adults free of cost. They heighten concentration and help people focus their energy on mental and physical relaxation. Yoga is an essential aid for spiritual progress because it increases one’s self-control and discipline. During their daily morning puja, members of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha perform dhyan and pranayam, integral practices of yoga. While performing pranayam, they engage in breathing exercises, and during dhyan, devotees meditate on Bhagwan Swaminarayan and their guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Jala Barot says these yogic practices help her focus and stay calm during the day: “I used to have high blood pressure and [would] even lose my temper at various points during the day. After I started doing pranayam in my puja, it was like I was a different person. I was a lot calmer and more in control of myself.”
The true spiritual meaning of yoga is to unite one’s self with God—to recognize His divine swarup and mahima. BAPS aids millions of people around the world in achieving this higher spiritual meaning of yoga through its Spiritual Living activities.
During Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s travels across India, He mastered ashtanga yoga, or the eight stages of yoga, in just 12 months under the instruction of Gopal Yogi. Hindu scriptures state that only four people have mastered all eight stages of ashtanga yoga in history –Shri Krishna, Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Gopal Yogi, and Gopalanand Swami.
The eight progressive components of Ashtanga Yoga are as follows:
- Yam (self restraint) – Yam requires one to control their passions, curb their worldly desires, and focus on the atma. Yam has five components: ahimsa (noninjury through speech, mind, or action for any living being), satya (truthfulness), asteya (avoiding stealing possessions of others), brahmacharya (celibacy), and aparigraha (detached living with minimum requirements).
- Niyam (external and internal purity) – Similar to Yam, Niyam also consists of five factors related to purity of the mind and body: sauch (purity), santosh (contentment), tapas (austerity), swadhyay (regular study of the shastras), and Ishwar pranidhan (experiencing God).
- Asana (physical yogic postures) – Asana is comprised of 84 yogic postures. This factor is only mastered when the practitioner can comfortably sit in a posture, signaling patience and endurance.
- Pranayama (control of the prana with breath) – Pranayama is a combination of two words, namely ‘prana,’ the subtle form of energy that flows in the body, and ‘ayam,’ restraint or control. As Shri Aurobindo observed, “Pranayama makes one’s intellect sharper and one’s brain quicker.”
- Pratyahar (withdrawal of senses from their objects) – Pratyahar is a technique during which the mind withdraws itself from the sense pleasures and withdraws into itself.
- Dharana (concentration) – While practicing Dharana, one limits the mind and centers it on a particular object of concentration.
- Dhyan (meditation) – Dhyan is the unbroken flow of the mind towards an object of meditation. During dhyan, devotees focus on Bhagwan. The difference between Dharana and Dhyan is that the latter is a more focused state of mind.
- Samadhi (transcendental realization) – Samadhi is a state of mind during which there is only consciousness of the object of meditation: Bhagwan and the gunatit sadhu.