Guruji Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, who was conferred India's first Padma (Vibhushan) award for Yoga, passed away on August 20, 2014, but he is surely here in spirit to see the world embrace this ancient art, science, culture and philosophy.
But what should be the true celebration of a Yoga Day? To understand that we must know that the word comes from the Sanskrit root 'yuj', meaning to unite or bind or join. Thus, yoga aims to conjoin the individual (self) with the universal (force). It is an instrument to sensitise us, and extend our capabilities. Through the different asana and pranayama techniques, we touch these three dimensions within us - the body, mind and breath - to enhance our potentials and to live qualitative lives.
Sage Patanjali compiled the yoga wisdom of his time in what came to be known as the Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali (composed somewhere between 200 BC to 200 AD). In these 196 sutras, Patanjali-muni summarises the experiences of many yoga gurus and stresses that the path of yoga is eight-limbed - asta-anga. These eight limbs comprise: Yama & Niyama - the do's and don'ts; Asana - postures or physical and physiological explorations; Pranayama - pranic or breath explorations; Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses to look inward; Dharana - concentration; Dhyana - meditation and Samadhi - trance."
If you want to rationalize your yogasana practice, why you are doing the head-stand or the seated or twisting postures, visualise the body as a container and the mind, senses, breath, consciousness as the content. You have to also use the container to shape the content. So asanas work not only on the body, but the whole being (content). You become realised, aware in body, mind and breath to become a sensitive being. Sadhakas/seekers should use this imagery instead of thinking of associating yoga with any group or credo.
Understanding yoga through asanas: Consider the deceptively simple Shavasana or the corpse pose. Though it resembles a dead body, this pose is not a prelude to doze off. Our rishis and yogis studied sleep and formulated this 'conscious' sleep - shavasana. Normally, the mind leads but here, the practitioner is instructed to evolve the condition with the breath cycles. Thereby, the mind and body get breath-conditioned and/or breath-influenced, which is one of the best things that will ever happen to you.
Just reflect on the uniqueness of our breath: it is ever fresh and unlike the body and mind, it carries no baggage. The breath is a unique force (ours, but not to keep, it comes and goes).
My humble advice on this first Yoga Day to aspiring yogis is not just to take deep breaths, but to become your breath... that will make you more fit for (and tolerant of) the incredible offerings of our universe.
(The author is an Iyengar Yoga teacher and practitioner)