Wellness

Fr. P.V. Joseph, director DBCIC took part in the 2nd International Yoga Day celebrations at North East Space Application Centre (NESAC) at Umiam Shillong. Fr. Joseph spoke to the Staff and students (some 65 in all) about the benefits of Yoga. Below is the speech given by Fr. P.V. Joseph on the occasion.

By Joseph Puthenpurakal SDB

Dear Director Raju and all of you at NESAC, and everyone who celebrates the Second International Yoga Day.

INTRODUCTION
Thank you for inviting me to be present at the conclusion of a weeklong celebration in preparation for the 2nd International Yoga Day. I wish all of you present here a very good afternoon.

Let me start with a story:
One day a learned professor came to see Gandhiji at his Ashram. He paid his respect to the Mahatma and said to him. “They say you have imbibed the doctrine of the Gita in your daily life. Could you please explain to me the very essence of the Gita?”

Gandhiji looked at the professor and said, “Professor, can you do something for me?

“Yes, sure!” said the professor.

Gandhiji then pointed to a pile of bricks stacked in one corner of the courtyard, “Can you move these bricks across to the opposite side please?”

“But…but Bapuji…” he stammered. “I have asked you a serious question to which I believe you alone can give the answer!”

“Yes, yes, we will talk about it later. Now, if you will start moving the bricks.

The professor was puzzled, but in his eagerness to do the Mahatma’s bidding, he carried the bricks across the courtyard and stacked them on the opposite side as he was told.

Sweating profusely, he went back to Gandhiji and invited him to come and see for himself if the work was done as per his instructions.

“But this is not where I wanted them,” Gandhiji exclaimed, “when I said opposite, I did not mean on the other side, but diagonally opposite – there, in the northern corner.”

“Right,” sighed the professor, “I will do it right away.”

By now the professor was tired and panting for breath as he carried the bricks across the yard. His hands were bruised and his shoulder was aching and his back was stiff as he returned to Gandhiji. “The work is done” he exclaimed. “Now Bapuji, if you would kindly answer my question…”

“Over here, in this corner, the bricks are blocking the entrance to the garden,” said Gandiji coolly. “Do you think, professor, we can stack them in the eastern corner?”

“But that’s where they were stacked in the first place!” the professor lost his temper. “I am a professor, Bapuji. I came to you with a serious query and you treat me like a labourer. Perhaps, you imagine I cannot grasp your teaching, or perhaps you cannot express the essence of the Gita in a way that others can understand,”

“My dear friend, Gandhiji said, “I have merely given you a practical demonstration by making you practice the Gita’s central teaching. It is just this: do your allotted task without any thought of reward.” In other words, enjoy the peace and joy that come with Nishkamakarma.

Is it not also the goal of the daily Asanas and Pranayamas of Yoga?

In the same Bhagavad Gita we read, “Do your allotted work, for action is superior to non-action. Even the normal functioning of your body cannot be accomplished through actionlessness” (III-8).

Simply perform the task allotted to you with complete and unwavering focus; do it with all your heart. You will feel a deep sense of fulfillment and peace when you work with this spirit.

All the various yogic asanas and pranayamas for health and longevity are based on this one objective, namely, to arrive at an undivided heart focused on doing one’s allotted task. Who has allotted the task to each one of us and for whom one is doing the task are further questions to be answered. I do not wish to go into that at this moment.

One day I was in my office when a certain Rishi met me and after having visited the Don Bosco Museum galleries I had a very pleasant conversation with him. I then asked him to write a few lines in the visitors book. This is what he wrote: “All humanity is One, All creation is One. This is amply proved in the spiritual moments spent with Fr. Joseph – March 19, 2009.” It is this Oneness which yoga Asanas and Pranayamas seek to touch and come in contact with.

What does this Oneness mean? And who is this “One”? Is there any distinction between the One and the “I” as an individual? Or is this distinction between persons or between God the Creator and his creatures a mere “illusion”? Are we all just One with the divine, without any distinctions of persons? Is all that exists just “One”? Is Monism as a philosophy the only philosophy? Answers to these and other such questions too are important when we speak of Yoga and its health and peace benefits.

Coming to the topic of Yoga, let me start with something simple:

Daddy, what does “alternative” mean? A little boy asked his father.

The father sits his son down and says: “Imagine you’re a young man and wan to start a business. One day you decide to buy a hen. The hen starts to lay eggs. In time the chicks hatch, and you now have a lot of chicken. You’re rich, you own a chicken farm, several cars, horses and so on.”

“Daddy,” interrupts the son impatiently, “but I wanted to know what ‘alternative’ means.”

“Yes, son, that’s what I’m trying to explain…So you’re a rich man now, but one day a huge flood takes your farm away. You lose everything and your chickens drown because the stupid birds can’t swim.”

“Daddy, what about ‘alternative’!”

“The ‘alternative’, my son is ducks!”

The alternative to chicken that cannot swim is ducks which can indeed swim when the flood came! Now I ask myself what is the alternative to “Yoga”? The alternative to Yoga is Yoga! It is some 5000 years old. It has become a growing and flourishing big tree. Its fruits are enjoyed by many in different parts of the world. It is not of a particular “religion”. Anyone can accept it. However, that it may benefit more people it has to go through a bit more of introspection not so much in its physical practices, but in its philosophy and theology.

YOGA IN GENERAL
The word Yoga, as we all know, means union. It means concentration. It means undivided attention. It means focusing. Well, this union, concentration, undivided attention or focusing cannot and should not be limited only to the 15 minutes of Yoga practice in the morning or in the evening. The more we practice it, the more should its benefits embrace the rest of the day. The discipline of Yoga – as we have said – is thousands of years old. It has grown over the years with new Asanas and new methods of Pratiharas [withdrawal from the senses objects] and Pranayamas [breathing in and breathing out]. There is a great amount of material on Yoga both in India and in Western countries. Yoga as a method to come in touch with the so-called universal consciousness in each individual, and to attain supreme bliss in the form of peace and stillness is much appreciated and used in different parts of the world.

Yoga can be seen as a journey of contemplation and self-discovery on the path to personal enlightenment. Yoga is not a religion. It is a discipline without dogma. A person of any faith or fellowship can practice it and can be considered a Yogi/Yogini in keeping with one’s faith demands. Current practice of Yoga involves four primary types. They are not watertight compartments. They are related among themselves. They may be compared to 4 different perfumes mixing into a better one. The four primary types are: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga. Karma Yoga is the path of service through selfless action for the good of others helping the Yogi/Yogini to reflect the compassion of God for humanity. Bhakti Yoga cultivates the expression and love of the divine through regular prayers, chanting, singing, dancing and devotional rituals and celebrations. Jnana Yoga is the path of intellect and wisdom through study of sacred scriptures, intellectual debates, philosophical discussions and introspection. Raja Yoga known also as the Royal Path refers to the journey toward personal enlightenment through balancing the practice of the three Yogas mentioned above, namely, –Karma, Bhakti and Jnana- Yoga.

The ethical aspect of Yoga is strictly linked to the Five great Dos and Don’ts. The Dos are: Purity of life, Self-contentment, Surrender of self, Reading of Scriptures and Worship. The Don’ts are: Ahimsa, Asatya, Asteya [stealing], Aparigraha [non possession] and Brahmacharya [non-indulgence or not seeking pleasure for pleasure sake]. Hence a true Yogin is one who orders his/her life in an ethically correct manner.

PATANJALI’S EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA
The first Limb consists of Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Brahmacharya (moderation) and Aparigraha (nonattachment). As can be seen, the first Limb calls for personal ethical practices.

The second Limb consists of Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerities as purifying practices), Svadhyaya (study of spiritual scriptures), Ishvara pranidhana (practice of awareness and surrender to the presence and divine will of God). These observances ensure that the body and mind are not polluted once they are purified. The first two Limbs constitute a platform for other practices.

The third Limb involves Asanas (practice of physical postures). They are innumerable depending on the condition of the body, types of illness and other requirements. Through the practice of Asanas and Pranayamas, the body can be made strong and light like that of a lion.

The fourth Limb consists of Pranayama (breathing techniques used to control the life force or energy in the body). It along with the Asanas influences profoundly the condition of one’s mind and intellect.

The fifth Limb is Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). If one becomes preoccupied with sense objects, the mind filled with distractions cause delusion and suffering. If, however, the fuel of the senses is withheld, then like a fire that dies down without fuel, the mind becomes reabsorbed into its source, namely, the “heart”. In Yoga heart stands for one’s centre or “consciousness” or “self”.

The sixth Limb is Dharana (concentration or focus). The practice of concentration, first on simple objects, and finally on “formless consciousness” enables one to reach pure awareness.

The seventh Limb is Dhyana (meditation). The difference between this and the previous Limb is that in concentration there is a conscious effort to exclude all thoughts that are not relevant to our chosen object. In meditation there is a constant flow of impressions from the object and of awareness toward the object without any effort of the will.

The eighth Limb is Samadhi (the state of ecstasy, bliss and enlightenment) that transcends the self and merges with the Divine.

Let me close these few lines on the Limbs of Yoga with an experience of Fr. Siju a Yogi which appeared in a journal recently. In the campus where he was experiencing the various aspects of Yoga there lived a 93 year old Yogi. One day he said to all who were with him including Fr. Siju. “We shall not meet any more. On 23rd of next month I am going to enter Samadhi. Dr. Nagendran, the personal Yoga trainer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was at that time the vice chancellor of that Yoga Institute where Fr.Siju was studying. The Yogi who spoke about his Samadhi retired to his hut in the campus. The day in which the Samadhi was to take place several teachers and students came together near the hut. The Yogi at one moment came out, looked at everyone as an indescribable light emanated from him. He then retired into the hut again. At about two in the night a doctor, the vice chancellor and Fr. Siju entered the hut. To their surprise they found the Yogi sitting in Lotus position and no more alive.

The same Father Siju Thuruthiyil recounts 10 simple benefits of Yoga.

TEN BENEFITS OF YOGA

1. Overall Fitness: Fitness not only of the body, but also of the mind, what we call “holistic fitness.”
2. Control of body weight: Yoga exercises and diet provide a sense of overall wellness keeping the weight of the body under control.
3. Diminishing mental tension: Daily 10 to 15 minutes of physical postures and breathing exercises will bring about calmness of mind and body.
4. Internal peace: In everybody’s mind there is happiness and peace. It is a question of bringing it out. Don’t we experience this when we enjoy the sight of a green meadow or a beautiful garden of exquisitely beautiful flowers, however troubled in mind we may have been at that time. This, the Yoga does through the practice of concentration and meditation.
5. Increased capacity for resistance: Body, mind and soul form one single unit. When the mind is disturbed, the body expresses it through headache and other sicknesses. Yoga helps to recondition body, mind and soul.
6. Provides meaning to one’s life: Lack of meaning in life can lead one to despair and to unnecessary worrying. Human mind moves from the past to the future without a steady focus on the present. Yoga can help persons to focus properly resulting in less worrying.
7. Better interpersonal relationship: Persons who found it difficult to relate have improved their relationship through Yoga exercises of concentration and meditation.
8. Freshness of mind and body: At the end of a busy day anyone would feel tired. But those who do Yoga exercises are found to be more fresh both in mind and body than those who do not practice Yoga.
9. Keeps the body supple and agile: So many people find it difficult to bend, for their body is stiff and joints painful. Yoga Asanas can remedy this situation and make the body supple and agile.
10. Inner Alertness: When the mind is fresh and the body is supple and healthy alertness is readily available. This too can be the result of daily Yoga exercises.

Today the benefits of Yoga are being shared in many ways across the globe. New forms of Yoga practices are emerging for students, for families and for the sick and the aged. In other words, Yoga can be tailored to the needs of a variety of groups. “Yoga at Home” is catching up fast: parents and children together having Yoga lessons. Soon after the Yoga lessons parents and children share their ideas, plan their activities, share stories, clear doubts. They enjoy their happiness of good health and better relationship. They in turn share it with others even outside the home-circle. A climate of wellness spreads from home to home. Society as a whole improves.

SECOND INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY
I am happy to have seen several newspapers write ups in the run up to the Second International Yoga Day. “Yoga can enhance your inner, outer beauty” is the title of an article in The Shillong Times on 20th June. “The appeal of Yoga” it affirms, “lies in the fact that it helps both body and mind.” “Feeling good is an integral part of looking good”- the same write up encourages. “Studies conducted on those who practice Yoga”, we read in the article, “Have shown that positive changes also occur in the personality, in attitudes, emotional stability, self-confidence. It has a direct effect on the mind, emotions and mood. In fact, it is a regular stress buster and puts a glow back on the skin. You will feel instantly rejuvenated and feel good about yourself.”

The inner peace and healthy lifestyles that Yoga inculcates are needed if we are to respect each other and to respect all forms of life…The practice of Yoga can help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. The achievable goals linked with Yoga are: ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages; making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; and promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.”

In India it is proposed that Yoga Departments would be introduced in six central universities beginning 2016-2017.

CONCLUSION
Sunday Shillong of 19th June cited Tara Goswami a Yogini who recalls how Brother D’Souza told a student who happened to arrive late for the class in Pine Mount School, Shillong, to go and “listen to the grass grow”. Commenting on it Tara affirms that too is Yoga. Yoga is the ability to be still and listen even to the grass growing. Tara has lost her father recently. It was one of the toughest things in her life…even in tragedies like that to be able to be “strong, balanced and grateful…to be able to see the larger reality, that death is but a step to something else. That there is always light…” –that’s Yoga at its most poignant form, namely, to be united with the One who lives within.

This leads me to the central aspect of my Catholic Christian belief and upbringing, namely, the “union” Yoga proclaims is not with any illusory universal spirit or mind with my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who overcame sin and death, and as the Risen Lord, lives in the heart of everyone and in every bit of the universe. The Monistic understanding of everything is “one” in whom one’s individual identity is lost for me is untenable. The personal self or the nature of a creature is not dissolved or disappearing into the sea of the Absolute; rather each one reaches his/her fulfillment in his/her Creator where one continues to live forever. It would be foolish otherwise to have been born!

And again, Yoga as a spiritual path stresses the necessity of detachment from the material world, to the extent of affirming that the material world is illusory and that all that matters is the spiritual. As a believing Catholic I am happy to say that the material world is not illusory –it may appear so-. It is real, and hence is transformed into something that continues to exist forever. The person I serve in this world in the name of God will continue to be my friend and companion in the world to come.

Yoga is union. It is union with everything that is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable” (cf. Phil 4:8). A true yogi/yogin cannot be communal, practice hatred and destroy others. He/she is inclusive in the best meaning of that word. He/she cannot afford to be corrupt.

Long live Yoga understood as brothers and sisters living in a family, the Universal Family where God is our Loving Father: the Vasudevakudumbakam.