The word ‘Yoga’ traces its origin from the ancient language Sanskrit, and it means to unite; it signifies the state of the union of body and inner consciousness. Interestingly, the practice of yoga is described in Rigveda, which is one of the oldest known Vedic Sanskrit works of literature, and hence, it is considered that the practice of yoga was established in the pre-Vedic era, possibly in the Indus Valley Civilisation circa 3000 BCE. Further, in Mahabharata, Lord Krishna taught Arjuna the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita and it included the significance of yoga for emotional, mental, and spiritual wisdom and this can be referred from the text. One can observe the emphasis on yoga in almost all ancient Indian mythological texts and works of Indian philosophers and great teachers. Amongst them, Maharishi Patanjali, also known as the father of yoga, has the most significant contribution to this subject. He was believed to be the avatar of Adi Shesha, the divine serpent on whom Lord Vishnu rests. In Hindu mythology, he used to teach yoga in the 2nd century BCE in Kashi, India. His contribution includes his most important work namely ‘Yoga Sutra’ wherein he compiled 196 sutras in 8 sutras which are known as “Ashtanga Yoga”. It serves as a guide and framework for practicing yoga in routine life. The 8 sutras were further classified as Yum, Niyam, Aasan, Pranayam, Dhyaan, Pratyahara, and Samadhi. Most of the people, however, are familiar with only three phases, which are Aasan, Pranayam, and Dhyaan, but to reach the final stage of Samadhi, one must exercise the remaining seven phases. Here, the state of Samadhi, which is the ultimate goal of yoga, means to experience a deep connection with nature by our soul and a pure spiritual connection with divinity. The prime objective of yoga is to establish a connection between the material worlds to the spiritual ones.

In spite of such a notable contribution by Maharishi Patanjali to the field of yoga, his work was lost with time in history. It was Swami Vivekananda who revived his work from obscurity after approximately 700 years in the late 19th century. He discovered that his philosophy revolves around the ways to live a better life through yoga. Swami Vivekananda was one of the first ones who pioneered the art of yoga in western nations. Owing to his efforts to spread the wisdom of practicing yoga, the concept started to gain popularity not only in India but also in western countries. The ancient practice of yoga that traces its origin centuries ago in India is considered a great boost to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Therefore, to promote it worldwide, the United Nations declared 21st June as the International Yoga Day. The first International Yoga Day was celebrated in 2015. The prime minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi was the one who suggested this date in his address in the UN general assembly because this is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

Modern yoga is perceived as the means for physical fitness and health benefits. Even in India, yoga became highly popular around the beginning of the 21st century; the person behind this bandwagon was yoga guru Baba Ramdev. In 2003, Aastha TV started broadcasting his yoga tutorials in its morning slot. Besides, much empirical evidence and research are supporting the health benefits of yoga; however, there are still many benefits whose mechanism in the human body as to how they work on improving our body needs to be ascertained.

In the midst of this COVID-19 induced pandemic, there is a significant rise in awareness about physical well-being in addition to mental health. The devastating catastrophe of physical suffering can be experienced everywhere. Nobody in this world is oblivious to the ill effects of Coronavirus and the necessity of robust immunity. Significant increase in anxiety levels and other mental challenges has been well documented by several academic research literature. Thus, the importance of physical and mental fitness can be very well understood in this tough time. Yoga is the optimum solution to this problem, for it can be practiced at home without any need for additional equipment. It plays a vital role in physical, mental, and indeed spiritual well-being. The most important and proven benefit of yoga is an increase in physical strength and flexibility in a person’s body. The more one practices yoga, the more one’s hamstring muscles stretch and consequently, the more flexible one’s body gets apart from getting strong. Yoga is also known to provide relief from back pain. When yoga is accompanied by meditation sessions (Dhyaan), it helps in improving mental health by reducing stress and providing better sleep quality. There is an overall improvement in one’s quality of life and peace of mind. After 7 to 16 weeks of starting yoga, it has been observed that there is a drastic fall in the levels of C-Reactive proteins in the blood. These proteins are linked to inflammation which can cause serious cardiovascular diseases and cancer. In several studies, it has been noted that the level of oxytocin hormones in the brain is increased by practicing yoga Aasan which reduces stress. Also, Pranayam is considered to be very helpful to Asthma patients. It is known to improve better circulation of oxygen in the human body and subsequently improve breathing. It improves the functioning of the lungs and reduces stress and depression along it. ‘Savasana’ is another type of yoga pose which relaxes mentally and physically. It provides relaxation to our muscles and improves our concentration power and focus. Yoga is more associated with spiritual cleansing rather than physical or biological cleansing as believed by certain people.

An acquaintance of mine, Nikul Prajapati, shared his views on yoga with me as he has been practicing the same since March 2020. He said that he was hesitant to pay fees to learn yoga but one of his relatives guaranteed him that if he did not experience any benefit after performing yoga every day, he would refund the entire fee from his pocket. Thus, the confidence that his relative showed was good enough for him to enrol in a training session. Later on, he phoned his relative to express his gratitude rather than asking for a refund. When asked about the benefits that he has experienced, he suggested that he sometimes had mild depression and was finding it hard to focus on his studies; however, after practicing yoga and meditation every morning for 2-3 hours, he added “my mind has been calm all the time and I have been able to focus better in my studies. Besides, I feel energetic all day.” He believes that mental “calmness” has been the significant benefit of yoga amongst others in his life.      

Conclusively, the centuries-old practice of yoga is still very relevant and beneficial in this modern era of physical and mental health issues being common everywhere. Regular practice of yoga is known to improve strength, flexibility, concentration power, reduce anxiety and other psychological burdens, and provide relaxation to one’s mind, body, and soul. Yoga is a means to rejuvenate oneself exhaustively. Hence, it is important to spread the wisdom and philosophy of yoga to a wider spectrum so as to change the way a person perceives the world and bring out the best in a person. Moreover, one’s desire for peace and calmness in life can be very well fulfilled by regularly performing yoga.

Authored by: Keval Vyas

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