Two billion people worldwide now practice yoga. A few hundred years ago people left their homes and villages to find solace in the forests , reflecting on their own inner experiences and looking within. Fast forward to 2018 and scientists are studying the human brain and concluding that it can be trained to attain inner peace and harmony through meditative exercises and recitation of sutras.
Brain science study has revealed that body posture has a profound effect on a person’s state of mind. So it now turns out that ancient mystics and contemporary scientists have many things in common.
Yoga is a way to attain perfection through the control of the different elements of human nature , both physical and metaphysical. It is perfection in action, equanimity of attitude and perfect peace.
With rapid urbanisation harming the environment and disconnecting the individual from nature, people are unhappy, unhealthy, stressed and unsure about life. But there is also increasing awareness that we can make a choice to live in harmony and fulfilment through yoga.
Yoga has the power to heal the world. While it cannot banish all worldly stress, it can tame the body and mind. Yoga is a search for truth and it raises man to spiritual eminence. World Yoga Day was started several years ago by Samira Radsi, a yoga teacher living in Berlin, Germany, to harness the power of yogis the world over to help victims of human rights violations. And it is observed on June 21 as it is the longest day of the year with the sun rising early and setting late in the northern hemisphere. It is also the day of the Summer Solstice, when the tilt of the planet's axis in the northern hemisphere is most inclined towards the earth and sun.
When you pray you talk to God. When you meditate you are listening to God. Yoga helps your body, mind, energies and emotions to attain a certain level of maturity that allows you to meditate and be one with yourself. The simplest form of yoga is a namaskar made with folded hands. By putting your hands together, you are bringing harmony to the dualities and chaos within and also uniting the world through love and affection.
Yoga is universal. Anyone can do it, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, health or ethnicity.There are over 200 yoga sutras and only one sutra dedicated to asanas. But somehow, in modern times, this one sutra has gained significance over everything else.
Yoga is a holistic approach to health and is classified by the National Institute of Health as a form of alternative medicine. Its regular practice promotes strength, endu rance and flexibility. It facilitates friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well being. Therapeutic yoga is the application of yoga postures and practice to the treatment of health conditions. While yoga is not a cure for a cancer, nor a definitive way of preventing it, it increases physical, emotional and spiritual wellness, and brings about a certain peace which many cancer patients desire.
Studies also indicate that yoga helps in treating depression, anxiety and managing stress. It is the supreme gift of India to the world.
The modern understanding of the brain is that it is constantly remodelling itself, a phenomenon scientists call neuro-plasticity. And now we know that yoga brings about measurable changes in the body’s sympathetic nervous system and deals with the "fight or flight" response to stress. It reduces the body’s stress by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol, which fuels our split second stress reactions.
Yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down and restores balance after a major stress. There is also consensus that yoga boosts immune function.
While science looks outward for the cause of all illness, yoga searches the inner self. WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely absence of disease or infirmity and yoga ushers in a state of well being. Patanjali also tells us that through the practice of asanas we can attain a state that is beyond dualities, leading to a calm and serene mind and body.
And while ageing is inevitable, yoga can help us age gracefully. Bridging yoga and science requires an open mind. The aim of human existence is health, happiness, harmony and contentedness. And yoga is the science of happiness. Could it be your path to happiness? Science says yes. With only a seven-minute commitment for the chance to feel happier, why not give it a try?
Prof. N. Prabhudev, former Bangalore University Vice Chancellor